The virtues of Mothers

Mothers have been esteemed throughout history. They are so powerful an influence on their children, that their sons, when grown men, call for them as they die on the battlefield - I say die, but not in despair - because they know there is one who loves them, and who would risk her own life if she could, to come to his aid. Whilst a career might have worth, might generate benefits for society and humanity, who knows whether any successes really depend on the individual, or whether in fact someone else might do the job as well, or perhaps better. There may be exceptions, but if so I suggest they are rare; women like Florence Nightingale come maybe once a century, equally great men are as rare, perhaps even rarer. But a mother, no-one can replace a mother in a child's heart. A mother who has cared for a child through his or her youth, a mother who can never be replaced in the child's affections, as the opportunity to play the role is never again offered - that is a unique and special role. No-one can step into her place, as people are regularly replaced in the professions. Yes, a mother's importance and unique contribution stands well above that of any career women, and that is perhaps why they are revered so highly, why their good opinion is cared for so much, why they have so much influence on not just the child, but the adult. Why is Motherhood so noble? Because it demands self-sacrifice, the mother puts her own needs aside for those of her children, to nurse them, to teach them, to tend to their needs. How can this be looked on as anything but the highest nobility? Raised even further as it is done without any demand for recognition, not even the possibility of it in the broader world? And how does a career compare? It is done often not only for material gain, but also for status, and at the higher levels for worldly acknowledgement and fame. Thus a career is infinitely less noble than Motherhood, and any nobility it has decreases in proportion to its prominence and success. Now today many women require a career just to survive, but such a necessity is not nearly as adequate as motherhood when it comes to achieving nobility. It really makes you wonder why motherhood is so derided today. Is it that career women - aware of their disadvantage and their own motives - seek to denigrate motherhood so as to decrease the nobility of mothers and increase their own? Such wiles would never cross the mind of a devoted and loving mother, but may well pass through a more mercurial and selfish mind. Certainly today a lot of effort seems to be going into artificially stimulating the virtues of career success. I also think that a woman does not need to necessarily give birth to be a mother. I think that people like Florence Nightingale and Mother Theresa, were in fact first mothers - unselfish carers and nurturers, and that that their fame was merely incidental to this due to their fantastic impact on the world. In the same way many women (I believe) can act as mothers in the role of nurses, teachers, and carers in their communities. And they often do this despite there being little, or perhaps no, material rewards. And perhaps it is better that way, as if these roles were high status and highly paid, then they might well attract people with an entirely different spirit and motivation. At the university level I am sure they do. Anyway, I lament that the status of motherhood has declined in recent times, and also that Mothers are often now afforded less time for this most important role due to the financial demands of our modern, materialist age. And I find myself in agreement with the sentiments of G.K Chesterton on this issue, as he states below: When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness. I also feel that motherhood is a prime example of where those who are seen by some as the least, are in fact the greatest (Luke 9.48). Certainly to their children mothers have an irreplacable home everlastingly in their hearts.

Is it wrong to call a boy a girl?

There is much fuss at the minute about name calling. I certainly agree that calling people names in an attempt to demean them is an unpleasant act, and one that should be discouraged. But in recent debate I have noticed that people are getting very upset about statements such as "you throw like a girl" etc. The implication is that this is demeaning to girls. I wish to argue that until recently, that has not been true. Furthermore, it is suggested that such statements are made by boys and men as a means of degrading girls and contribute to misogyny. I don't think this is true. I will tell you why. Firstly, I grew up with a slightly older sister - whom I adored. So I did anything she asked (although I stopped at eating poo out of the toilet which she insisted to me - when I was around 3yo - that it was chocolate). But at one stage when I was about this age, she and my rather young aunt played a game where they put me in a dress. A photo was taken. For the rest of my life this has been used to humiliate me at family dinners, when guests come, etc: how I wore a dress. I also liked the colour pink when I was young - not at the time being aware of the gender ban on this like - this also for the rest of my life was used to humiliate me at family dinners, etc. So there are two things about this - there is nothing embarassing for girls about wearing dresses and liking pink, but there is for boys. And far from it being boys who demeaned girls in this regard, it was in fact girls demeaning boys based on these gender issues. It is in this regard that I find a distinct one-eyedness about allegations of boys and men - and their privileges and demeaning girls. It looks at the injustices that girls supposedly face, and ignores any contrary experience.

