Friday, March 13, 2009

Woman as Gatekeeper?

Manet's Chez le Père Lathuille

Our readership has called us in for questioning. "Who are you," they ask, "to talk about friendship between woman and man? You are hopelessly one dimensional. You're both women!" This question isn't a jab against the female sex. It is not a shameless plug for the dialectic mode of reasoning. It is an exploration of the legitimacy of a woman-led social dynamic.

In a commentary on "Social and Domestic Relations" in Democracy in America, Tocqueville writes, "No free communities ever existed without morals; and, as I observed in the former part of this work, morals are the work of woman. Consequently, whatever affects... their opinions has great political importance in my eyes."

Tocqueville brings up an interesting and extremely politically incorrect point. He identifies woman as the source of society's morality. The key is he claims that woman is the source of morality, not the embodiment of morality. Woman is not necessarily more moral that man. Woman is, however, more aptly suited to take on the moral education of her society as her burden. We interpret this quote as an indication that Tocqueville took sex differences very seriously. His position, while it may appear limiting (man depends on woman in his development toward independent practical reasoning?!), resonates with something still relevant in today's culture. Men and women are different, and have different, biologically-influenced strengths and weaknesses. It is the task of the woman to guide man in those things at which she excels. We'll put it out in the open- we think that woman excels at nagging is perfectly justified in offering suggestions on how man ought to relate to her. We also propose that woman is better suited to face some of the challenges of male-female relationships, although certainly this goes both ways. (Disclaimer- we are not advocating that woman has an intimate interest all of man's activities.)

So men and women have different strengths and weaknesses. Take, for example, the folklore that men respond to the physical, while women respond to the emotional. Pish posh, one might say- woman can be just as sexually responsive! They are just as physical! However, only about 30 percent of Internet pornography consumers are female (Internet Pornography Statistics, 2008; Nielsen//NetRatings, April 2005) Women might also engage in such and similar activities, but they enjoy more freedom from addictions to socialized means of objectification. (Yes, we did just call porn an objectification. More to come...) This example is not meant to dissuade the interest or concern of man in porn-related debates; it is meant to demonstrate a particular advantage that woman enjoys (her relative freedom from addictive, physically sexual addictions) and propose the legitimacy of her involvement in said realm.

In traditional cultures of courtship, woman is the object of a pursuit, a biological and social chase. Her position, that of "object of the game" allows her to set every rule. Whether or not one subscribes to this particular model is irrelevant- woman has the capacity to wield an incredible amount of influence over the rules of male-female interaction. In any male-female relationship, woman has every power and every right to "set the tone." Indeed, her role as primary educator might even extend beyond the male-female dynamic. Into the family? The inculcation of virtue in children, perhaps? Their socialization? We'll leave the exploration of woman's potential propensity for education for another day. For now, consider this. To quote the best summer blockbuster ever (Spiderman), "With great power comes great responsibility." It seems that, in one realm at least, woman has quite a bit of responsibility over the tendencies (if not morality) of fellow man.

We encourage our fellow women and men to comment.


  1. I agree that women have greater treasures of virtue than men, but this is only because they have managed to rob men of whatever virtue they had. My point is not that of the Muslim clerics who talk about how women incite men to lust. For women incite to vice not by their outward appearance but by their inward nature. Women impel men to avarice, sloth, pride, wrath, and, of course, envy. If Helen's face launched a thousand ships toward an orgy of greed, wrath, pride and, above all, violence, how many women since have put wind in the sails of man's vices? Just as the pursuit of women can inspire men to industry, courage and temperance it can lead them into all manner of evil. Take a casual example, like the musical 'The West Side Story,' and see how the beauty of one girl draws out every ugly demon lurking in the hearts of the neighborhood men. Thus woman's main moral function is not so much a leading toward virtue as it is a drawing out whatever is inside men, be it good or evil. Sadly, the hearts of men are, by and large, rotted through with the blackest vice and most sepulchral perfidy. Should we credit women for occasioning the unending revelation of man's evil that is human history? Some have said that the entirety of the western canon can be seen as a record of the cruelty of the fair sex. It is a record that will be compiled for ages to come.

  2. 'man and woman, He made them', but not equal. i do not refer to an ordinal equality, rather a substantive one. the usurpers of the 'feminist' label walk a fine line in their quest to substantively equate manhood and womanhood. they say, 'we can do everything that man can do and better!' but fail to realize we have a greater role to play. in trying to re-cast womanhood into the mold of manhood, she forfeits her right to 'set the tone', as you two so aptly describe.

    though, i must say that woman is not at all responsible if man ignores both tone and key and hammers away in discordant sound. and while, i do not lambast either of the sexes' for its frailties--we are all of us broken creatures in need of Grace that flows beyond our finite frames--i affirm that each sex has a stake in the others' faithfulness to its nature and must encourage each to flourish in that nature.

    well done ladies. i look forward to your next post!!!

  3. "Her position, that of "object of the game" allows her to set every rule."

    It seems to me that this is only the case if various third parties are willing to enforce the woman's rules when she sets them. So, courtship (whether it is so very traditional I am unsure of) cannot take place except within a culture or sub-culture committed to defending a woman's role as gatekeeper. Since we don't live in such a culture, should we splinter off and form a sub-culture, or is there some way of achieving some of the goods of courtship within our larger culture?