1. I just finished Virginia Woolf’s, A Room of One’s Own, and it gave me so much to think about; I could go on and on. Primarily, though I was struck by Woolf’s emphasis on writing for its own sake, with no specific telos*. Toward the end of the essay, Woolf emphasizes “reality” and that women should focus on reality and not people and relationships. The implied premise is that women before had been confined to the world of relationships–the drawing room and the nursery and their duties therein–and they hadn’t been encouraged to explore the world as it is.
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.
It is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people, I would say, if I knew how to make it sound exalted. Think of things in themselves.
See human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality . . . . Our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women.
In other words . . . Ladies, shake off your concerns for other people and any responsibility you have to help other people through your writing. Focus on being yourself and writing what you want to write and describing the world as you see it. In other words . . . prioritize work over relationships . . . like men do.
2. And just after reading Ms. Woolf’s essay, I turned to a shorter one by John Cuddeback, in which he proposes that men should prioritize relationships over their work [like women do?].
We need to do more to reimagine and then reinstate a different model of family life. At the center of this model will be a husband and father whose very success in life is fundamentally, though not solely, seen and judged in terms of what he does in the home. Indeed, a central measure of his manhood will be the quality of his presence in the home.
I tend to agree with Dr. Cuddeback.
3. At the same time,when I start mentally criticizing Virginia Woolf, I catch myself and remember that
My life is better than pretty much any woman’s from any other time period or any other part of the globe.
If I were a man, I might prefer to live in other times or other parts of the world (a [male] taxi driver once extolled North Africa to me as the best place in the world to live), but as a woman, nope. I think I have it as good as it gets, and possibly as good as it ever will get.
I don’t know how much credit Virginia Woolf deserves for my enviable position, but . . . . I can take so much for granted that perhaps it skews my understanding?
4. Virginia Woolf also makes statements like,
“Chastity … has, even now, a religious importance in a woman’s life, and has so wrapped itself round with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light of day demands courage of the rarest.”
After reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and (a few months ago) Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and of the horrific sexual assaults both women experienced I think . . . maybe we’ve unwrapped those nerves and instincts too much and thrown out the baby with the bath water? Nerves and instincts are not virtues, but they can be preemptive self-defense measures.
5. Still it bugs me that the Catholic Church hasn’t done enough to unravel “nerves and instincts” from what is actually the virtue of chastity. (Consent! Consent is implicit in the definition’s use of the word “gift.”) I mean . . . if you’d humor for a moment, please picture a Venn diagram: physical virginity and chastity are two separate circles that overlap a great deal, but are not concentric.
So that brings me to Simcha Fisher’s post on Saint Maria Goretti. (She also uses the baby-with-the-bathwater-cliche but that’s coincidental.) I’ve mulled over a post on this saint for almost a year, planning to write something around her feast day. But July 6 came and went. Probably I was sleeping/eating/gestating and not much else.
As it turns out, my essay was written for me, in various comments to the post. (Reading the comments to Simcha’s posts is usually a waste of time, but occasionally I slip back into old habits.)
The objection to how St Maria Goretti’s cult is often presented is the notion that she was canonized because she managed to die before her attacker was able to succeed in raping her. Usually in words to the effect of “die rather than lose her chastity.” Which leads to the horrific implication that she would indeed have lost her chastity if he had succeeded in overpowering her against her will before killing her, and that his action carried out against her will would have been a sin on her part, and that anyone who does NOT fight to the death against a rapist is somehow “accepting” and therefore complicit in the attack and committing a mortal sin themselves.
. . . .
Did he say, “Let me rape you, or I’ll kill you,” and she said, “I’d rather you kill me”? That would give the impression that being raped is sinful, which seems confused. Or did he say, “Let’s have sex,” and she said no, and then he got angry and killed her? If the latter, then she was trying to avoid sexual sin (perhaps indeed for his sake as much as for her own), but there’s no reason, in this version of the story, to think there’s any worrisome implication that she was trying to avoid the pseudo-sin of being raped.
. . . .
She was 11. He had a knife and already heard the word “no” many times without impact. If anyone sees the potential for HER to sin in this situation, get thee to a therapist. Consent was not an option.
. . . .
I am sorry but this is trying to paper over an ugly truth in the Catholic Church.. the Church cared more about little Maria Goretti’s purity than it did her life. Maria Goretti was definitely not canonized for her forgiveness but for her purity. Pius XII mentioned as much in his homily at her canonization. It was all about her purity; she was a symbol used to condemn Italian girls who were sleeping with the American GIs.
These ^ are all other people’s words, not mine, but I’ve had the same back and forth in my head.
6. And I ponder why so many (all?) cultures place more weight on women’s physical purity than on consent, or on actual virtue, or on men’s chastity. Like Dr. Iannis says in Corelli’s Mandolin,
It’s a fact of life that the honour of a family derives from the conduct of its women. I don’t know why this is, and possibly matters are different elsewhere.
I do, sort of, understand why this is. In the grand, sordid, scheme of life men generally have to have some assurance that children are their own before they’ll support them.
Simcha’s description of why Saint Maria G. was canonized is a nice idea but it certainly isn’t the story I’ve been told. In fact, in his homily during her canonization homily, Pope Pius XII stated, “With splendid courage she surrendered herself to God and his grace and so gave her life to protect her virginity.” The Church’s teaching is a lot more nuanced than the crude-if-necessary emphasis on physical purity that so many cultures have. But you wouldn’t get that impression from Saint Maria Goretti’s story as it’s traditionally been told.
I have no neat, insightful conclusions for you. Just my thoughts.
7. Oh phew! I have more links to share, but that’s enough for tonight.
Have a great weekend!
* Telos = secret code word used by conservative-Catholic-liberal-arts majors to identify themselves to one another.