Yesterday’s post on militant virtue inspired a lot of discussion, and rather than tag on a bunch of comments of my own, I thought I’d just follow up with another post.
First of all was a concern that I expressed the need for positive virtue, but then basically described it all as defensive. A couple things on this. First, there are a great many things that a young woman can and should do to be proactive about these things. They vary, however, very widely with her circumstances. There is no way to lay out a set of rules like “stop hanging out by the pop machine and looking needy,” although that would probably be good advice in some situations. Second, defensive responses do not feel like negative space when you use them. In other words, in actual practice it feels more like lobbing a water balloon into someone’s face. It isn’t invisible.
Another reason that I did not lay out specific responses is because these sorts of things vary widely by personality as well. My sister and I grew up in the same community, with exactly the same amount of protection and security. Still, we respond quite differently when push comes to shove. Back when she was in seventh grade (I was in third), there was a boy in her class who would call her to fuss and be pitiful about various things, mostly girls. She was aggravated no end by him, and dinner table conversations were had about handling the situation. My Dad coached her on what to do. Soon enough, the boy called again. Bekah was out, and I answered. He got tedious instantly. “But where is she? Rachel, how do you not know?? When will she be back?”
Having already had my fill of him vicariously, I rather pithily said, “Matt, life is too short to talk to wimpy guys.” He was scandalized. “Rachel! I am going to tell your Dad that you said that!!” I was ready for that one. “He won’t mind, he is the one who said it.” And then I hung up. Now, say what you will about my methods (Matt did), I was four years his junior and felt fine about calling him a wimp and hanging up on him. Bekah was also actively on the defense with him, but it did not look the same.
Another set of concerns was about Christian young men who have been brought up to honor women and employ certain sets of manners to do so. First of all – I have never in my life refused a man opening the door for me, and always reply with a cheerful “Thanks!” However, part of my great comfort with this arrangement is that it allows me to blow right past him and not have any follow-up conversation. It is polite and kind in the most basic non-imposing sense. If the same man tried to help me push my grocery cart to my car, I would say, “No thanks, I’m fine.” No matter how selfless his motivations, he has intruded into my space, and if he doesn’t scoot along, he might get kicked in the ankle. I did say in my original post that sometimes these sorts of things are caused by “cultural differences.” That is where I would place these. I don’t want any man to cherish me who is not my husband or immediate family members. If some guy feels that the most basic of Christian manners is to give me a back rub because I look tired, I am saying nothing about his essential motives when I tell him to back off.
Another small point: Women are not to be honored and esteemed, no more than men are to be respected and submitted to. There are specific men that I respect and honor, and there are specific men who can cherish and protect me. As a group, Christian men and women are not in wedlock to each other. There was a bad woman in Proverbs also, as you will all recall. There are a lot of men that you had better not let protect you. Under this heading would also fall the concept of just treating the young men like your brothers. I would say that the position of brother in the literal, familial sense is WAY too close for your average Christian boy. Just ask anyone to tell the story of “He was just like a brother to me…,” and it will almost always end with “until…” You can certainly have male friends, but it will never last unless there is a solid distance maintained consistently. A real brother will be in the role of counselor, aggravator, friend, companion, and protector. General boys at church should certainly not have the same kind of access.
Someone also referred to making our young women paranoid about the sexual intentions of the young men. This may be a personal pet peeve, but I will share it nonetheless. When young girls get this way (“I would never wear this shirt, because doubtless I would stumble all the men at church”) the problem is not really with her perception of the sexuality of the men. Her problem is all revolving around her own sexuality. She doesn’t need to worry about the interior of the heads of the boys, because she could do a lot more profitable work by looking into her own. For the most part, girls get caught up in that sort of worry as a cover for how much they enjoy it. They like the idea of the boys being consumed in lust if they see their bra strap, and thus they spend a lot of time fussing to the other girls and women about what might happen and how much it upsets them.
Probably the biggest factor in “militant virtue” is to take responsibility for yourself. Just because you got a ride to the party and are embarrassed to ask about being taken home does not excuse your presence at it. Just because that boy started the conversation about nudity in art does not mean you should be there to hear it. Just because you weren’t sure what to do about it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have done it. This brings us back full circle to the first point. By and large the proactive things you should do are connected to the situations you don’t know how to get out of. Back it up a few steps and notice how you got there. Either come up with an effective response, or come up with a way to stay out of it in the first place.
Lastly, in terms of everyone being tired of hearing the same old “guard your hearts (you pitiful little girls).” Instead of being the receiver of the advice, you should give it a whirl as a councilor. The reason these things are said over, and over, and over is because there are older women meeting with girls and kleenex boxes over, and over, and over. The council has not, for the most part, been heeded. When the episodes of unnecessary broken heart syndrome stop, so will, I imagine, the advice.