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Because We Are Not T-Bone Steaks
By Christine Stoddard
By now you've probably read Ferret Steinmetz's viral essay, “Dear Daughter: I Hope You Have Some Fucking Awesome Sex,” and, if I'm lucky, my response to it. If not, put this heartwarmer on your reading list. Renew your faith in humanity and throw away your chastity belt (the literal, physical object, not your vow of chastity if you so choose to keep it.) I gravitated toward this essay not only for its feminist themes and damn good writing, but also because it's a prime example of how parents should communicate with their children: honestly. For those of us who plan to procreate one day, we shouldn't aspire to be Calvin's dad in “Calvin and Hobbes.” Because if we keep up that act long enough, eventually our kids will start to see us the way Dilbert sees his boss—ridiculous pointy hair and all. More importantly than that, lying to our kids affects what sort of character they develop.
Now I'd like to respond to a new favorite of mine, “Seeing a Woman: A Conversation between a father and son,” an essay by Nate Pyle on his blog, From One Degree to Another. The blog is about Pyle's struggles to follow Christ. Though Pyle is a paster living in Indiana, his posts do not read like many 'holier than thou, you lowly pagan' blogs. Pyle admits, “I have found that following Jesus is not a black and white, cut and dry endeavor. It is not simple as so many have made it out to be. At times it is confusing, difficult, and unnerving. But it is always exciting.”
I'm excited about Pyle's essay, “Seeing a Woman,” because it is black and white about a topic that's too often and unnecessarily debated: Men, not women, are responsible for how men see and treat women, regardless of how women dress. My favorite quotes:
I have complicated feelings about clothes. I love clothes and yet I hate clothes—and the latter does not make me a closet nudist. I love clothes because of that ray of self-esteem that illuminates my mind when I look in the mirror, confident that I look attractive. I love clothes because of the fun and creativity that goes into making a “perfect” outfit. But I hate clothes because clothes have in many ways oppressed women. Too often clothes have been tied to shame and submission.
There's a tale from the 12th century authoress, Marie de France, called “Guigemar.” This love lais tells the plight of Guigemar, a man incapable of falling in love. While hunting one day, he wounds a white doe, wounding himself in the act, too. The doe curses him before dying, saying that his wound shall only heal when he suffers for a woman and she for him. Shortly thereafter, Guigemar stumbles upon a magic boat without a crew. When he boards the boat, it takes him to a land where a jealous king hides his wife from the rest of the world. The imprisoned queen may only have contact with her servant and a priest. Though most of her prison is walled, all that separates the queen from the sea is her garden.
One day, Guigemar's boat docks by the garden, where the queen and her servant find him. They tend to him, putting him up in a gilded cage, and that's when Guigemar and the queen begin to fall in love. Neither one knows if the feelings are reciprocated, but the queen's servant acts as Cupid and the couple eventually consummates their love. When the king's chamberlain rats them out about a year and a half later, the king banishes Guigemar. Before he leaves, the queen ties a knot in Guigemar's shirt that only she can untie and he gives her a belt with a knot only he can untie. (Thanks for the refresher, Wikipedia. And that's not the end to the story, in case you're curious.)
The tale resonated with me when I first read it back in college because it's rooted in equality. This is not just another tale of the all-sacrificing, starry-eyed female killing herself to remain beautiful in her lover's eyes. Guigemar has to wear the goofy knot, too! That point, of course, brings me back to Pyle and his point that if you love a person, “you do not reduce them to an object” because doing so means “you give up your humanity.”
You do not force a woman to bind her feet or wear stays, unless you plan on suffering with her. And when's the last time you saw a man endure painful or embarrassing fashion as an act of love and devotion toward his wife or girlfriend?