Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Blast from the past

Quiz: who wrote this quasi-feminist text, and when?

Let us compare, if it pleases you, the advantages of married women with that which awaits virgins. Though the noble woman boasts of her abundant offspring, yet the more she bears the more she endures. Let her count up the comforts of her children, but let her likewise count up the troubles. She marries and weeps. How many vows does she make with tears. She conceives, and her fruitfulness brings her trouble before offspring. She brings forth and is ill. How sweet a pledge which begins with danger and ends in danger, which will cause pain before pleasure! It is purchased by perils, and is not possessed at her own will.

Why speak of the troubles of nursing, training, and marrying? These are the miseries of those who are fortunate. A mother has heirs, but it increases her sorrows. For we must not speak of adversity, lest the minds of the holiest parents tremble. Consider, my sister, how hard it must be to bear what one must not speak of.
("The problem that has no name", anyone?)

Why should I further speak of the painful ministrations and services due to their husbands from wives, to whom before slaves God gave the command to serve?

. . . . They paint their faces with various colors, fearing not to please their husbands. . . . What madness is here, to change the fashion of nature and seek a painting, and while fearing a husband’s judgment to give up their own. For she is the first to speak against herself who wishes to change that which is natural to her. So, while studying to please others, she displeases herself.

And the answer is . . . Saint Ambrose, writing to his sister in the year 377. Christianity has spent a lot of energy pushing wife- and motherhood as women's true roles. Yet when they would rather promote virginity, it's easy to point out how the roles trap and pain women.

"While studying to please others, she displeases herself." Ouch.

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