Ranting Like a Lady

First of all, I’m going to out with it and admit that I mistake Douglas Wilson and Douglas Phillips all the time. One is a writer on things Reformed and the other is a proponent of little boys playing with massive slingshots while wearing replica World War I uniforms and defending their sisters’ honor.

I have no problem with boys sticking up for their sisters, but the thing that best defends a girl’s honor is a two-letter word she herself utters. If necessary, she should accompany it by a swift and powerful knee. If either of these tactics don’t work—and even if they do, if the situation warrants—she can call 911 and hail the cavalry.

Yes, I’m talking about Mr. Phillips. He also does a big song-and-dance about “Women and Children First” relating to the sadly underboated evacuation of the Titanic, and while it’s good and lovely that the rich ladies got off, the point about that evacuation is that on that dark night of fear it became apparent that (1) Charlie Sheen is right—“Plan Better!” and (2) the one-percent always win, except perhaps Mr. Astor, but he was a man with an eye to the future and knew that he would transform his posthumous street cred by his act of feigned nonchalance. Really, if there’s not spot for you in the lifeboat, you may as well go down like a man, smoking, if at all possible.

But wait! Hundreds of women went down like ladies into their icy liquid collective grave. Let’s see, did they don lace and bonnets? Is there a way to die like a lady? We can’t ask Mr. Phillips that question. For questions of how to do any particular thing like a lady, we must ask Mr. Wilson, author of the oddly-titled blog, Blog and Mablog. (That title alone gives me the shivers. It alerts me that here is a person who will make a joke about “knee-high miah” and think it’s funny.)

A particular Blog and Mablog post, “Competing Like a Lady,” recently appeared on my Facebook feed. Repulsed by the content, I left it alone for a few days, grumbling occasionally about the writer’s cruelty and hatefulness.

That’s not true. I actually grumbled about Doug Phillips’s cruelty and hatefulness, because I thought he had written the nonsense I’m about to discuss. But I was wrong. The nonsense is actually the brainchild of Doug Wilson, a smart Reformed guy of the Type A variety.

(Note to my non-Christian readers: “Reformed” refers to those who follow the teachings of John Calvin, a 16th century theologian who believed in predestination, among other things. Typically, non-Reformed Christians believe that God does not predestine anyone to heaven or hell, but that people make their own decision to follow Jesus Christ without God “making” them do so. There are smart people on both sides, but some Reformed smoke and drink, and some Baptists handle snakes, if that helps you decide with whom you want to ally yourself when you convert.)

It may be important to know that smart Type A Calvinists tend to think that because they have their theology all starched and ironed, they can go around proclaiming whatever-the-heck they want about anything and everything. Like I do, you may know a number of Reformed people who, because they imagine themselves to be smarter than your average Baptist, think they should go around venting the contents of the rest of their brain. They’ve taken Calvin’s idea that all vocations are holy and stretched it to mean, “Anything I want to vomit onto a blog is holy.” In this case, Mr. Wilson is mistaken.

In “Competing Like a Lady,” Mr. Wilson takes issue with the behavior of women in sports.

For starters, he decries the unladylike behavior of young women who slap each other on the butt during basketball games. Men may slap each other on the butt when excited during an athletic contest, but women should not. This particular behavior reeks of manliness, and is patently Unladylike.

I think we should carry this over into general life. I long to see Mr. Romney and Mr. Santorum do a butt-slap after one of them skewers Mr. Gingrich in a debate. Of course, were Mrs. Palin and Mrs. Bachman to participate in a debate at some point in the future, they would be confined to brushing each other’s hair and giggling. It’s important to keep these distinctives.

Swaggering, according to Mr. Wilson, is off limits for girls, but is okay for men. Of course, all women know intuitively that swaggering is not nearly as effective as the subtly-askance look with narrowed eyelids, but whether such a thing is more godly than outright swagger has yet to be determined.

Back to basketball, Mr. Wilson is good enough to let us know that he doesn’t mind if girls are taught to toss a ball through a hoop, as long as they do it in a ladylike manner.

