I am sent this historical rendering of feminine nobility by Master Xavier, who has something to say on the subject here (something more serious, that is).
There’s an illustration, gentlemen – a real illustration,” he said. “I studied that girl, Joan of Arc, for twelve years, and it never seemed to me that the artists and the writers gave us a true picture of her. They drew a picture of a peasant. Her dress was that of a peasant. But they always missed the face – the divine soul, the pure character, the supreme woman, the wonderful girl. She was only 18 years old, but put into a breast like hers a heart like hers and I think, gentlemen, you would have a girl – like that.”
The humorist looked toward the door, and there was absolute silence – puzzled silence – for many did not know whether it was time to laugh, disrespectful to giggle, or discourteous to keep solemn. The humorist realized the situation. Turning to his audience he came out of the clouds and said solemnly:
“But the artists always paint her with a face – like a ham.”
This quote of Mark Twain is taken from an article published in the December 31, 1905 edition of The New York Times, Pictorial Section, which covered a dinner at the Aldine Association, sponsored by the Society of Illustrators which Mark Twain had been the guest of honor. Knowing as they did, the great respect which he bore toward the Maid of Orleans the men of the society had prearranged to have a model dressed in the garb of the saint, including armor to enter and approach Mark Twain at the head table. The article says it looked as though he had seen a ghost; but I wonder if it would be more proper to say, especially given his remarks above, that he looked as though he had seen a vision.
The Times article is reprinted in a recent post at News for Growing Christians by Stephen K. Ryan, entitled “What the Atheists don’t want you to know about Mark Twain’s secret.” I have written on this subject before (see “Twain’s Joan” I & II); however, I was not aware of the incident recorded by the Times, nor of the 1904 essay Twain wrote, singing the St. Joan’s praises to the heavens in which he did not believe. In the Maid, he was a believer:
Taking into account, as I have suggested before, all the circumstances — her origin, youth, sex, illiteracy, early environment, and the obstructing conditions under which she exploited her high gifts and made her conquests in the field and before the courts that tried her for her life, — she is easily and by far the most extraordinary person the human race has ever produced.
Stranger yet is the fact that what we might presume to be the case, given his well known dispositions, is in fact not true, namely, that his interest in the girl was purely due to the fact that she did not fit his determinist ideology and that somehow nature had been kinder to her than to the rest of us. There is not even a hint of the secularist sneer in the following words of praise:
She was deeply religious, and believed that she had daily speech with angels; that she saw them face to face, and that they counselled her, comforted and heartened her, and brought commands to her direct from God. She had a childlike faith in the heavenly origin of her apparitions and her Voices, and not any threat of any form of death was able to frighten it out of her loyal heart. She was a beautiful and simple and lovable character. In the records of the Trials this comes out in clear and shining detail. She was gentle and winning and affectionate, she loved her home and friends and her village life; she was miserable in the presence of pain and suffering; she was full of compassion: on the field of her most splendid victory she forgot her triumphs to hold in her lap the head of a dying enemy and comfort his passing spirit with pitying words; in an age when it was common to slaughter prisoners she stood dauntless between hers and harm, and saved them alive; she was forgiving, generous, unselfish, magnanimous; she was pure from all spot or stain of baseness. And always she was a girl; and dear and worshipful, as is meet for that estate: when she fell wounded, the first time, she was frightened, and cried when she saw her blood gushing from her breast; but she was Joan of Arc! and when presently she found that her generals were sounding the retreat, she staggered to her feet and led the assault again and took that place by storm.
Twain is a good example of the skeptical age. It’s full of contradictions. I would have to believe that the Maid came to his defense as she did even to the enemies of France: “on the field of her most splendid victory she forgot her triumphs to hold in her lap the head of a dying enemy and comfort his passing spirit with pitying words.” One may hope.
But no man can afford these kind of contradictions. The Maid could not abide them. France was not England. She would have none of the hand-wringing vascilation or refined duplicity of her age, and I am sure she would have none of the cynicism of ours. We shouldn’t either.
