The Thinking 

Women Who Might Have Made Happy Virgins

January 14, 2014



IT IS striking how many of the most vocal feminists have been intellectual women less suited by nature to the life of motherhood and domesticity. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a prominent America feminist who died in 1935, is one example. But there are many others: Mary Wollstonecraft, Gloria Steinem, Simone de Beauvoir.

Their rebellion is arguably a result of modern society’s rejection of the ideal of the noble virgin. Catholic society always upheld this ideal and gave a role to women who were not suited to marriage. It was not shameful to be unmarried and women were permitted to go against their father’s will in deciding to join a convent. In fact, the Church taught that virginity is higher than the married state. But with the Protestant Revolution, this tradition was overturned. As Marin Luther said, “The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes.” The virgin was no longer hallowed. And Judaism never exalted her. A woman’s role was to produce as many children as possible.

This scorn for the single woman increased in the 20th century, wrote Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in 1967:

As our century is becoming increasingly tolerant toward the woman who sins against chastity, it is becoming increasingly intolerant toward the single woman. To be a single woman is seen as an almost shameful state of life. The single woman is viewed as a person to be scorned because no one wanted to marry her. Her fate is a useless life off in a corner. She is often pictured as a gossiper, a busybody, an intruder in other people’s lives, with all kinds of complexes and defects.

While people have pity for a woman who falls into sin and wants to help her, they are rude to and scorn the single woman who maintains virginity for noble reasons. As if vice should produce compassion and virtue should be despised. This is a true aberration!

The Church considers that to be single is a better state than to be married for both the man and the woman.

Here is a closer look at Gilman’s sad life. I think of all these legions of unhappy intellectuals and how much less revolutionary they might have been if they could have accepted their vocation without waging war against femininity.

— Comments —

Mary writes:

Laura wrote: “Their rebellion is arguably a result of modern society’s rejection of the ideal of the noble virgin. Catholic society always upheld this ideal and gave a role to women who were not suited to marriage. It was not shameful to be unmarried…”

A sexualized culture will quickly lose its understanding of virginity. Today virginity is spoken of as a strange and arcane, even perverse, state of being, while at the same time former perversions such as exhibitionism (sexting and beyond) and voyeurism (pornography) have been quite normalized and accepted.

What’s interesting is that while society has rejected the ideal of celibacy in general it has simultaneously embraced the Hallmark-ification of marriage, making marital utopia the impossible standard, with a never-ending honeymoon the goal, which if not achieved has divorce as its cure. Many if not all marriages endure periods of great suffering for a wide variety of reasons, for life with or without marriage also entails periods of suffering. Why should marriage, which is meant to be lifelong, be any different? It was never meant to be an antidote to suffering but something much more noble. The married and unmarried both used to understand this; society reflected a wisdom and common sense about marriage that has been diminished in the last 50 years.

Lou Hanson writes:

Thanks for your piece about happy virgins: one of the odder things about being single today is that one is so often assumed to be ‘gay!’ I am 60, and would be far more tolerated and approved of if I were a homosexual woman, or in a sexual, unmarried state with a man!  But being single is seen as so odd and unnatural. And, I have to say that the Catholic parish down the street from me does not feel very welcoming, either – I love all the young families, happy couples, I do: but the older parish 10 miles down the road feels better to me – still many young families, happy couples, but a nearly equal number of singles.

I took care of my parents for almost 20 years, and never really gave much thought to my own future – I never thought my mother would live to 95, and that I would be 58 when she died.  In addition: parental caregiving is almost universally devalued, ironic in how much money I saved the government.  Of course, now I am ‘on the dole,’ as how many jobs are available to one out of the work force for so long?

Although I work very hard in a nursing home kitchen/dining room, and nearly full time, this Catholic (!) nursing home pays so very little that I qualify for food stamps, heat assistance, and medical assistance.  What a conundrum our country is in.

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