Basketball is definitely out altogether then, because throwing the ball through the hoop is the goal, not the essential matter of the game. The game is all about running and blocking and faking and passing and dribbling and yelling. Too, you really cannot get up a good bame of b-ball without a great lot of sweat.

While sweating has often been seen as a masculine thing to do, we really must take note here that good old fashioned sweat is a human-body (as opposed to male-body) function that cools the skin in times of overheating. Interestingly, God placed this mechanism in both genders, go figure.

Mr. Wilson is affronted that the butt-slapping incident was observed at a Christian camp. I imagine he felt the girls at the camp should have been schooled in saying, “Very lovely shot,” and “What an exciting field goal you just accomplished.”

He mentions that the girls were “generally acting as unladylike as they could.” This statement boggles the mind. As unladylike as they could? Were they engaging in stereotypically-male pursuits such as belching, or were they perhaps making fart sounds in that way boys know how to do with their armpits? I’m pretty sure they weren’t putting their hands in each other’s crotches, and I only mention it here, because football (along with hockey and undeclared war) is the most masculine sport ever invented, and in that super-unladylike game, the quarterback is always and forever putting his hands in the center’s crotch. So, there you have it—“crotching” is unladylike and definitely only for men. But you knew that.

He continues: “While having nothing against girls learning how to put a ball through a hoop, we have a great objection to girls learning anything from instruction that couldn’t care less about protecting and preserving their femininity.”

I love the royal we there, because it underscores the idea that Mr. Wilson is going to decide what is good and what is evil, what is godly and what is not, what is ladylike and feminine and what is ugly and uncalled-for.

Ladylikeness, then, seems to be what women should strive for. Graceful mannerisms, the steady calm of quiet serenity, the ability to intuit and then act on the needs of others, fluid movements, beauty: these seem to be the qualities Mr. Wilson wants to see in women, even when they are tossing balls through hoops.

Even more interesting, he equates “ladylikeness” with “femininity.” The girls who were “as unladylike as possible” were not “protecting their femininity.”

This is a disconnect, isn’t it? Ladylikeness—to behave like a (presumably) English Lady (was there ever any other kind?)—isn’t the same thing as femininity. Femininity is essential to women. It is their feminine-ness, their womanhood, their person. It has nothing to do with Victorian values (To keep your blinders on about Victorian values, don’t read any history of the upper classes, particularly about Victoria’s eldest son.).

Most women in history have not had the leisure to walk around being gracious and quietly serene. They have been working their hands raw trying to keep body and soul together, with very little regard for whether they were sweating at the time. I’ve been reading more Russian history than English lately, so I may be wrong here, but I do think I will have to admit it to be unlikely that kitchen maids and shopgirls went around slapping each other’s butts. Speaking of the Russians, I am very sure that Russian women would never be referred to as “ladies” in the English sense. There just simply was never enough indoor plumbing over there, at least until Victoria’s granddaughter Alix took the throne, and you know what happened to her.

Back to “Competing Like a Lady.” Mr. Wilson has the grace to note that the old way of protecting femininity was to keep the girls as far away from sports contests as possible. He notes that this is the old-fashioned way, props to him.

Except that, if we’re looking at things from a wide historical view, the whole idea of sports is fairly new. For most of our history, we’ve had to work, haven’t we? I have a photograph of my grandmother’s basketball team taken around 1912, but even Mr. Wilson will have to admit that that is ancient history when it comes to team sports. So any discussion of godliness in relation to who plays what game or in what way these sports are played by which gender is surely a very new discipline.

Never mind that. Mr. Wilson is prepared to answer all our questions in one short blog post. He declares that some sports are for women and some for men. He cautions that we must be careful not to “throw” girls into sports as though they were merely guys in a different weight class.

So much is wrong with the sentence, as if girls see themselves as underweight men, as if men should see them so. As if, when a girl plays a sport she is defining her femininity. To think such a thing is nonsensical. If we were to follow this line of thinking, a girl should never play a cello (Horrors, her legs are spread! How could she possibly be modest and ladylike?). I imagine there are any number of other activities that would have to be tossed out were we to begin thinking that every activity we pursued had to be done in a ladylike manner.