I started on this post more than a year ago and have come back to it from time to time. While I am up at Mount St. Francis, hiding in my cave and working on my paper for our Coredemption conference in July, I thought I would finally knock it out. I shot a video on the same topic a while back.
As one interested in helping to bring about a revival of Christian Chivalry, I have thought fondly of the image of the “damsel in distress” as being both iconic and inspiring of the chivalric ideals. I was horrified, then, to see such an honorable term being disparaged by those otherwise promoting the ideals of chivalry. Call me naive or nostalgic (or worse), but I cannot for the life of me see anything wrong with it.
I will admit, if we understand “damsel in distress” as it is caricatured, for example, by the film image of the pretty woman being tied screaming to the train tracks by Dastardly Dan and then being rescued by Agent Jim West, then there is much to be disparaged. The poor helpless thing is abused by one womanizer only to be rescued by another, and all the while is oblivious to everything but the attention she is getting. The ideals of chivalry have always been partially obscured by the cult of “courtly love.” There is nothing new under the sun.
Television and film have that curious ability of turning unalloyed gold into lead, and contrariwise, of cultivating a fondness for the most obvious absurdities. We have learned to despise feminine vulnerability and celebrate the wonders of the Bionic Woman.
So what is the “damsel in distress,” and why should her place in the venerable history of womanhood be preserved and honored? To answer this question we must first examine the contemporary feminist trend to idolize the Amazon.
Okay, boys, after watching this try not whining for a few days at least. Make sure no girls are watching, so they don’t see you wiping your eyes.
Due homage to the Maid, paragon of chivalry.
Okay, I have a touch of Palimania. I admit it. But I am on the road to recovery. Still, I will say up front that the Palin pick has swayed my vote.
Think about it. All the mythology about The One, which took 18 months and the art of Hollywood to create, was all blown away in a few days by a real middle class, religious, staunchly pro-life mom who does not appear to be politically motivated. Even if the Republicans loose, the moment is too sweet not to savor.
BTW, Palin’s speech came close to surpassing the record breaking viewership of the big 0′s speech, even though Palin’s had been carried by 4 fewer networks. No smoke and mirrors, no Greek god motif and no support from Oprah! Not bad.
Whatever might be the celebrity effect that has been caused by her gender, attractiveness and story, I think that the kind of support she is receiving from the right could in no way be generated if she were not the no-nonsense, social conservative that she is.
Considering what is at stake, I think Catholics and other Christians who brush this ticket off are going to die old maids. At some point you have to be thankful for what you have, even if it is not perfect. That just might as well be a donkey in the back of that truck.
Even so, the objections raised against the whole working mother iconography of Sarah Palin, one that militates against the traditional socially conservative religious view of marriage and family life, cannot easily be dismissed. I was a bit mortified by this post by Debbie Schlussel:
And for the last several days, my jaw dropped to note the partisan pandering on both sides of the aisle, first as prominent liberal feminist women suddenly discover that a woman actually should stay home and raise a family, but second–and far more disappointing to me–as conservatives and Republicans suddenly endorse the fictional notions that 1) a woman can do it all and working women are good at raising a family–nix on both; and 2) it’s not a problem that a man quit his job and subvert his life to raise the family in submission to the ambitions of his wife.
It’s odd–and, frankly, jarring–to hear formerly traditional family values conservatives throw it all former principle out the window to adopt the lingua franca of what was once the exclusive domain of the Gloria Steinems and Betty Friedans of the world, to call “sexist,” those who raise the issue of Sarah Palin’s ability to mother her family and be a full-time working woman at the same time.
What is, since Friday, now “sexist” to these many conservatives-cum-lemmings, was yesterday “traditional family values.”
Ouch. O course, I know this. It is why I pointed out that Palin’s political career appears more like the efforts of a mom, who was fed up with the good ‘ol boys, to set things right. This has happened before, even in Catholic cultures. Women have found themselves in extraordinary circumstances and have risen to unheard of prominence in order to right the wrong. This usually happens when the men who should have done this, either were afraid to do it or were incapable of doing it.