My sister was also quite violent. She would attack me and pinch, bite and scratch me. However, whenever parents were around she would wail that I was hurting her, and I - being a boy, and she a girl - was of course seen as being at fault. And she would slyly grin as I got in trouble for her attack on me. This of course stopped once I reached a certain size - and I suspect that the physical power difference is one reason why we see less violent crime by women - they simply know that it is not a winning strategy for them. Although they are offered quite a bit of protection by the taboo on men fighting back against physical attacks by women.

Anyway, in short, my experience of growing up was not one of my being privileged as a boy and my sister being demeaned, but rather the other way around. When she went to uni, her accommodation and expenses were paid, as a 'boy' I was expected to be tougher, and so pay my own way (not living at home either). My sister was also protected against violence where none of the boys were, but that is another story.

Now I still love my sister, but the experience growing up certainly opened my eyes as to human nature, and what girls are capable of in the way of evil. She was protected, coddled and cared for, even well into adulthood. I used to sleep on beaches as a teenager and no one noticed or cared. So I get somewhat rankled when people go on about 'white male privilege'. And I also question whether the use of 'don't be girl' is a statement used by men to control women, or rather one used by women to control and demean men.

Now returning to an earlier point: I am not even sure that saying to a boy 'you throw like a girl' is at all demeaning to girls. Until fairly recently throwing was not something girls were meant to be good at. It is only now when we are trying to remove all differences between the sexes (a futile and dangerous task I believe) that girls have been expected to be capable of everything boys are capable of. When I was young it was just accepted that girls were girls, and not as physically strong or capable. They were not expected to be as a point of honour, but boys on the other hand were. Again, the put down was not meant to demean girls, but to demean boys. And I still think it is bad, not because it degrades girls, but because it is used to 'macho' up boys - and is probably one of the things that is used to drive boys towards the hard macho culture that is now so derided (and associated with un-empathetic words from women such as 'toxic masculinity'). My point is that put downs are used as much by women to control, manipulate and humiliate men, as they are by boys and men. Thus saying that male behaviour and macho-ism is due just to men and men's behaviour is a real lie.

So I wonder if I am alone? After an upbringing where boys and men are put down if they don't act a certain way (to please women I think) and in which they have their confidence and self-esteem undermined and made fragile by the constant put downs, or fear of put downs, by women, and have found that they will not be supported, but must rely only themselves, whilst their sisters are indulged in many ways emotionally and physically - after working dirty, dangerous and unpleasant jobs to get by, after all this boys are told they are privileged and that they are responsible for all their own problems, and now must fix them by themselves, under the constant criticism of women, who need do nothing at all, and who - it seems - can find no redeeming features among their men folk. Is it any wonder that men are feeling even more frustrated than ever? Where are men supposed to go from here? They must be tough and ready to go to war (in Afgahanstan or where-ever else they are sent) and emotionally capable of being made redundant or unemployed - thus taking away the only worth they have in our society - and we wonder why they suicide and self harm through alchohol abuse, drugs and in other ways?

We are told we must listen to women and their stories - but are women really interested in listening to us? Who controls the upbringing and socialisation of men? Has it not been - until recently - predominantly women? How can they not have a role to play? How can they have no responsibility for the problems of society? It is their own sons they are complaining of and fearful of. How can that be?

You might also be interesting in Bettina Arndt's take on this:

