The boy does not simply grow into manhood, for manhood is a cultural reality built on a biological foundation. Womanhood, by contrast, is a biological reality with cultural expression.

I must insist upon the distinction here. Saint Jose Maria de Escriva could understandably say to each of his male followers, Esto vir! Be a man, and we know what the exhortation implies. Even feminists know, and tremble. It implies that at any moment of a man’s life, his manhood is subject to trial, to be won, again and again, to be confirmed or to be canceled. . . .

Be a man! An analogous command would strike a woman as otiose; a woman may call another woman a bad woman, but her womanhood itself is not in question, not in the public arena to be tested to see if it is real or counterfeit.

-thus Anthony Esolen, What Mothers Cannot Give Their SonsRead it all.

Women have to do nothing in particular to become mothers.  Priesthood, on the other hand, must be acquired and can be easily lost.  Womanhood correlates with unconditional love.  Manhood correlates with conditional love.

But though a woman doesn’t have to earn her womanhood, she can lose it by rejecting it.  Abortion, chosen childlessness, deliberate late marriage or no marriage at all, focusing on career, they all do it.  These are all pretty characteristic of our times, obviously, which is not a coincidence.

Man, I can’t stop quoting:

Publicly recognized authority comes into play here also. What the boy seeks from other boys and men is mainly public, not private. What he seeks from the girl he likes, or from the woman he would marry, is mainly private, not public. It is the difference between the arena and the agora on one side, and the hearth and home on the other; though the public arena should ultimately be placed in the service of hearth and home, rather than hearth and home merely supplying a temporary haven of relief from the arena. This means that, to a marked degree, the boy will be inclined toward what will confirm him publicly as male, and toward those who have a recognized authority to confer the recognition. He hears the baritone in a way that he does not hear the soprano. He looks upon the broad shoulders in a way that he does not look upon the broad hips. He cannot help doing so.

At one point  Esolen talks about the lessons that a boy needs to learn from a man.  “One of them is to learn how to command and obey.”  For many, this will seem a real come down, from the transcendent or poetic ur-reality of man and woman to a scrubby little workaday thing.  These people are wrong.  There is much m ore to command and obedience than they realize.  And the lesson of the incarnation is that the lofty transcendent stuff and the grubby earthy stuff belong together.  As a civilization we are a long time learning that lesson.  I wonder if we ever shall.

There are a few genuine false notes, however.

A man can lose forever his right to stand beside other men. He can fall to being no man at all.

No.  The Red Badge of Courage and Lord Jim are each in their own way about finding one’s way back.  Just as through repentance Christ can bring a bad woman or a bad man back into being a good woman or a good man, Christ can take the man who lost his manhood or who failed to get it along the true path to recover it.

In an odd way, Esolen’s essay made me think of Bruce Charlton’s concern for the professional falsity of modern life.  The thought is still tentative and unformed.  The best I can say now is something like this: it might be that there is nothing all that unnatural in a woman accepting the official truths when she is acting in the official sphere and then going home and promptly ignoring them in the domestic sphere.  Not as a calculated act, but because official is official and domestic is domestic.  The phenomenon where to get ahead in life men have to mouth agreement to lies they reject in private life seems an example of forcing men to act in a feminine way, which unmans them.

That may also be why women can have such power as truth tellers.  When men speak, its part of the public game and so it has a meaning that is defined by hierarchy.  It’s either part of the official line or a rebellion against it.  Either way, it tastes of the will to power.  But a woman can be outside the hierarchy.  She can just say things.  That’s Abish in the Book of Mormon, for example.  Her testimony is pure.  It has no potential motives.  That was back then, of course, before activism and other modern things.  What was true then may not be true now.

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