Mr. Wilson does not like the idea that girls are taught to be aggressive in sports. “Guys are naturally aggressive,” so apparently girls should not be. Clearly, this man has never been to a four-hour purse sale. The truth is that some men are aggressive and others aren’t. Some girls are aggressive and others aren’t. Sometimes it depends on whether the last two pieces of cake are exactly the same size, or if one is slightly larger.

Mr. Wilson tells us that “the genius of certain sports favors women, and the genius of others favors the men. Some occupy the middle, with men and women both able to participate. But if they are both participating, they should be developing their own distinctives.”

He then falls all over himself to determine which sports favor women and which sports favor men. As if it is the sport that determines who should play it rather than the human being determining which sport he or she wishes to play!

Mr. Wilson determines that ice skating is for girls, even though men do it better. Men have more oommph (his word) in their triple axel, but the women are still better. What? He compounds his nastiness here by explaining that “male figure skaters, like male ballet dancers exude a ‘nagging aura.’” Note that men skate better, but because they are exuding an aura while they do it, the women are better. Huh?

Actually, Mr. Wilson, men who figure skate don’t exude anything, certainly not an aura. I think what you mean here is that it gives you the heebie-jeebies to watch them skate and dance. Since nothing is mentioned about the tight clothing, I’m going to assume you’re not bothered by the puff and flounce of the costumes, but simply by the physicality of the performances themselves. In short, you don’t care to watch them for whatever reason of your own. You prefer to watch (what you call) the inferior skating of the women over (what you call) the superior skating of the men. Are you not just admitting that you like to watch girls twirl and jump more than you like to watch men twirl and jump?

To each his own. I like to watch both men and women figure skate, but then, I didn’t become Reformed until my thirties.

Clearly, Mr. Wilson’s statement that “the girls are better,” is rooted in personal preference, not measured by athletic prowess or standards of beautiful dance. It is not enough for him that these men are strong enough to lift a woman into the air and twirl her around while skating on ice (or dancing on a platform) before thousands of spectators. No, that isn’t sufficient manliness. Maybe it is the grace and beauty that turns him off, as if all men should be graceless, lumbering thugs. I can’t see why that would be.

The elephant in the room here, I suppose, is that Mr. Wilson thinks men who interact with these sports are effeminate or homosexual. That it is somehow “girly” to do a triple toe-loop with your body on ice in front of an audience whereas it would not be “girly” to do the same thing with your motorcycle or skateboard on a ramp or dirt track.

So then, is the body itself “girly” while machines are somehow masculine?

Gymnastics are also girly—tell that to the ancient Greeks. Tell that to the Chinese athlete who courageously endured his rings exercise and then powerfully dismounted onto a broken ankle a number of years ago at the Olympic Games.

Whoa, look at those arms. Nothing girly there.

But, look, there I go myself—equating power and endurance with men, as if power and endurance are somehow (as Mr. Wilson would have it) masculine in nature, while women are to sit still and glow, and—presumably—applaud their men being non-girly, as if to be non-girly is better than being girly.

Sports that favor men, according to Mr. Wilson, lean to overt tests of strength and speed. Like boxing, or shot put. “Right thinking” women won’t even try these sports. I’m going to make a difference here between boxing and shot put, as these sports are entirely different. No right thinking man should consider boxing either, and most don’t. We don’t even have to know about Muhammed Ali’s boxing-induced disabilities to know that it is a bad idea to get punched in the head for a living. However, it is not a bad idea to punch a bag for strength training. This is good for men and women of all ages. Muscle is good for you, and if you want to work on yours by punching something, go for it. I don’t imagine there is anything manly or womanly about punching a bag. It is just hanging there, after all. Hit the darn thing.

So much could be said right here about what strength-requiring activities are womanly and which are manly. Steam-cleaning, for example, is difficult. It takes a long time and the steam-cleaner is heavy. If you’re doing the stairs, you have to drag it along with you. The water-container has to be filled and emptied, filled and emptied many times over the course of your afternoon seeing how absolutely gross and disgusting your carpet really is. But is this a masculine activity? I like to steam clean. So does one of my sons. Others in the house don’t care to do this, some male, some female.

