Feminism v. Femininity: the Threat to Woman's Identity

Feminism v. Femininity: the Threat to Woman's Identity [1]
(New Oxford Review, October, 2013)

Lest the title given to my presentation cause confusion, may I begin by emphasizing that I am a feminist. Radical feminism is what I see as a threat to woman's identity. Ask any radical feminist what should be the most logical question to put to them (a question incidentally they don't like) - what he or she understands by "feminine," and they have no answer. They don't want women to be feminine, just as they don't want men to be masculine. Down with the difference!
My life as a feminist started at about the age of five, when I first began to admire my mother. And my feminism increased as I came to appreciate my sisters. Probably then I could not define the elements of that appreciation, except for realizing there was something different about women and girls; and somehow I admired that something. Vive la différence!
Then I entered into my teens, and girls entered into my life in a new way, a way that changed and to some extent disturbed my incipient feminism. Part of my reaction was concisely expressed not long ago in a mentoring session with a fourteen year old boy. He was from a good family background with the distinctive note that his five siblings were all boys. As we were ending our chat, I sensed there was still something on his mind; so I asked him, what is it? He looked at me, and solemnly enunciated - "Girls!". Slightly amused, I asked him, what about girls? He looked at me again and answered quite slowly, "They puzzle me..." I gave him a few possible clues to the puzzle but didn't really try or want to solve it. I had had the same experience myself and thought it a good start to a healthy sexual outlook.
When I was a teenager I lived in a residential area on the outskirts of Sligo, my home town in Ireland. There were three or four families close by, all friends and all large - six, seven or eight children. As a result, my teenage social life was spent in the company of fifteen or twenty boys and girls all in the 15-18 age range. I admired the girls I knew, and now and then imagined I might eventually marry this one or that. I admired them but respected them. They made themselves respected. 'Bad' thoughts were directed elsewhere. One would feel ashamed to allow a bad thought toward a girl who inspires respect. "Modesty" (which was then not an unbecoming term), modesty, especially on the part of girls, made purity easier - though never easy. Yet it drew out a noble impulse which helped so much. In another recent mentoring session with a boy of 16 I described, a little more at length, that atmosphere of my teenage social life. When I had finished, he observed, "I wish I had grown up in your times". In my times, that was a fairly normal atmosphere. It is not normal today.
The Different Powers that a Woman has over a Man
Today, in general, women are desired - but not admired. Why? Because so many have forgotten – perhaps never learned, never been taught - the difference between wanting to be attractive and letting oneself be - making oneself - provocative. They emphasize the animal fact of being female, and ignore the human quality of being attractive. They have the power the female has over the male - consisting simply in a physical desire that looks for satisfaction. They do not have the power that the truly feminine woman has over a man, inspiring him, as only such a woman can inspire a man: to overcome his sensuality, learning to admire her and therefore to respect her.
If men have changed, it is because women have changed. Women themselves seem no longer to prize two fundamental features of femininity which are precisely those most capable of inspiring admiration and reverence in men: virginity and motherhood. The consequences are disastrous for both men and women.
"Neither virgin nor mother!" - this seems to be the motto or battle-cry of radical feminism - or should we simply say its pathetic cynicism. Such 'feminism' not only destroys woman's understanding of true femininity, but ruptures the relation between the sexes in the most profound way. Let us try to consider this in greater depth.
It helps to understand virginity by first enunciating that primary anthropological truth: more important than what one has, is what one is. To give what one has is something; to give what one is, is something much more. But to be humanly fulfilling, it must be a giving of what one is, to something or someone that merits such a gift. No one matures into a person from within themselves. Growth and maturity come from a loyal response, a giving of self, to family, to friends, to country: giving to them aspects or parts of oneself: time, sympathy, presence...
One can give aspects of self to many people in diverse ways. But true fulfillment only comes from the gift of the whole of oneself. It could be directly to God; normally it is to a spouse in marriage. Marriage, as the normal fulfilling commitment, involves a mutual self-gift. But it is a gift of the whole of one's self. Properly speaking, one should come to marriage with the whole of one's self to give; with an intact and integral self to give.
Virginity is not mainly a physical condition. It is simply the integrity that the marital self-gift logically calls for; what the person who understands marriage looks for in the woman (or, it should be equally so, in the man) he or she wants to marry. Marriage, if it is to have any unique human sense and dignity, is the union of a man and a woman in exclusive, open-to-life and permanent mutual self-giving. It is not a giving in part; that is not yet a gift. It is not a temporary gift, that is just a loan. If one has already given oneself sexually then any subsequent sexual self-gift is impaired. Part has already been given away, one has less of self to give. The gift is then so much the poorer; and the one prompted to accept it feels it is a used-up self the other is offering.