I also have been willing to consider the possibility that providence has led us to this point. How else do you explain the fact that a middle class hockey mom with little backing, money and power has come this far, this fast? And she is still nursing a special needs baby! One might argue that just because she is stepping outside the traditional role, does not mean that every woman should.
The problem is Sarah Palin does portray herself as a feminist and does encourage women to break all the barriers. It does seem as though she thinks that a mom can do it all, and all of it well.
Schlussel also points out that the Palimania is also causing the advocates of traditional values to except the emasculation of men:
When Palin was initially announced, last Friday, as the McCain choice, I cheered her on. What I didn’t realize is that she had five kids, some of them very young. What I also didn’t realize was that, for all the talk by the GOP about this “hockey mom,” the real hockey mom in this picture–for the last two years, at least–has been Mr. Mom, Todd Palin.
I am, as you can see, inclined to see the best in all this. I am not so sure that Todd Palin is quite as emasculated as Schlussel thinks. It remains to be seen.
I also think that Schlussel goes a bit overboard on her comments about the situation with Bristol Palin. Everyone knows that Sarah Palin advocates abstinence and has backed that up in both her political and personal life.
In the end Schlussel is not so scandalized that she feels obligated to abstain from voting for the McCain / Palin ticket, and neither am I:
I like Sarah Palin, and I will be voting for her, more than John McCain.
But is her Mr. Mom marital employment and child-rearing dynamic a good example for the boys of America? Is it a good example for the girls of America?
Only if you want your men–no matter how studly and masculine–to be women, and your women–no matter how good-looking and feminine, as Mrs. Palin is–to be men.
For conservatives to sweep these issues under the rug now that “one of ours” is doing it, is to say that for all these years, our movement was a fraud.
Well, I for one will not sweep it under the rug. But neither am I so naive to think that this culture war is going to be won overnight and without some measure of imperfection. I do agree, however that it is ridiculous for social conservatives to be suddenly screaming sexism when they are asked if a mother with five children can reasonably undertake the office of Vice-President.
Polite is just custom, as is secular or modern chivalry, the religious version, blessing of sword on altar, truce of God, orphans, widows protected from mayhem,
I think “Benedictio novi militis.” was the first time since the Roman era that soldiers became respectable. In fact,
in the late Roman period in the west they were also hated, that aversion essentially continued to the crusades.
Chivalry is a boy-word for doing the right thing in the right circumstances. It’s as patriarchal as the pigeon splattered statues of yesterday’s war-mongering classes in the park.
To each calling there is a custom. If one is lining up for a life-boat, that’s probably not the time to make a big issue out of it
Much to my chagrin, the post on this blog that has received the most hits is the one in which I linked to an article by a feminist on the evils of the Disney Princesses. I barely even commented on the article; I just provided the link. Over the last couple of months the hits have gone out of sight. I have no idea why and would be really interested to know why.
In my search for the reason, I have come across a better known article on the subject that was published in The New York Times in December, 2006 by Peggy Orenstein, entitled “What’s Wrong with Cinderella?” Seems the feminists have a love hate relationship with Cinderella and her cohorts. What would probably be more of concern to the regular readers of Mary Victrix is the way in which young girls are being hyper-sexualized and the way in which the story’s minimize fatherhood; what concerns the feminists, however, is the do-nothing, girlie-girl image of the Princesses (Mulan and Pocahontas, excepted).
In spite of her uneasiness with pink dresses and tiaras for toddlers Orenstein wonders if the current Princess-mania is part of the third wave of feminism. Women are claiming their “right” to have it all: to be one of the boys and a princess at the same time.
The first wave of feminism was the “fight for suffrage.” During the 60s and 70s of the women’s movement saw its second wave, which “fought for reproductive rights and economic, social and legal equality,” and which eschewed gender image altogether, especially that which made women subject to men, either by way of authority or sexuality. The third wave of feminism, according to Orenstein has reclaimed “sexual objectification as a woman’s right.” In other words the new feminists see nothing wrong with being a sex-object as long as it is on their own terms.
