I didn’t make any progress down my enormous stack of books over the last three months….by which I mean that I binged mystery novels and only did bite-sized amounts of Reading For Information, which is not what I had intended.
I did slowly make my way through this long and interesting piece. It appears to be a good faith effort to talk about the subject of what he* calls the Missing Heroic Feminine. Basically, the author believes that women at the beginning of the last century were on the cusp of developing some interesting and useful archetypal narratives, such as existed for men, but then Marxism swept in and wrecked it all. Let’s take some bits out. First, he says that
Women remained largely constrained by biology and so their narrative stories were largely constrained to the “maiden, mother, matriarch” triad. Over the millennia, increasingly complex opportunities for men fueled the development of an increasingly complex set of masculine narratives, which in turn informed an increasingly sophisticated understanding of masculinity within the culture.
I do like that—“largely constrained by biology.” Very delicate way of putting it. Anyway, the author contends, this wide variety of complex narrative opportunities is what produced a “patriarchal structure in much of the world.” The Patriarchy (gasp) was not, he insists, “the product of any contrived malice so much as a result of simple biology plus time.” Amen, as Mr. Flushpool would say, To That.
I can’t go in and quote and respond to everything because I don’t have time, but I found this paragraph intriguing:
In the 19th century U.S., women grew ever more involved in the public domain, acting to bring the Christian morality of the home into the public sphere by way of civic organizations. This was a unique aspect of American culture. Women took over many of the duties that the Catholic church managed in continental Europe. What developed was a kind of parallel power structure. This feminine structure enabled the radical limited government to function but it also increased the prominence and status of women. This, of course, suffered a backlash in the form of a moral panic (largely focused on the fear that women would neglect the home and children). Due to said panic, the Progressives pushed for government to take over many functions of the women’s civic organization, thus crippling this emerging power structure. What was happening was that women’s roles in society were expanding and new archetypes were emerging (this is evidence in the literature of the age) but it never quite matured, again due to the Progressive era.
Setting aside the feeling that this person might just be saying things—I’d love to see some sources—I myself have long bemoaned the fate of various kinds of church guilds. There did seem to be a dynamic time in which women, at least Episcopalian ones (those are the only ones I’ve read about) started associations and groups by which they funded and organized an enormous number of charitable works. And it probably is totally fair to say that these guilds were the casualties of progressivism. More than that, though, without too much malice aforethought, the growing bureaucratic burden of ordinary life, the gathering up of so many endeavors by various kinds of experts really wrecked a lot of community endeavors.
Also, I do keep running into this Moral Panic argument, and I’m not sure I buy it. Certainly, there was enormous unease about the roles of men and women as technological innovation shook the world apart. But I very much quibble with the word ‘panic.’ Though I do love the people who are describing the current madness of today as a ‘Purity Spiral.’
Anyway, the main reason that women in, say, churches can’t join together to do nice things is that, economically, the ship of doing nice things has sailed away only to be wrecked in the turgid pools of economic and cultural malaise. People, including women, have to have three things to do good works. They have to have a moral sense that they should. They have to have the leisure to get together and organize themselves. And third, it really helps to have some cash. All these three things, rather ironically I think, given that we live in an age of unprecedented wealth, have gone by the way and died in a ditch. The people who might be inclined to give up their lives for the good of others now have to earn a wage. And most of the wages earned only come with a certain amount of drudgery. Everyone is atomized into the gig economy, and for sure, that does not feel like the makings of a very interesting myth. This, I think, is a problem for men and for women. The possibility of a heroic myth for anyone is being swallowed up in the aforementioned purity spiral. Anyway, we carry on:
The skills and functions of the feminine in the home diminished due to the outsourcing of parenting via public education and new technologies reduced the labor required to run a home. What resulted was a kind of boredom that gave rise to feminism, which was then fully unleashed with birth control in the 1960s. It was under these conditions that the status of the traditional feminine patterns of behavior diminished and feminism was the backlash.
I mean, I think feminism long predates the 60s, which I’m sure the author knows. I don’t want to quibble, but yes, of course, the advent of birth control was a culture-changing catalyst from which we have all absolutely not recovered. Isn’t it funny, though, that we can all be so bored and so exhausted and feel so poor all at the same time?
The writer goes on to propose some new options for a female archetype, turning to the Talmudic version of Miriam, the sister of Moses. Really, you have to read the whole piece because I’m skipping so much, including the part about the whales, but cutting to the chase:
And so Miriam’s well is symbolic of her archetypal heroic feminine role as a store of wisdom and a bulwark against disaster. This also, perhaps, relates to female cognitive differences in problem solving. In short, women’s ability to solve problems looks a bit logarithmic over time, whereas men’s looks more linear. Over a long enough period of time (which generally requires obsessive focus—there is evidence to suggest that male outlier performance doesn’t correspond to mental horsepower so much as obsessiveness), men tend to outperform women, but over a shorter duration, women are staggeringly more accurate. This has been speculated as being the reason for the notion of “women’s intuition.”
What I love about this isn’t whether or not he is right, but the fact that he is saying any of it at all. Remember how people have lost their jobs and everything for even mentioning “cognitive differences” between men and women? That was pretty epic. I also like how he is weaving together everything he can think of—psychology, the Talmud, whales, menopause. Really, you have to read the whole thing, as I’ve said. He goes on to offer 5 attributes he thinks should belong to an archetypal heroic feminine that we need to heal a hurting world. The first is that the “hero challenges the external threat and the heroine challenges the hero.” Second, she is a “bulwark against disaster and a store of wisdom.” Third, “When the hero fails, the consequence is largely on him, i.e., he dies. The community also suffers secondarily. The heroine is the inverse. When the heroine fails, the community suffers primarily.” Fourth, she “binds and builds the community.” And finally, she acts as moral judge. That is, she is “the personification of nature and natural forces.” By which I take him to be saying that if Mama ain’t happy then nobody happy. At the very end, he lists a bunch of examples of really good Heroic Females, including Elizabeth Bennet, so you can see the whole piece is worth your while.
Anyway, what interests me is not whether or not he is right or anything, but that the conversation, as it were, is even happening at all. Speaking as a woman and a Christian, I don’t much feel the lack of a heroic female archetype. Miriam, and all other women of the Bible, are in the line of Eve, whose failures are swallowed up by the Son of Mary. If you’re looking for Types, really, go through and read the Bible and tie up all the various haunting notes that are resolved in Mary’s acclamation: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.”
*The author is anonymous, but I found someone else apply the term “he,” so I’m going with that. Please don’t cancel me.