This post is something of a follow-up to Complex and Reflected, wherein I examined and discussed the Madonna/Whore complex in men. Since I have more questions than answers when it comes to the topics of this post (more on those later), this post will end up looking quite a bit different from the original. Not only will it be shorter, but it is going to be filled with unanswered questions, which I hope my readers will take a stab at answering. So expect some major rambling.
What I want to explore in this post is the “Madonna” part of the Madonna/Whore complex. I am curious about a few things:
- Why Christians will at times promote the idea that women, at least the “good” ones, are not sexual creatures
- What kind of impact does the complex have on the “good” women living in a culture where it exists
- Are “good” women in some way responsible for promoting or sustaining the complex, and if so, how
I am going to address each in its own section, mostly for ease of organization. This post won’t be long enough to really require it, but my OCD demands as much.
In this section I want to delve into why Christians, including theologians, will sometimes promote the idea that good Christian women are asexual, or are supposed to be.
I should start by saying that I never grew up hearing this, but then again, I didn’t hear a whole lot about sexuality from the Church growing up. Most of what I know, including back then, about the Church’s stance on sex is what I found out for myself.Perhaps some other Catholics were taught that women were asexual angelic creatures while growing up, but I wasn’t. However, some of the Protestant men who populate the ‘sphere have indicated in the past that they did grow up hearing that kind of lesson. I would appreciate it if they could fill in exactly what they heard along those lines.
One possible reason I could see for this kind of thinking to have developed arises from the original Madonna herself, Mary the mother of Jesus. In Catholic and Orthodox circles she is greatly venerated, and held up as the paragon example of womanhood. Furthermore, Tradition holds that she was always a virgin, and goes even further to say that through Grace she was born without sin (a doctrine known as the Immaculate Conception). I can see where holding up as the paragon of womanhood a woman who was a virgin could lead to the impression that an absence of sexuality is essential in a “good” woman.
Of course, that doesn’t apply to Protestant sects, who don’t hold Mary in such high regard. So something else is at play there. My suspicion for them is that Victorian impulses might have moved from cultural/social lines of thought to religious lines of thought without people giving it much consideration, or fully realizing what was happening.
If anyone has any thoughts of their own, do tell.
Another interesting question is the impact that the Madonna/Whore complex has on “good” women.
The most obvious effect on them would of course be sexual frustration. Women are sexual creatures, after all, even “good” ones. Not being a woman, I can only imagine the kind of frustration they feel. Perhaps if there are any bold female readers here who might have experienced it at some point they could fill in. Or if they know women who have experienced it, if they could speak for them.
I know that on SSM’s blog there were several posts which covered the health benefits of sex for women, so that is another obvious loss. I suspect that “good” women who are married in these cultures suffer from higher rates of depression and anxiety because of their minimal sex lives.
Perhaps most insidious is the emotional wall of separation between husbands and wives. While the exact manner is different, women bond emotionally through sex just as men do. Without regular sex with their husbands, I imagine that wives won’t feel as connected to their husbands as they could be. This distance can only harm the marriage.
Lastly, I wonder what role “good” women might have in perpetrating and promoting the Madonna/Whore complex in men.
One thing I don’t understand is why more mother’s don’t try and teach their sons to avoid this mentality. If they have suffered from it, surely they realize how unhealthy it is for men to have this complex. So why not try and influence their sons in another direction? Are they unwilling to acknowledge its a problem? Do they not care for their daughters-in-law well-being? Barring that, what about their sons? Do they not care for them? This is all something I just don’t understand.
Perhaps the mothering instinct of the “good” women is also to blame. They go overboard in taking care of their men, and so men stop looking at them as mates and more as a mother figure. I don’t think I need to go into detail about how they could interfere with a man’s desire to be sexually drawn to a woman. Maybe if women were more inclined to adopt behaviors and attitudes different from a man’s mother the complex wouldn’t be so much of a problem.
Another thing that helps keep this cycle going is the silence of many of the “good” women. They don’t speak up against this complex, or at least don’t seem to. Instead, most of its opponents are the “whore” part of the complex, those women who men will sleep with but not marry. Is it fear that drives them to silence? Shame? I truly don’t understand this. Are they so submissive that they won’t, can’t voice their despondency? Or is it pride, an unwillingness to void aloud a deep felt desire because they don’t want to appear weak?
That brings this post to an end. If anyone wants to take a stab at answering any of the questions I raised, or even those that I didn’t, feel free to do so in the comments. A topic like this lends itself better to an ongoing discussion than a detailed post anyways.