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A Defense of Intelligent Femininity 

I must disagree with my illustrious Lord and Master’s opinion on marriage and equality. I believe that equality is extraordinarily important in marriage. However, before one jumps into such a discussion, it is important to define one’s terms.

By equality, I mean the kind of respect that equals give to one another.

I do not mean “sameness.”

Employees in a well-run company treat each other as equals. This does not mean that they assume that they can do each others tasks with equal competence. Just because the carpenter and the chef are equal in the eyes of their co-workers and superiors does not mean that the manager is going to send the carpenter to the kitchen and the chef to make a table.

A man and a woman entering into a marriage should be equal in a similar respect. They should treat each other as equals in the same way that the carpenter and chef might – neither being regarded as a lower class citizen. This does not, however, mean that they are equally suited to each others tasks.

John was a fair hand at changing diapers, though he screamed a lot when they were smelly, and he is great at putting the children to bed. My sister-in-law once watched him in amazement. She told me that my brother-in-law had never changed a diaper or put the children to bed.

Does this mean that our marriage was good and theirs was bad, because we both put the children to bed equally? Not at all! Their apportioning of tasks was merely different from ours. They were equal in their marriage, too, but they were aware that they were not the same.

It is hard in this day and age to be an intelligent woman and to feel feminine. We are bombarded with ideas from society and the media that suggests that if we don’t act and think like men, we are weak, we are not of any worth. There are very few role models that show us someone who is quick-minded, active, and competent, and yet feminine. It is so easy for women to come away with the idea that they need to be as strident and as rigid as a man.

When I was young, I despised anything that suggested I was not the equal of any man. I was determine to hold my own among men. I hated having doors held for me. I carried all my own bags. All this came to an end in the last days of my first pregnancy.

I was coming back from the grocery store and trying to handle the grocery bags despite being big as a house (actually, I was someone’s house,) and I was practically in tears. Suddenly, I looked over and saw two strong men, John and our friend Bill, walking along behind me. They were talking avidly and carrying absolutely nothing (because I had insisted on taking everything,) and I thought: why in the world aren’t I putting them to work?

And suddenly, having someone carry something for me no longer seemed like an insult, it seemed like a luxury! Something wonderful that I was insane not to appreciate! The same thing with opening doors. A fit young women can afford to sneer at door-openers, but once I was a mother, lugging around that extremely heavy and awkward baby carrier with my darling little fellow in it, I was overjoyed if someone was so thoughtful as to open a door for me!

This really changed my view on the whole thing.

But this was just the final straw in a journey that began with two things:

The first was joining the local feminists club at college. As a girl, I had always thought of myself as a feminist. Certainly, I was in favor of freedom and equality in nearly any form. So, I thought feminism sounded like the place for me…until I found out that the other feminists did not like men.

Well, I LOVED men. I thought they were absolutely fascinating and delightful. At that moment, I parted ways with the modern feminists, and I’ve never looked back. (I still think of myself as being a sister to the Suffragettes, though. Every time I hear the mother on Mary Poppins sing about how “Our daughter’s daughters will adore us” for getting women the vote, I think “Hear! Hear!”)

The second thing that impressed me was Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. The book is known for its politics, but it was the love story that impressed me. Dagny Taggart is practically the epitome of a strong, clever, capable woman, and yet, when she fell in love with Hank Reardon, she gloried in her femininity. There is a passage where they are having dinner, and he gives her a fur coat where the author actually spells out what Dagny thinks about the whole thing and why, despite her great power, she delights in this gift.

Reading this passage was the first time I found anyone put into words what I felt…which was that femininity is not at odds with intelligence and competence, that the two are perfectly able to complement each other. That, if anything, being more intelligent and competent allows you to be more feminine, and that being a man’s equal in worldly things does not mean giving up the glory and wonder of being a woman.

One of the problems for modern women is language. We describe the feminine qualities with words such as “surrender,” and “submission.” These words imply a loss of dignity (the opposite of respect.) They are words that men have used for centuries to describe the losers in a contest of strength. Enemies surrender, victims submit. Even yielding is what a knight does on the field of battle when he accepts that he has lost.

