Monday, October 4, 2010


"Wooing" by Howard Pyle
Most of the great poetry in Western civilization was written by men for the women they loved and admired. Do men still write poetry for women? Does courtship exist? Do women see themselves as persons whose love is a precious gift to be bestowed only on the man who proves himself to be worthy? Or have we become so desperate for affection that we give ourselves for less than nothing? If we hold ourselves so cheap, then how can we be the inspirations for great art, poetry, literature and music, as were our sisters in the past.

The change most immediately devastating for wooing is probably the sexual revolution. For why would a man court a woman for marriage when she may be sexually enjoyed, and regularly, without it? Contrary to what the youth of the sixties believed, they were not the first to feel the power of sexual desire. Many, perhaps even most, men in earlier times avidly sought sexual pleasure prior to and outside of marriage. But they usually distinguished, as did the culture generally, between women one fooled around with and women one married, between a woman of easy virtue and a woman of virtue simply. Only respectable women were respected; one no more wanted a loose woman for one's partner than for one's mother.

The supreme virtue of the virtuous woman was modesty, a form of sexual self-control, manifested not only in chastity but in decorous dress and manner, speech and deed, and in reticence in the display of her well-banked affections. A virtue, as it were, made for courtship, it served simultaneously as a source of attraction and a spur to manly ardor, a guard against a woman's own desires, as well as a defense against unworthy suitors. A fine woman understood that giving her body (in earlier times, even her kiss) meant giving her heart, which was too precious to be bestowed on anyone who would not prove himself worthy, at the very least by pledging himself in marriage to be her defender and lover forever.
So what is to be done? Women lowered the bar, and women must raise it again. Gently insist upon being treated like a lady, but then, if you do, it is important to actually be one. If everyone would be conscious of the fact that each individual is made by God and beloved by Him, then we will not only not allow ourselves to be degraded by loose behavior but we will not want to be the instrument through which others might fall. Share


Julygirl said...

So true! The 'Bar' was lowered and now womanhood is tripping over it and falling on their faces.

Allison said...

Excellent post and Julygirl your metaphor of the bar causing a"fall" is excellent as well.

Can our society reverse itself?

Mercury said...

While I cannot argue with the fact that the bar has been lowered, and lowered deeply, I still have to wonder, and you would be the one to know, was such courtship behavior common among all people in Western culture, or just the upper classes?

I mean, I am also one to romanticize about the past (and you don't need any romanticizing at all to see that today is WAY off the tracks), but since most of our ancestors were farm laborers, factory workers, maids, and other men woman who worked hard with their hands, where did courtship and this idea of the feminine come in?

On a side note, as a man with a sinful past, I really really hate to make a big fuss about women's moral responsibilities, but you do bring up a good point: men have always acted like dogs. What always struck me as so counterintuitive in the feminist movement was that instead of demanding respect for women and good behavior from men, we've ended up with a society that encourages that the perennial worst behaviors of men be practiced among women.

Ladies, I hate to say it, but civilization does depend on you, because you're the only ones who can demand that my stupid gender behave.

elena maria vidal said...

Great points, Mercury! From what I have read about peasants in various cultures most had some kind of courting ritual. I am thinking of the Chinese peasants in the Pearl Buck novels, of the Russian Jewish peasants in the Tevye novels, and everything I have read about Irish peasants. There were standards of courtship for very poor women as well as for well-to-do ones. Now with the Industrial Revolution, many of the old customs that guided family life began to break down.

MadMonarchist said...

When my grandparents married he was 21 and she barely 15, they had to borrow five dollars to pay someone to marry them and a couple horses were their only transportation. I doubt much wooing went on there. However, over 60 years of ensuing married life my Grandpa, when praying before lunch, would thank God every day for his wife and on their anniversary every year he wrote her a poem -and not some little 'roses are red' ditty but a ballad of several pages. Today, however, my experience has been that men don't see such behavior as being necessary or even appreciated when it is given and women rarely give a man a chance to do it anyway.

I think most men are rather beaten down and most women are rather confused. Men don't know how to act because most women don't how they want them to act.

elena maria vidal said...

Comment from reader Lauren:

"Merci Elena for this pertinent post and I have really enjoyed reading the comments here. It is so true and yet chivalry is still alive, as you say, MadMonarchist, if women allow it. I also am encouraged by Mercury's perspective on it and learn how to be still a woman of our post-modern age but not so steely enough to confuse and emasculate my fellow gentlemen. I think they appreciate that I am independent woman but still retain what I hope to be my feminine gifts of sensitivity, charm and dignity."

Dymphna said...

My grandparents were share croppers but there was a strict code of behavior between unmarried people. A man who treated a neighbor girl in an ugly way might find himself beaten up on the side of the road to the approval of the whole town. My grandfather saw his future wife at church. He asked her father's permission to "keep company" with her if she'd have him. Keeping company entailed sitting together after church and sitting on the porch talking while chaperoned. They were poor people but poor people cared about their daughter's just like anybody else.

elena maria vidal said...

So true, Dymphna! Just because people are poor does not mean that they are not respectable! My relatives in Alabama were dirt poor but they had dignity and self-respect and knew how to take care of their daughters.

Beautiful Feet said...

Two recent "finds" on this subject to share: a Netflix movie called, "The Sweet Land," about a mail-order bride and the courtship that ensued as they make their life on a farm in Minnesota circa 1920; it's a rather slow start, but picks up very nicely soon after the beginning. The second "find" was the courship of young farmer Martin to Harriet Smith in Jane Austen's "Emma." Both in novel and movie-renditions this story is very engagingly presented. Thank you so very much for posting this, Elena. There's the long journey that is sacramental marriage and it has been the source of my greatest sweetness and suffering -- both are very much a part of life in Christ, who is at the core of every marriage, friendship and love. Blessed is He -- and thanks to my beloved late husband.

elena maria vidal said...

Thank you for the recommendations, BF, and for your kind words. I also am reminded of the laura Ingalls Wilder books and the Anne of Green Gables stories. Courtship pervaded all classes.