The problem is power, and our failure to learn

A couple of years back a Vietnamese colleague of mine told me how his father had to flee from Vietnam (after the war I believe). I asked about his family, and apart from his father, who was an academic, the rest were all farmers. Curious about how bad things really were in Vietnam before the war, and in so-called 'poor developing nations' in general, I enquired about the standard of living of his farming relatives, in particular his uncle - whom we were discussing. The first question was "Did he ever go hungry?". The answer was a no, hunger was never really an issue. The next question was "How hard did he work?" Here I was imagining dawn-to-dusk drudgery in the fields. My friend's reply was 'about four hours a day". At the end of this conversation life as a peasant farmer in Vietnam didn't seem too bad, debt free, and no (or little) risk of hunger or unemployment. However, I was suspicious if this was true generally. So I asked my uncle - who fought in Vietnam - telling him everything that I had heard. "Rubbish" was effectively his reply. Ah hah - I thought, now I will get to hear about the poverty and misery and long hours of drudgery. But my uncle continued on to say, "The men did no work, the women did it all". I was recently discussing Vietnam again with another Vietnamese colleague, and I mentioned how terrible the war was and his reply was, suprisingly, that it had good effects as well. This stunned me somewhat. He continued on to explain that the war helped clarify the priorities of the Vietnamese. After some further discussion I suddenly felt I understood something quite profound. I will try and explain what struck me, and I may be quite wrong about some aspects, so please do feel free to correct me where I am, however, I still feel the fundamental problem of human society today is the one I identify: which is essentially about our inability as a global human society to deal with issues of power. The problem in Vietnam was that women seemed to be oppressed by the men, who took advantage of their willingness to work. The men in turn, were unhappy with their own situation and felt that they were in some way oppressed and sought to rectify this in a bid (maybe well justified) to correct the power imbalance. Of course, this power imbalance was caused by the imperial ambitions (power hunger and greed) of colonising nations, and so the cycle continues. What struck me was: the men were quite aware of their own oppression, yet acting oppressively themselves. What a human failure this is, and it is not an institutional problem at all: it is individual failure on a massive scale, as this lust for power (often with a good dose of greed) underlies all our problems today. The 1% keep getting richer and richer, despite having more than enough money to satisify every possible need, so the drive to continue accumulating more wealth and influence seems to come primarily from a lust for power. Our problem as a society, and perhaps the huge change in consciousness we now need, is to deal with power not by setting up institutions to check power - as after thousands of years of attempts we are are now seeing that the best institutions that 'enlightened' minds can create are still open to corruption - but rather in each of us as individuals. This problem of power underlies many of our major problems from low-level workplace and school yard bullying (which causes as much misery as any misuse of institutional power), of stamping on peoples' rights and ignoring their concerns, and has led, in the end, to governments and nations desperately spying on everyone (their own citizens included) and provoking wars, all to maintain power and influence. The traditional attempts to solve this problem, although they have helped somewhat, have not struck at the root of the problem, and consequently suckers continuous appear from this noxious weed. The feminist movement addressed many injustices, but still women are objectified - perhaps now even more than ever - with 'twerking' etc, things that would have been unthinkable even in the decadent 70's. The idea of the female 'vamp' is still prevalent today, again a seeking of power over others based on sexuality. Thus the feminist movement is perhaps an example of an attempt to stamp on power imbalances only to have desire for power pop up in new forms (and old ones again) here and there. And we only have to look at the history of nations to see how various power struggles have ended up only creating misery. And in the end perhaps - like Vietnam - offering at best only some temporary relief before the same problems resurface again (Vietnam like all nations is now subject to a process of global oppression through trade pacts, and 'race-to-the-bottom' inter-nation wage wars). So what is needed? This is a problem for our whole community to address, and it seems to me that this will logically follow the change of consciousness that nearly everyone is now experiencing as we watch local and global power battles unfold. I think we will soon learn that power is not to be sought for its own sake, and if it is obtained, it is to be moderated - not by relying on outside institutions, but by the very people who hold it. By people controlling themselves. By every citizen's own deep understanding of power and its obligations, and by their own self-discipline. Thus I feel we are beyond 'institutional' fixes for our problems. We now know that no political system will survive for long before it is corrupted by power. The answer instead lies in each of us, in how we raise our children, how we teach them, how we model the use of power to them, and how society and all the individuals in it develop a culture in which power is seen for what is, and is wielded with caution, respect for others, and with wisdom. I personally think our children are up for this, and that this one change would go a long way to fixing the horrors we now see everyday through the internet and on TV and for many in our schools, workplaces and online. We cannot hide from this issue any longer. Such a change in human consciousness seems a necessary and inevitable part of our development as a human race.