Laundry is a very heavy activity. Hampers full of clothes coming and going up and down stairs is surely a strength-requiring activity, as is grocery shopping. Once a month we do an $800 grocery shop. It takes several hours and involves three grocery carts. You have to put the groceries in the cart, then take them out of the cart and put them on the counter at the register. Then you load them into bags, put the bags into the carts, roll the carts out to the car, unload the bags into the car, then drive home and unload the bags into the kitchen, then put it all away. It is an extremely tedious and time-consuming strength-requiring activity, and yet I have never once heard grocery shopping described as a masculine activity. And if it is defined as a masculine activity, when I do it, must I somehow “shop like a lady,” and if so, what is required to meet this standard?

On to the shot put: shot put is different. How far can you throw a metal ball is a valid question, and it is answered by experience in throwing the thing. Why this would be a male exercise and not a female exercise is unknown. However, if it is masculine to throw a ball for distance, we need quickly to scrub “ball toss” from all field day programs that include little girls. Can’t start too young with protecting femininity.

Mr. Wilson allows that there are sports “in the middle,” in which either gender may participate, but if they do, they must do so in a gender-distinctive manner. He thinks of the differences between men’s lacross and women’s lacrosse. I had to look up the rules to find out what he was talking about. It seems that boys lacrosse is a contact sport, while girls lacrosse is a noncontact sport. I don’t know why that would mean girls would play with less aggressiveness, ferocity, competitive spirit, or skill. Just because men (see above note about football) like to touch each other so much more than girls do should not lessen the value of the rules the girls play by.

Mr. Wilson then notes that boys learn valuable things from sport—discipline, stamina, priorities. Girls can learn these things too, and they should have the opportunity to learn them, but only as a tool to help them grow “into a confident and self-assured Christian ladies.” This assumes, obviously, that the only function of sports training is to further a particular agenda about (let’s be honest) wife-training and mother-molding. But really, maybe the girls just wanna have fun. Or maybe they want to get a scholarship. Or maybe they want a gold medal. Why does it always have to be about becoming a certain type of “lady”?

Qualities that girls must not forget in their sports playing include modesty. Mr. Wilson mentions beach volleyball. I’m sorry, but Mr. Wilson, you watch beach volleyball? Really? Beach volleyball—at least at the Olympic level—is played in little tiny bikinis. And I’ll agree that very few people should be allowed to display themselves in this way, and that fewer Reformed authors should watch them. And while we’re avoiding watching women in bikinis, I’m going to make a blanket rule about that and put Soul Surfer on the forbidden list. In a beach volleyball match, there are only four girls in bikinis, while in Soul Surfer, there were zillions (see my review), and from what I understand about men, it probably doesn’t matter that one girl is missing an arm.

As far as swimming pool clothing, which Mr. Wilson decries, it seems that swimmers wear bathing suits in the pool. Little tiny men’s Speedos do not trouble him (consistent with the fact that he is not troubled by the men’s tight ice-skating clothing). It is possible that I missed his post about competing like a gentleman in which he prescribes Bermuda shorts and tank tops for Olympic swimmers, and in which he forbids world-class male athletes from shaving their body hair to eliminate any possible friction. Whatever about that, he is deeply troubled that girls on the swim team wear swimsuits, and I can only tell him that these competitions are advertised ahead of time, that no one is forced to allow their child to swim on these teams, and that he need not view these girls if he will avail himself of the simple technique of staying away from the pool.

All of this would be nothing, however, if Mr. Wilson had not tacked his final, unforgiveable statement onto the end of his silly post. He says:

“Run this thought experiment on yourself. Without mentioning any names, or pointing in any particular direction, say the phrase lesbian basketball coach to yourself. Does any particular profile come to mind? And do you want your daughter to look anything like that?”

Here, Mr. Wilson loses all connection to reason. I do not know to whom he is referring, but I don’t have to. I can picture what he is saying. He is conjuring an image of a woman who makes her living as an athlete—she’s a coach. She’s a hard worker, a stern commander. She’s gotten where she is by grit, by sweat, by outdoing her competition, by sheer gut effort. She’s a winner. She recruits her team, assembles her team, trains her team. She gets up at all hours with them when they need her. She runs lines with them and shoots hoops with them. She works hard with them, laughs and cries with them, wins and loses with them. She yells at them, consoles them, coaxes them, bribes them, honors them, bestows scholarships on them. When they win, she is honored. She is loved. Do I want my daughters to look like that? To interact like that, to succeed like that? Duh, yeah.

