Tuesday, March 10, 2009



Elizabeth Taylor as Katharina in Shakespeare's
The Taming of the Shrew

Much has been written about men's brutality toward women. That any abuse of physical strength is despicable and should be radically condemned need not be mentioned. It is revolting when the strong abuse the weak. The question I wish to briefly address is: Are there not other ways of "torturing" people when physical violence is out of the question? To be more precise, are there not ways in which "weak" women take their revenge?

Just as literature offers a rich array of men's unpardonable violence toward women, it also offers many examples highlighting the fact that, in very subtle ways, men can be victimized by the fair sex.

Tragically enough, many a man marries a girl based on what is crudely called her "sex appeal." Due to their immaturity, these men confuse pure physical attraction with love, and then discover that a valid foundation for a happy marriage is totally lacking. Their "union" was based on sand.

Today, thanks to our liberal politicians, there is an easy solution at hand: no-fault divorce. But for centuries in societies still marked by Christian tradition, divorce was unacceptable. Husband and wife remained together "until death do them part," even though the spouses were ill matched and profoundly unhappy.

In Jane Austen's masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet tells his daughter Elizabeth, "My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life. You know not what you are about." Within this veiled advice he refers to his own marriage to a woman whose vanity and silliness are to him a constant source of frustration and irritation. Conscious of the fact that this situation cannot be remedied, he chooses to combine cynicism with escape to his library.

With refined artistry, Jane Austen etches Mr. Ben­net's wife's personality as so totally blind to her weaknesses and limitations that she is convinced that she is a good wife and an admirable mother whose main concern is to see her five daughters well settled in life. What more can be required?

Having been informed that a wealthy bachelor had recently settled in their neighborhood, the devoted mother leaves her husband no peace: She keeps pestering him to pay the young man a visit and establish a contact rich in potentialities: marriage with one of her daughters. She keeps pushing and fretting, and Mr. Bennet, understandably annoyed by her conduct, does not tell her that he already has established a good neighborly contact with the gentleman in question.

Assuming that he is giving a deaf ear to her repeated pleas, she exclaims, "You have no compassion for my nerves." He replies, "You mistake me, my dear. I have a high respect for your nerves. They are my old friends. I have heard you mention them with consideration these twenty years at least."

Appealing to nerves can be a subtle means of obtaining whatever one wants. The "plaintiff" feels justified because of her "suffering," and the "defendant" is left with a feeling of guilt and ruthlessness if he does not assuage these pains.

The same scenario is repeated when one of their daughters has a fit of coughing. Mrs. Bennet's sensitivity is, once again, on edge, and she exclaims, "Have a little compassion on my nerves. You tear them to pieces." But as soon as her husband deigns to inform her that he had paid a visit to the rich bachelor, in some magical fashion her nerves are restored — a cure which Mr. Bennet had, of course, anticipated. Thus, he says to his daughter, "Now Kitty, you may cough as much as you please." Needless to say, this ironical remark is wasted on his wife, whose matrimonial plans have received a powerful boost and is now in a state of joyful expectation.

Mr. Bennet is wise enough to realize that the unfortunate situation in which he finds himself cannot be remedied, and that the best solution is to silently enjoy the ridicule of his wife's eccentricities and the follies of some of his daughters. He expresses this attitude in the following words: "For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn." It is definitely not the most charitable solution, but at least it brings some hilarity into his life. Mr. Bennet — like most men — longs for peace, and if he does not find it in his family, irony gives him some compensation.

Throughout the book, he plays the role of a spectator watching a play. When his silly youngest daughter elopes, he refrains from "acting" until circumstances force him to do so. He is resigned to his fate and refuses to let himself be drawn into the vortex that female folly creates.

