Dear Alethea Malachi
Dear Alethea Malachi,
In regards to the allegation of gnosticism (and likewise elitism, arrogance, and whatever else one may justifiably associate with gnosticism), it can only be said “absolutely not.” Certainly our first issue was not distributed to every individual within the community; but as is later pointed out in your letter, there is significant expense of time, effort, and money in publishing such a work. Sadly, our financial backing only allows for a limited number of copies to be printed. Therefore, in distribution, we aimed for those who we thought most likely to find the journal of some interest, and most especially those with whom it wound generate a dialogue. We do not hold ourselves as the “sole holders” of truth, but seek, through rationally proceeding discourse, to unveil it as much as possible. Naturally, we hold what we say to be true and thus advocate it, but are not closed to the possibility that we are wrong. That is the primary goal of this journal: to invite a dialogical discourse and hopefully make clearer the discernment of truth. If anyone has any argument against anything said in these pages, we welcome it.
If we are going to have a frank discussion about the roles of men and women, not merely in the workplace but in the world at large (segregation of the world into home and office, personal and professional, is something greatly detrimental to a man’s spiritual continuity), it would behoove us to first review the comment in controversy. Chesterton’s words – “Modern women defend their office with all the fierceness of domesticity. They fight for desk and typewriter as for hearth and home, and develop a sort of wolfish wifehood on behalf of the invisible head of the firm. That is why they do office work so well; and that is why they ought not to do it” – are indeed easily misunderstood, regardless of whether not they are placed in the greater context that he wrote them. Namely, the words derive from the very end of a chapter called “The Emancipation of Domesticity,” in a section titled “Feminism, or the Mistake about Woman,” from the book written in 1910 under the name What’s Wrong with the World. For any readers unfamiliar with the writing and argumentation style of G.K. Chesterton, he operates almost entirely by paradox. This bizarre structure can be seen in the above quoted words: he points out that women do office work exceptionally well, and then says that they should not do it.
So just what is it that Chesterton finds objectionable about women working in an office? Clearly it is not inefficiency or incompetence, nor is it a threatening of the male workman. Rather, it is that by working in an office, by becoming another paper pusher, the woman denigrates herself far more than any amount of housework ever could. It may be that the home-bound woman, the house wife, the stay-at-home mother feels trapped, confined to a mundane and trivial life; and so may the man feel his desk a nine-to-five ball and chain, replete with torture-loving boss. Feminists will point out that the man gets to leave the home, be self-determining, decide his own work, pursue his dreams, while women are left devoid of options, of freedoms. Indeed, that is the sacrificial magnitude of the calling to be a wife and mother; no less, but drastically other than the sacrificial calling of a husband and father. As it says in Ephesians 5:22-28, “Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord: For the husband is the head of the wife; as Christ is the head of the church. He is the saviour of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered himself up for it, That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, nor any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife, loveth himself.”
This passage is not the easiest to understand. Even if one accepts that it is not anti-woman, and that it still recognizes a profound equality between men and women while acknowledging their differences, there are hidden nuances of meaning that bear flushing out. Let us proceed.
Why would St. Paul, and God through him, command women to submit to their husbands? I do not think it an exercise in humility – and I am fairly certain that most wives would agree that almost all lessons in humility ought to be directed at the less-fair half of a couple. Why are men commanded to love their wives, and wives not commanded to love their husbands? It seems an odd pair of double-standards, but the reality is one of perfect relational equanimity, based not on rationally flaccid social mores, but on the indisputable truth of human nature.
Man and woman, as the two halves of the image and likeness of God, are perfectly equal in their natures, and share much in common between them; yet there are profound differences, not so much in structure – excepting anatomy for the moment – but in spiritual focus. A man is entirely singular in his life: his pursuits are typically of a particular and exclusive nature, as much as a sword is for fighting. As Chesterton puts it, a man is called to give his best, which inherently and inexorably means giving only one thing, be it a trade, an art, or an intellectual pursuit. He may exchange one best for another, as Aristotle forsook the practice of medicine for the philosophical quest, but he may never exercise two bests at once and will always feel some pull towards that at which he excels most. Contrariwise, a woman is called to give everything; not her best, but her all; her duty is not particular, but universal; she is not a sword, but a fire, with which one may burn for warmth, for cooking, for cheer, for smithing or pottery or a thousand other uses. To quote from the same chapter by Chesterton, “Women were not kept at home in order to keep them narrow; on the contrary, they were kept at home in order to keep them broad. The world outside the home was one mass of narrowness, a maze of cramped paths, a madhouse of monomaniacs. It was only by partly limiting and protecting the woman that she was enabled to play at five or six professions and so come almost as near to God as the child when he plays at a hundred trades.”
This broadness is why women are called to marriage and motherhood: to fulfill the expansive callings of their nature, with the guidance of the singular calling of a man, each assisting the other. St. Thomas Aquinas said, in his Summa Contra Gentiles, that woman needs man for her governance – not because a woman is incapable of surviving on her own, but because her multitudinous talents can be a distraction. If you have ever seen a mother with many children overly deprived of her husband, you can see the truth of this; it is too tempting for a woman to extend herself beyond her capabilities, to do too much and succeed in doing it, but to succeed in such a way that she overworks herself, loses sight of the bigger picture. Nonetheless, there is a strength in woman for holding everything together, all at once; a woman directs all of the parts that make up the whole that is her household, so long as it is definitively hers. Thus, the efficacious broadness of a woman’s talents is not only the reason she should, ideally, apply herself to managing the home, but also why she ought to stay out of the office; for the office should never belong to one person; and though women may be the most effective administrators, administration is not the end goal of an office.