Real femininity is nothing like that! A better word would be “trust.”

Have you ever I participated a Trust Fall, where you stand on something and fall backwards, trusting that the other people in your group will catch you? It can be quite difficult. I still remember standing there, trying to get myself to fall back, and just not believing that the other folks would catch me. Then, just before one falls, there comes this moment when you have to trust. You make a decision to release control – in my case, clinging to the tree – and you let go. Then you fall, free and joyous, until you are caught and borne up by your fellows. That feeling of trusting and falling – it is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world!

Now, you could use words like “surrender” or “yield” to describe what it feels like to let go and fall…but this experience has nothing to do with loss, with being beaten down, or with any of the other concepts that jump to mind. Rather, what you are doing is letting go and flying – safe in the knowledge that someone will catch you.

In my experience, true femininity feels like that. It is much like a trust fall – and like a trust fall, it’s something you would not want to experience with someone who was not worth trusting!

And that, ladies, is the key! Respect. Marriage is based upon respect. If you respect each other – if you treat each other with care, as you would want to be treated – then it is no burden to yield. Rather than a sense of loss, there comes that feeling of letting go and, with it, a feeling of joyous freedom. It feels much more like water flowing about a rock that crashes into a pool than it feels like a tree being bent by brute force.

And, usually, at that moment of “surrender” when she finally decides to trust, what goes through her mind is not “now I’m weak. Now, I’ve lost,” but “Ah! I’ve got him now!”

Because, if done correctly, far from feeling conquered or cowed, the woman feel victorious! As if she has won, as if she is as beautiful as the night sky and as glorious, as if he is now putty in her hands. His very strength and masterfulness makes her conquest complete. He is now fascinated and confounded, and all she had to do was one small act of yielding control. Pretty good bargain!

Years ago, John ran a roleplaying game where we met an intelligent seal-creature. When asked if the seal folk minded mankind ruling the world, the creature responded in surprise, “What do you mean? We rule the world; we just leave you the dry places.”

The victory of the masculine and the victory of the feminine is much like the relationship between mankind and the kingdom of the seals. When carried out with respect, both sides win!


[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2007 01:04 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

I had a whole section on chores I left out to streamline what I'd written a bit. So, here's a bit more:

My sister-in-law and her husband had what I thought was a great idea. After they'd been married a bit, they sat down and made a list of chores...breaking the chores down into individual tasks. Then, they marked down what they didn't mind doing and what they hated to do. Whenever one of them did not mind doing something the other one really hated, they had a perfect match. (I recall being intrigued to hear that she did not mind doing laundry but hated carrying the laundry down the long stairs (especially when pregnant.) He didn't mind doing the carrying, and a great load was taken from her shoulders -- figuratively and literally. ;-)

When we talk about "men" and "women," we are often really talking about masculine and feminine qualities. Real people have some of both...and not necessarily the same amount or kind as the next person. So, in a real relationship, there are often tasks that are traditionally apportioned to one sex that this particular member of the other sex would rather do.

I cut the lawn and fix the car rather than John. I like doing it. He doesn't. Or, in a number of families I know, the father stayed home with the children and the mother worked.

So long as the particular couple is happy with such arrangements, they work. It's part of the whole treating each other with respect issue. But this does not take away from the fact that the majority of men have more masculine qualities and the majority of women have more feminine qualities. (Note that most people playing violent video games -- not all, but most -- are men, and most people reading romances are women. (I've heard tell of men who like romances, but I've never seen one with my eye.)

This is because men and women really do have different preferences. But any given particular man or woman might not fit this generalization. (She may enjoy playing Grand Theft Auto while he reads LOVE'S SAVAGE FURY.) No problem with that...but it is out of step with the majority.
Date:May 7th, 2007 05:03 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

"Note that most people playing violent video games -- not all, but most -- are men, and most people reading romances are women. (I've heard tell of men who like romances, but I've never seen one with my eye.)"

