Leane, who runs the most excellent blog Finer Femininity (a recent addition to my blogroll), wrote a post a few days back titled Girls: Faults and Ideals. Within she quoted from a book of the same name by J.R. Miller. He was a Christian writer who lived from 1840 to 1912. So a man from a very different era.
Yet despite the great span of time between now and when he wrote the book “Girls: Faults and Ideals,” much of what he wrote then still rings true today. In the section that Leane quotes from, J.R. Miller provides answers from two questions that he asked of young (presumably) Christian men at the time. Here are the questions:
1. “What are some of the most common faults in young women of your
2. “What are some of the essential elements of character in your ideal
of true young womanhood?”
There are two responses in particular that I want to address with this post, although I encourage those who follow this blog to read the whole thing. The first response that I want to address, which covers faults, is this:
“Frivolity, arising from want of purpose in life,” one names, “even the most sacred duties and relations being marred by this frivolousness. The best years of life are wasted in small talk and still smaller reading, tears and sighs being wasted over a novelist’s creations, while God’s creatures die for want of a word of sympathy.”
My first thought when reading this was Wow. If you were to add “pursuing an education and a career” into the second sentence, it would be a perfect descriptor of much of what passes for modern
Christian Churchian womanhood. What this tells us is that the problems we see in women in church these days are not new at all. They existed well over a century ago, and probably for far longer.
One line in particular that really struck me was how “[t]he best years of life are wasted” by women. Something I have pointed out on this blog before, and will continue to point out, is that the general desire that most women exhibit to avoid commitment to a man is nothing new. Most women want to delay (true) commitment for as long as they possibly can. I cannot find the source at the moment, but I do remember reading a book written in the 1800s which talked of how older female relatives would often have to push young women to marry. Without that push many would continue to wait and wait, and in the process rebuff the courtship efforts of many would-be suitors, and before long would get to be an age where the stream of suitors would dry up.
Women’s natural sexual strategy is serial monogamy, not “hard monogamy” (lifetime marriage). When this strategy is retrained by a moral order, such as Christian teaching and doctrine, it doesn’t make women suddenly switch over to prefer “hard monogamy.” If anything it intensifies their natural hypergamy and causes them to be extremely “picky” in their choice of commitment. Hence it is very important for a young Christian woman’s family raise her to recognize this instinct and help her overcome it. [The finer details of this are for another post, if not other blogs, to examine.]
Also worth mentioning is that last line about “God’s creatures die for want of a word of sympathy.” Clearly many women back then were no kinder to most men in church than they are today. This is another thing which needs to be taught to young women, and is among the traits that older women are to teach younger women listed in Titus 2:4-5.
Then we move to the second response:
Another puts it down as “A want of firm decision in character and action,” and says that too often, in times “when they ought to stand like a rock, they yield and fall;” and adds: “The young ladies of our land have power to mold the lives of the young men for good or for evil.”
The last sentence is what interests me most. Women have a lot of “soft power” available to them, and can use this power to exert a great deal of influence over men. In my view, this power is perhaps greatest when it comes to young women acting as an incentive for young men. Men are willing to do an awful lot in order to win the affections of a woman, including task both dangerous and tedious. But if men know that such tasks will lead them on a path towards marriage to a desirable young women, nearly all will leap at that chance.
But of course, all of that hinges on three different factors. The first is that desirable young women are available for young men to marry. The second is young that men don’t have plentiful and convenient options for female affection without marriage. The third is that marriage isn’t a legal trap for men. While the third is determined by law and civil society with only indirect influence by young women (not enough are installed in elected or bureaucratic office as of yet, and overall they represent a small part of the electorate), young women directly control the first two factors.
If young women are not taking the steps to get ready to marry, or if they decide to not marry young, then the first factor will fall in its face. Likewise if women do things which render them unfit for marriage, or even questionable as marriage material. If they pursue a path which takes them out of the marriage market (either temporarily or permanently), then men won’t see an incentive to be found in marriage and will adapt. At the same time, if men have access to loose women and won’t suffer serious sanctions for consorting with them, their desire for marriage will drop dramatically. Here women must exercise restraint and act in a chaste manner- the supply of unchaste women has a direct relationship with the desire men have for marriage. When women are willing to sleep with men without marriage, only the most righteous of men will seek marriage (or at least, approach marriage with the proper attitude)- and there are few such men out there. Restraints on female sexuality are as much for modifying male behavior, as they are for female behavior. Both are inextricably linked together.
Which links back up to how “[t]he young ladies of our land have power to mold the lives of the young men for good or for evil.” Women, by their actions, can influence men to act one way or another. All of this used to be understood. Women were pushed to marry young, and to be chaste, because it not only benefited them, but young men as well, and through them, all of society. This soft power is easy to overlook, but is more potent that many a law.
So when we look at the problems among young women in the Church, and that of the young men, and ponder what went wrong, let us not deceive ourselves into thinking this is a new travail that we face. For Scripture reminds us thus:
Is there a thing of which it is said,
“See, this is new”?
It has been already,
in the ages before us.