This brings us to the issues you raise with the faltered masculinity of modernity. Indeed, I would say that you are very insightful. Man has, time and time again, failed in his duty to lead, and has enslaved himself to an unnatural, bureaucratic working world, one which undermines and denies his innate manly qualities. How many men now are employed in a way meaningful, fulfilling? Not many; the narrow, monomaniacal world of which Chesterton spoke, the world of men, has been made even narrower by the simultaneously occupation of the broad-minded female. What ought to have been a sword has been reduced to less than a fencing-foil. The emphasis in all business is on the wrong things: profit, efficiency, shrink, overhead, so on and so forth. That is not what man is meant to do, outside of the home; he is meant to do one thing, and to do it well, so long as that one thing is something productive, creative, or serves some greater end. A journalist’s task is to produce good journalism; a carpenter good works of wood. Services such as accounting are an unfortunately necessity brought about by a perverted, convoluted society without good sense; it serves a greater end, but minimally. Thus, it is not the work itself which emasculates men, but the manner in which and the end for which he works that deprives him of the manliness he ought to have.
No doubt there are exceptions within either sex; but in order for them to be as exceptions, there must be a rule, a standard, an acknowledgement of the natures of man and of woman as that against which the abnormalities are excepted.
Regardless, we come back around to that which seemed prior, and may now doubly-so, to be a double-standard between God’s commandments to husbands and wives. That there is no radical difference between them would appear indisputable: except, of course, when we examine the ends at which man and woman are naturally inclined to achieve, despite by drastically different means. Namely, men and women act so as to complete one another; individually, they are incomplete, unfulfilled reflections of the Divine, which can fit together only like a four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Thus men are commanded to love their wives, and to show that love by being always ready to die for them, as Christ died for the Church. Women are also commanded to love their husbands, to love them by submitting to them, by being faithful to them, by living every day for them, as the Church lives every day for Christ. In the words of the late and hopefully soon canonized Bishop Fulton Sheen, “As a matter of fact, men and women are not equal in sex; they are quite unequal, and it is only because they are unequal that they complement one another. Each has a superiority of function. Man and woman are equal, inasmuch as they have the same rights and liberties, the same final goal of life, and the same redemption by the Blood of Our Divine Saviour – but they are different in function, like the lock and key.”
I could of course go on much more, but I will leave off with more words from Bishop Sheen:
“[Mary] was the inspiration to womanhood, not because she claimed there was equality in sex (peculiarly enough, this was the one equality she ignored), but because of a transcendence in function which made her superior to a man, inasmuch as she could encompass a man, as Isaias foretold. Great men we need, like Paul with a two-edged sword to cut away the bonds that tie down the energies of the world – and men like Peter, who will let the broad stroke of their challenge ring out on the shield of the world’s hypocrisy – great men like John who, with a loud voice, will arouse the world from the sleek dream of unheroic repose. But we need women still more; women like Mary of Cleophas, who will raise sons to lift up white hoists to a Heavenly Father; women like Magdalene, who will take hold of the tangled skeins of seemingly wrecked and ruined life and weave out of them the beautiful tapestry of saintliness and holiness; and women, above all, like Mary, the Lady of Equity, who will leave the lights and glamours of the world for the shades and shadows of the Cross, where saints are made. When women of this kind return to save the world with equity, then we shall toast them, we shall salute them, not as ‘the modern woman, once our superior and now our equal,’ but as the Christian woman closest to the Cross on Good Friday, and first at the Tomb on Easter morn.”
Your rather large paragraph regarding the Southern Catholic community seems to be raising two main points: one, that the student body appears to be well-educated, well-informed, and ought to be left to its own course without any effort such as that which comes in this journal; two, that one cannot judge something without knowing every last detail about how it came to be as it is. As regards the first point, the majority of education for most students comes outside of the classroom. Certainly, a student’s peers cannot hold a candle to the erudition of his venerable professors; but dissemination of information from a higher authority is fruitless if the mind is not willing to accept it, to seek it (Mark 4:1-20). Positive peer influence can have a magnificent effect, not only to make a student more eager within the classroom, but also outside of it – to extend intellectual alacrity not only to academia, but to the world at large. In response to the second point, an institution is not judged by its intentions or the secret difficulties it faces, but by the results it produces. It may be that, to some eyes, an institution is producing satisfactory or even excellent results, that it is living up to its promises. To other eyes, it may not seem so. Undoubtedly, there are many details that never extend beyond the complicated, bureaucratic inner workings of such organizations. The question is whether or not the inner works should be so complicated and bureaucratic, and even more so whether or not they should be so secretive.
Where do girls find time to do their hair, or students to write for a school-run newspaper? Perhaps we took shorter showers, slept a little less, spent a bit less time at meals or idly discussing our egotistic and pedantic opinions. Minor sacrifices of time come easily, and do not in the least necessitate a failing in the fulfillment of our vocations as students. Furthermore, we do not see how opinions (though such is a weak word, indicating a nervousness about whether or not one is correct) in contradiction to our own could be of equal value, for a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time, in the same place, and in the same manner; in other words, if one of us is right, the other must necessarily be wrong. Consequently, to rectify these discrepancies of belief, the journal was primarily distributed to those whose opinions are contrary to ours, in order to, as has been stated over and over again, facilitate a dialogue, to employ reason in the service of truth. What do we gain by it? “Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only?” (James 2:24).
Suggested further reading:
What’s Wrong with the World – G.K. Chesterton
The World’s First Love – The Most Reverend Fulton J. Sheen