He powers that last paragraph by throwing in the word “lesbian,” to scare you into thinking that if your little girl acts like that, she’s going to stop having crushes on boys and start having them on girls. He fails to note that the coaching is the woman’s job–so naturally she works very hard at it, and while he might be more comfortable were she to be a scullery maid (a very dirty job requiring extremely hard work and lots of sweat) or a seamstress (requiring intense concentration, hard work, long hours, and often stabbing with needles), because of her passion and success, she’s risen to the ranks of coaching, so that she is paid to play the game she loves. What is better than that? To assume that your daughter’s gender identification and sexual orientation will be altered or informed by the lady who coaches the team is something of a stretch.

The worst thing about this paragraph, however, is that it is so hateful of the woman herself because of her sexuality. He’s not saying, “Look at that woman coach; she’s manly, and that’s ugly,” he’s saying, “Look at that lesbian coach; she’s disgusting.” He’s simmered his whole argument down to a polarity: on one side is the sweet, graceful, girly-girl. She’s virtuous. She’s godly. And on the other side is a fiercely-competitive professional coach, who happens to identify as lesbian. She’s ugly. She’s ungodly. You don’t want your daughter to look like her.

So, it comes down to appearances. Really?

The real problem here is the whole concept of “ladylikeness” as a virtue. None of Bathsheba’s qualities in Proverbs 31 (see my posts on this) are soft and delicate. She’s always working, always interacting, always producing good for her husband, her family, her servants, her community, and her business. She’s less like the ladies who do Pinterest and more like the lesbian basketball coach who is out there working hard to instill discipline, teamwork, and success into her team.

Ladylikeness is not a Christian virtue. It is a set of manners passed down from mothers who have the leisure to worry about such things to daughters similarly situated. Other mothers have had to instill self-confidence, self-preservation, and plain old hard work into their girls. While it may be more pleasant for men like Mr. Wilson to interact with women like this, and while he may find it easier to deal with girls who speak softly, wear non-edgy clothing, and don’t play too rough, it can’t be considered “Christian.”

Grace and fluidity of speech and action are certainly helpful if one wants to move around smoothly in the world. Whether it can be called “Christian” to quantify this and impress it on others, is less certain.

Further, these qualities are not manly or womanly, and here is where Mr. Wilson makes another serious error. He contrasts “ladylikeness” with “masculinity,” when the opposite of “ladylikeness” would be “servantgirllikeness.” “Gentlemanliness” is not the opposite of “ladylikeness.” Gentlemanliness and ladylikeness are the same thing. They tell us that someone of a refined class, with refined manners is here. They are not opposites. Mr. Wilson contrasts ladylikeness with ugliness, coarseness, and lesbianism, as if a lesbian is necessarily without grace, without kindness, without manners. He tosses her off as someone repulsive, not to be considered as a role model, not to be seen as a woman, not valuable as a person. He dismisses her with disgust.

We can leave the lesbianism out of it, and confine our consideration to pious Christian women. The truth is, when you define godly womanhood as ladylikeness, you marginalize women who are just as devoted to Jesus, but simply unable to fit into these behavioral strictures. Such a marginalization of people whom you don’t like the look of is simply wrong. Too many Christian women who lack an overt girliness, and too many Christian men who can’t seem to meet the testosterone-flooded requirements of Today’s Christian He-Man are tossed aside here as ungodly, inferior, second-rate, not what you want your kids to look like. This is misguided at best.

But Mr. Wilson’s post is not misguided, I don’t think. It’s just mean. It was a quickly-seared morsel tossed to those who think like him, and I’m only sorry I had the misfortune to read it.

To grow in godly manhood, be like Jesus. To grow in godly womanhood, be like Jesus.

I would also suggest some good old-fashioned butt slapping, especially if you drop in a sweet three at the buzzer.

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