Friday, September 30, 2011

Wumpick and Woman

My dear Wumpick,

The one thing you must on no account forget is that your patient is a Woman. You must never assume that merely because a temptation or technique works well upon a man (I understand that your previous patients have all been men? It shows, Wumpick; it shows ...) that it can be applied with equal success to the opposite sex.
"What?" you will say, "are men and women not of the same species?" Indeed they are—although it has not always been convenient for us to let them think so. There have been ages in the past when we succeeded in creating doubt about the real humanity of women, especially among men who were soldiers or scholars (which in those days usually meant clerics). And even today there exist societies that regard woman as something less than men. Sometimes this is only a matter of theory and others only a matter of practice; our job, as always, is to see that sooner or later the bad practice becomes theory as well (whence it may infect and influence other groups) and that the bad theory eventually becomes practice.

But this sort of thing is so much repudiated in the dominant culture of your patient's part of the world, that the chances that she will see it as a present or personal threat are slight. Her view of history, however, is very likely to be infected; if she attends to much of what her culture tells her concerning the past, we may be able to produce in her some irrational fears and notions that appear ludicrous in light of the actual probability of her ever having to experience life in a misogynistic society.

Keep her at all costs from real history books, however. While their have always been religious tendencies, exterior circumstances, etc., etc. that led some men to despise women, there were also for over a thousand golden years similar tendencies that led to their elevation in men's minds. Shakespeare may not have been allowed woman players on his stage, but that stage was regulated by a Virgin Queen. Bernard of Claivaux was male, but Hildegard of Bingen was not. Caravaggio, Vouet, and Allori painted Judith; but so did Artemisia Gentileschi and Galizia—with Gentileschi's portrait in particular being a remarkable improvement on that of the male artist who influenced her. It is not the fault of the times, but the fault of the historians of the times, that these things are not widely known today.

But your patient is a woman living in the Enlightened West. There the tendency for belittling women which was not uncommon as recently as a hundred years ago has undergone so drastic a shift that men are now belittled instead, as if it were some kind of retribution to the honor of one sex for the worth of the other to be abused. The notion of Fairness has taken hold of their minds, till they practically practice (even when they are not so foolish as to explicitly preach) a brand of revenge not very dissimilar from that which they find so disgusting and primitive in the Old Testament. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," and "It shall be visited upon your children..." as long as the children are male, at any rate. So women who have never been slighted for their homochromosonality nevertheless feel it their right—nay, their duty—to see to it that no woman anywhere is ever so slighted again—and from this resolution, much can be made. From this resolution, an otherwise charitable woman can be brought to see simple acts of kindness and offers of help—offers that a man might just as well have made to another man—as insults deliberately given in an attempt to remind her of and keep her in her "place." Or, if the man who opens the door or offers to look up that bit of information for the report is at all attractive to her, she can be made to think that his extraordinary kindness must be the symptom of some romantic feeling on his part—and his subsequent failure to "follow through" can be used to arouse great resentment on her part, and confusion on his.

But is your woman quite so secular and so silly as this? She is a Catholic, a Mass-goer, a rosary-prayer and all the rest. She may be a feminist to boot—ten years ago it would have been very possible that she could be—but today the Church is gathering its skirts (so to speak) about it in the most appalling way. Less and less heresy is preached, even in America. More and better catechesis takes place. It is becoming harder and harder, therefore, for a Catholic who is connected to her local community (more about this later—your abject failure to detach her from it has not gone unnoticed here below) to buy into the doctrines of secularism—harder, at least, to buy into them consciously. So your woman will not be likely either to sneer at the man who shows her how to configure Open Office, or to feel hurt and betrayed when she meets him on the street with his girlfriend an hour later. But even such women as she cannot get through such a culture as hers altogether unscathed. She is living in a world with spiritual fallout; she will, sooner or later, contract a cancer from it. Our job is to see that she either does not notice the cancer until it is too late, or takes too drastic action in cutting it away.

I will consider the details of each of those temptations next week. But in the meantime, a little observation is needed. Does your patient prefer pink or black, Wumpick? A silly little distinction, you may say; but upon such human tastes a great deal may depend.

Your affectionate uncle,


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