When a husband beats his wife, breaks her nose, kicks her, or otherwise maltreats her, he will desperately look for excuses to justify his conduct, because he knows that these are necessary. When boys have a disagreement, they immediately come to blows. Physical violence does not usually strike them as something terribly reprehensible. What many men are totally unaware of is that a woman's response to physical violence is completely different: She views it as an act of cowardice; to launch an attack on someone weaker will trigger contempt in a woman's soul. On the other hand, many women do not realize that the tongue is a weapon that can inflict psychological wounds to a man's vanity, which to him are much worse than physical blows. Women should be encouraged to meditate on the passage from the Epistle of St. James in which he eloquently speaks about the power of this small organ (3:1-12). Men's psyches are much more sensitive than their backs.

When women "torture" their husbands with a thousand pricks of a needle, they might do so with a perfectly clear conscience. But if they are told that they are putting their husbands through purgatory, they are likely to become hysterical and pity themselves as the most misunderstood persons in the world. Subjectively, they feel that they are devoted and faithful wives, fully justified in complaining about the lack of sensitivity of the men they are married to.

Disillusions about others usually go hand in hand with grand illusions about oneself.

Another literary character that deserves our attention is Mrs. Proudie, wife of the Bishop of Barchester, in Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. Unlike Mrs. Bennet, she does not torture her husband with her eternal whining and complaining. She dominates him, period. "The truth is that in matters domestic she rules supreme over her titular lord, and rules with a rod of iron…. But Mrs. Proudie is not satisfied with such home dominion and stretches her power over all his movements, and will not even abstain from things spiritual. In fact, the bishop is henpecked…. This lady is habitually authoritative to all, but to her poor husband she is despotic."

To be lorded over by one's wife is humiliating enough, but when one is a bishop, a public figure, constantly in the limelight, and everyone knows that his spouse is pulling all the strings and making all the decisions, his role is not only pitiful, it edges on the ridiculous.

Her ladyship has handpicked an assistant for her distinguished husband and, according to rule, he has endorsed her wishes. But a drama develops when this arrogant cleric, overestimating his power, tries, for personal reasons, to gain influence over his lordship in matters that run counter to the lady's plans. And the assistant pastor seems, at one point, to win the fight and convince the bishop to confirm an appointment that favors his own interests. The lady is told to withdraw. But the bishop will learn through bitter experiences that one can win a battle but lose the war. He forgets that a success at twelve noon can turn into a bitter defeat at twelve midnight: "Mrs. Proudie had her sex to back her, and her habit to command…." The bedroom is a battlefield in which the "weaker" sex usually proves to be invincible.

Inevitably, Mrs. Proudie will cull the laurels. The generous victor will then reward her spouse by pampering to his lovable weaknesses, such as a glass of hot negus. The lady views herself as her husband's savior; what would he do without her?

Trollope offers these felicitous words: "Oh husbands, oh, my marital friends, what great comfort is there to be derived from a wife well obeyed."

The conclusion we can draw is that it is, alas, possible to wound others without ever experiencing a feeling of guilt. One of the peculiarities of our society is that the words mea culpa have been replaced by tua culpa. How many unhappy relationships would be improved by exchanging postures: that is, becoming sharp-sighted toward our own faults and short-sighted toward the faults of others.


Women's Revenge: To Torture Without Guilt
February 2009
By Alice von Hildebrand

Alice von Hildebrand, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of Philosophy at Hunter College of the City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of The Soul of a Lion (Ignatius Press; Preface by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger), about her late husband, the Catholic philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand; The Privilege of Being a Woman (Sapientia Press); and By Love Refined (Sophia Institute Press). She has written extensively for many Catholic periodicals and appears frequently on Mother Angelica's EWTN.


Barack Hussein Obama aka Barry Soetoro
is not eligible to be President of the United States
because he is not a Natural Born Citizen
as required by Article Two, Section One, Clause Five
of the United States Constitution regardless of
where he was born (Mombassa, Hawaii, Chicago, or Mars)
because he was not born of TWO PARENTS
at the time of his birth. His father was a subject/ciitizen
of Kenya/Great Britain
and his mother was too young to pass on her citizenship

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