Does "Pride & Prejudice" count? I enjoyed both the book, as well as the movie. Another I liked since childhood, is "Ladyhawke." It is basically a sword & sorcery tale, with a strong romantic plot. Perhaps, I don't enjoy them for the same reasons that most approach romances, so I'm not really enjoying the romance. I like them, because I see the male characters as examples of masculinity. Mr. Darcy is the mannerly gentleman, and Ettienne Navarre is the chivalric knight. There is not near enough stories like this, and I do love them when I encounter them.
Date:May 7th, 2007 05:20 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

It would be really interesting to read Pride and Prejudice from Darcy's point of view!
In writing romantic fiction it is necessary to have the hero be something of a smart and/or handsome ass to better further plot developments. If he were observably perfect, there would be no plot. When happily ever after kicks in, it becomes a regrettably boring read for the romantically minded.
Unfortunately some ladies function under the mistaken notion that these sweet books are realistic in their portrayals of men. Pride and Prejudice would have served Lady Diana Spencer a lot better as bedtime reading than her godmother's (Barbara Cartland) novels. She really thought she could change Prince Charles and woo him away from his longtime mistress by sheer virtue of her virtue.
Because that's the plotline of about half of BC's novelettes.
Not that they're not fun. They're fun. But still...
[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2007 05:36 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE is an excellent example! I only really fell in love with that book recently. I made John watch the movie with me some half a dozen times.

There are books that tell the story from Darcy's point of view, actually. There are over a dozen sequels to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, most written recently. The ones I read were horrible, but the one from Darcy's point of view got some good reviews.
[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

As you see, I went ahead and got a profile. This anonymous stuff was getting old.
If you ever find a good Darcy-point-view novel, let me know.
I did enjoy reading Wide Sargasso Sea, the prequel to Jane Eyre from the mad wife's point of view. It's by Jean Rhys.
[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2007 05:46 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

"Pride & Prejudice" does not count! My logic here is impeccable: 1. I am a real manly man, full of manly manfulness and COMPLETELY SECURE in my masculinity; 2. I like "Pride & Prejudice" a great deal; 3. No men as masculiniquely manliful as me read romance novels, ergo, quod erat demonstrandum, res ipsa loquitur, it cannot be a romance novel. Hmph! The very idea! Did I mention how secure I was in my maleness?

(Having said this, goes back to reading "Gone With the Wind". Will shall Scarlett ever come to see what Rhett truly means to her? Oh, Ashley!)
Date:May 7th, 2007 06:40 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

[User Picture]
Date:May 7th, 2007 08:09 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

I once tricked John into reading Gone With the Wind. I was rereading it on a trip. When he asked me to drive for a bit, I asked him to read the book out loud to me.

By the time we were home, several hours later he was hooked and read the rest of the book.

Good book, Gone With the Wind. As a fan of romance books, I can say that while it indeed has romance, it has very little in common with what is now called a romance.
Date:May 9th, 2007 10:05 am (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

At work, on occasion, one of the women I work with will throw on a girlish flick. Despite my grumbling, I'll find myself enjoying it by the end. (wait a minute did I say that? *goes back to pirating innocent miners in Eve*)
[User Picture]
Date:May 9th, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

On a number of occasions, John and I have gone to the movie theatre and split up. He goes off to watch Smoking Vengence IV while I catch the latest chick flick.

Without exception, he's regretted the decision. His movie usually turned out to be kind of dumb, and mine was good. (We rent them later so he can see just what he missed, so he's seen a number of chick flicks now.)
[User Picture]
Date:May 12th, 2007 05:48 am (UTC)

Re: It's different in the South

You might enjoy reading Georgette Heyer's novels. They are nothing like so fine as Pride and Prejudice (which one can go back and read and re-read nearly limitlessly. Or at any rate, I haven't found mine)

She was (in her day) every bit as popular with the gentlemen readers as the ladies. My favorites are:

The Grand Sophy
Venetia (particulary for the "orgies" comment)

Another author whose heroines were always the epitome of competence, virtue and yes, femininity, are those of Mary Stewart. They also have the virtue of being first-rate travel adventures: In the handfull of cases where I've visited the places described in her stories the sensation of being there was the same)

My two favorites are: Nine Coaches Waiting and The Ivy Tree.
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