Now that “reproductive rights” are fairly secure, men are not entirely to be exiled from the midst of the Amazons. Now the game of exploitation can be engaged in on a much more level playing field. Now feminists are teaching girls to use their sexuality to secure their independence even further and have fun at the same time. They still remain concerned about issues of equality and the culture which puts so much pressure on girls to look like models and Hollywood actresses, but God forbid anyone teach chastity. They are worried about “age-inappropriate” exposure to the culture of lust, but not about the consequences of an unchaste spirit itself.
Without being paranoid, one would think that in this age of pedophilia, the feminists would be less fearful of chastity and do more to reexamine the dictates of common sense. One can still hope.
Disney is not the worst of it, for sure, what with Bratz dolls and fashions like Abercrombie & Fitch. Still, what remains particularly distressing about Disney is the target age of little girls and the relative “wholesomeness” of the Disney reputation in main-stream culture.
There seems to be a great deal of latent anger against men who have neglected and abused their wives and abandoned their children. We have much work to do in order to restore respect for the institution of fatherhood. Fathers have a tremendous amount of work to do in order to teach their sons to respect their mothers and sisters and to teach girls that not all male attention is exploitative and selfish.
Genevieve Kineke has written a number of posts on chivalry over the years. It’s one of her blog categories. She has some interesting things to say and links to many good sources.
Of late, Genevieve has been involved in a debate on women’s use of chapel veils, which I have not followed myself aside from what I just read on her blog.
Over the years, I have found myself arguing reciprocally for the formation of a Catholic culture on the one hand, and for a broadminded exercise of prudence on the other. In reality, there is no contradiction between the fighting spirit of prowess and the moderating spirit of courtesy, but that is not to say that finding the balance is easy. I can appreciate what Genevieve means when she says:
The tradeoff which always concerns me is the inhospitality with which many interpret some acts of piety, which bear the aforementioned “code.”
We are always fighting to hold our ground as the swamp of our godless culture encroaches upon the sanctuaries of our homes and churches. As a motley group of sinners, Catholics will not always agree on how best to do this.
Unless usages like the chapel veil are mandated again by Rome there will always be legitimate arguments about the relative merits of such traditions. And even if Rome were to solve such questions, we will continue to disagree in good faith concerning practical discernment relative to our way of living as Christians in non-Christian world.
I think too much is at stake not to seek our advantages in terms of restoring tradition; however, without a great deal of virtue this often translates into a kind of inhospitality, where the ones alienated are often those who would be otherwise most likely to embrace a more Catholic way of life.
I really don’t think there are any pat answers here. I am often told that I should be more black and white. (That should say something about the circle in which I travel). We who crusade for Catholic culture don’t like gray–any gray. Unfortunatley, some things are gray. And upon many things Catholics of good will can and, in a sense, must disagree.
In a lecture entitled “Culture and the Coming Peril,” G.K. Chesterton used the word “vulgarity” to describe modern culture, and he defined vulgarity as “standardization at a lower standard.” Indeed, he argued for a high standard, but not for complete uniformity. He ended his lecture with these words:
[T]here never was a time in the whole history of the human race when it was more necessary to defend the intellectual independence of man that this hour in which we live.
The secularists, as we know, are not at all committed to diversity in the way they contend. They wish to stimy all debate, as they do, for example, in regard to the issue of same-sex marriage. The answer to the dictatorship of relativism, however, is not a to have a rule supplied for everything to which everyone must conform. There is a place for rules. There is also a place for liberty.
In certain things unity. In doubtful things liberty. In all things charity (St. Augustine).
But even where there is no argument asserting the binding nature of this or that practice, but just that its merely “better” or “more Catholic,” we are going to run into tension. And that is not altogether a bad thing. We need a fighting spirit. We need to regain some Catholic territory and burn into our hearts an unambiguous Catholic identity. But we also need to avoid all that is sectarian and narrow minded. We can’t turn the Church into the club of our own opinions, no matter high minded or traditional those opinions may be.
The path, I think, is to be as good natured and as open to the upright intentions of others as possible. G.K. Chesterton and his brother Cecil used to bring a stack of books each to the dinner table and vigorously argue to their hearts content. Later in life, Chesterton said that he had never had a quarrel with his brother because they always argued. There is much to be said for that.