Girls today give themselves so easily. As a result they cheapen themselves in the eyes of boys and men. Modesty in behavior, modesty in dress, modesty in not letting a guy get fresh with her, used to be the style of most girls. They were the girls whom the vast majority of men admired and sought - also precisely because there was the sense they were not easily won. "This girl values herself. She makes herself respected. I admire that. She has ideals. I want to measure up to the self-worth that she attributes to herself". That is a first condition if a woman is to inspire a man.
Tragically, though, modesty is out of fashion today. Then let us talk a bit more about it.
Modesty is connected with the sense of self. It relates to personal intimacy. Animals have no modesty for they have no personality to reveal or to protect. Modesty does not relate just to forms of dressing. A genuine and attractive modesty marks the person who feels repugnance at speaking too much about his or her achievements, or those of their family members. It is only gradually that one shares one's intimate things with others - in the measure precisely of friendship... A readiness to share the whole of one's intimacy with anyone and everyone shows a superficial self-esteem [2]. It implies regarding one's intimacy as public property, containing nothing in it that merits to be reserved for some persons and not to be revealed or exhibited indiscriminately to all.
Going back to my university days, it wasn't uncommon among men students, to hear the remark about some girl: "You know, So-and-So is a really nice girl". It didn't sound 'sexy" in the modern sense (although it was in fact full of genuine sexual appreciation). The girl in question might not even be very pretty or have a good figure. But there was something very attractive about her.
The 'finishing schools' of a hundred years ago often managed to give young ladies a veneer of 'niceness'. The truly feminine woman gives the impression of being nice in her deeper self.
The body is part of one's self - the most visible part, but certainly not the whole of one's self. Excessive emphasis deliberately drawn to bodily attraction often reveals an impoverished inner self, a shallow personality. If a girl knows how to develop her interior feminine self, she will be attractive to men, to the most worthwhile of men, however limited her physical assets might be.
Dress should be revealing... It should reveal the person, in his or her sense of values, of interior worth ... Dress that over-reveals the body hinders the discovery of the person, of one's real self - if there is any real self left worth showing. Or is that over-revealing dress an offer of one's self to anyone ready to pay its worth? Maybe one should excuse oneself in saying it, but it nevertheless needs to be said, and said clearly: so many women today are lowering their proclaimed self-worth to that of the prostitute.
Romance, a romantic view of the opposite sex, is not cool today... It is dated. No one lives it. Oh, but they do! – at least in their dreams They, especially girls, but boys too, dream of it. But it's not a cool dream, so they keep it to themselves. Besides, they've been told too often that romance only ends in disillusionment. But it does not have to end that way, if only women and men could be an inspiration to each other.
The knight of the old tales of chivalry put his maiden on a pedestal and worshipped her. How is that there seem to be too few maidens today, too few to inspire boys and men to be chivalrous...?
Radical feminists (who propose to women that they should all be CEOs) despise that ancient idea of woman on a pedestal. They rejected the pedestal, and chose to step down from it. But in stepping down, they fell. And what a fall was there! And how many they have brought down with them.
One may be tempted to say, this is too idealistic; and we always fail in our ideals. Yes; but if there are no ideals, then we will fail - we will fall - all the deeper.
What a man feels for a maiden, a truly feminine girl, and what he feels for a mother, a truly feminine mother, are two quite different things. He worships the maiden; he admires and venerates the mother, all the more so if that truly feminine mother is his own mother. The maiden is full of romantic promise - though in his heart he should realize that she will never fully live up to all those idealized expectations. But the mother is an achiever. She has done it! Her credentials are there – he is one of them. She is the real heroine.
But who today really considers motherhood admirable? I think most men do - even if they so often seem content to be poor fathers. The tragedy is that many women, and I would go so far as to suggest that it is a sizeable majority, do not.
The radical feminism that has so expropriated a noble cause has turned women away from motherhood, has convinced them that it is no more than a woman's burden, an unjust burden of nature. For them, it is not only a woman's right to put professional achievement first in her priorities of fulfillment; it is even her duty. She owes it to herself. In fact she owes it to the rest of women, to the whole of society... So – marriage...? Perhaps - after having had time to enjoy oneself. And children? Well, maybe one or two - because they so limit one's freedom. Besides, the woman is still expected to be their main care-taker. A woman is always under such a handicap.
By its very structure the body of woman shows that it is made to open, to be visited, to be made fruitful, and that only in this way can it achieve its natural fulfillment as a human feminine body: to receive and give love and life. Does this mean, then, that, as is often said, biology is destiny? It is certainly a pointer to personal identity, which includes sexual identity. If we reject nature, we have no clue left to our human identity. We are drifters, unidentified and unidentifiedly lost, ready to be swept away in the debris of a disintegrating humanity.
How is it that young girls are not taught to wonder at their unique life-giving potential, and so want proudly to keep themselves, so as one day to fulfill that potential? Probably, almost certainly, they will not relearn that wonder until we return to the situation where the normal wife and mother once more proudly rejoices in her role as the privileged bearer and nurturer of life?
Fear of pregnancy? Understandable. No one chooses pain for its own sake. But we do choose a painful operation to save our own lives. A soldier can give his life to save his country. Soldiers used to be regarded as heroes. Now we don't believe too much in military heroism. Even just causes are greeted with skepticism. There seems to be nothing worth giving oneself to. The ultimate surrender of values is when suppressing new life is regarded as a proper right, and giving new life as an unfair burden.
It seems well here to quote two prominent twentieth-century figures in the study of sex, who can hardly be accused of retrograde religious bias. The first, the British physician and psychologist, Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), stressed that "the mother is the child's supreme parent"; adding, "In the great ages of humanity [this] has indeed been accepted as a central and sacred fact". He goes on: "In England, by a curiously perverted form of sexual attraction, women were so fascinated by the glamour that surrounded men that they desired to suppress or forget all the facts of organic constitution which made them unlike men, counting their glory as their shame, and sought the same education as men, the same occupations as men" [3]
The anthropologist, Margaret Mead, (1901-1978), has been criticized for cultural determinism in her observation of primitive societies. But the following words of hers could well be taken to reflect the modern societal determinism to which girls are more and more subject. "The simple logic of "breasts that do not give suck" can only be escaped by the most elaborate forms of cultural learning. Girls can be placed in learning contexts where every one of them will wish to be a boy and resent being a girl; girls can be placed in learning contexts in which being a woman and bearing a child is a synonym of having one's body invaded, distorted, and destroyed. Girls can certainly learn not to want children, but such learning seems always to be socially imposed... Societies may be differently successful in teaching each sex its reproductive rôle, and when both sexes set their hearts against reproduction, then such societies die out - even without benefit of contraceptives" [4].
So, to sum up and conclude... On the one hand, disdain for virginity, disregard for modesty, provocative fashion. On the other, rejection of the ideal of being a home-builder, loss of appreciation and reverence for the mystery of motherhood...
Who is to blame for this unhappy state of womankind, which is pervasive in the West and is being unrelentingly imposed from the West on emerging countries? Who is to blame for this denaturalized situation which inevitably results in robbing women of their deepest human dignity, isolating them from men and from each other, leaving them more and more immersed in aggrievances, frustration, self-pity and loneliness?
Who is to blame? Some men, no doubt, who seek money or power in pushing this degraded agenda. But it is a group of women who originated the agenda that are the first to be blamed - the radical feminists of the 1960s and later. Highly intelligent women, for the most part, who were also highly frustrated. Their writings, their words, their interviews confirm this impression: frustration in their own upbringing; in their marriage, if they married; in their love affairs; in their professional ambitions. They pushed for women's "freedom" from sexual restraint, from family ties, from motherhood, from the respect of men... And, with few exceptions, the rest of women followed them.
Hence, I don't hesitate to say that the main blame for all of his lies with the generality of women themselves. And I don't hesitate to say it because unless they themselves realize it and react, their situation, and the situation of all of us, will degenerate more and more, until we are overtaken by total dehumanization.
A hundred years ago, in the turbulence of early feminist claims, G.K. Chesterton made a quip about how ten thousand women rose as one man, crying out, 'we will not be dictated to'; and promptly became stenographers!...
Today his quip could be given a much more serious turn. Millions of women all over the Western world need to rise up and cry out, each in her own voice, "we will not be dictated to, or exploited, or turned into merchandise: or into men... We reclaim our right to be women."

[1] An address sponsored by The Witherspoon Institute, given in Washington, D.C., March 2013.
[2] Self-esteem is the subjectivized measure of self-worth that is so dominant today. Yet many young women today seem unable to distinguish between what could ground genuine self-esteem and what simply makes for radical self-cheapening.
[3] Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1927), volume vi (Gutenberg).
[4] Male and Female, 231, 238.