Wickedness and Suffering

Wickedness and Suffering

Does that heading about cover it?  Eugene Ionesco, the brilliant Franco-Romanian playwright, wrote Tueur sans gages [Killer without wages], a play that opens with his characters marveling over the great neighborhood to which they feel fortunate to have been admitted.

Enfin, un beau quartier! they exclaim.  Finally, a beautiful neighborhood!  There’s only one trouble with it.  A mad killer is loose, right in the beautiful neighborhood!  He kills for no reason, unless wanting to kill is itself a reason.

While we’re on the subject of ideal places to live, we heard about an actual such place from our next-door neighbors.  They spend the winter months in a resort community that boasts interesting residents, a wonderful climate and facilities to accommodate every taste.  The manicured lawns are criss-crossed by walkways that run alongside tranquil lagoons.

Enfin, un beau quartier! one would think, no?  Well, not quite.  Last year, a nice young woman who lived around the block was out walking her dog when an alligator poked his snout out of the lagoon, ran across the lawn, grabbed her dog and – when she tried to defend it – grabbed her instead, dragging her down to the lagoon where – as our neighbors put it delicately – “she drowned.”

Sounds like a scene from Ionesco, but it actually happened, though our neighbors didn’t dwell on that one drawback.  Even a beau quartier isn’t perfect, apparently.

In this world of toil and snares, many sorts of unthinkables do occur.   Yesterday I was dutifully making my way through The New York Review of Books, which I do to keep up with what The Beautiful People are reading this week.  Naturally, I came across the obligatory anti-Israel book review.  Abuses perpetuated by settlers and Israeli military against Palestinians were excoriated in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone of high heroic righteousness.  Though I’m no expert on the Middle East, I could have easily inserted the omitted parts of the reviewer’s narrative, parts that would have considerably altered his moral arithmetic.  As it reads now, his report invites the verdict that Israel exists without any moral right to continue to do so.  In the run-up to genocide, that’s precisely how the ground gets prepared.

I coulda been A Beautiful Jewish Person too.  Written books that were read and admired and translated everywhere.  Coulda been invited to dinners everywhere.  Including Tehran!  Darn!  Missed my chance!

Feeling fragile, I went downstairs to watch C-Span.  An author I did not know, Helen Zia, was talking about her new book, Last Boat Out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Fled Mao’s Revolution.  In a measured way, she described what happened to her own family.  She also called attention to the plight of refugees worldwide.

“No one wants refugees,” she reminded us.  “But people don’t leave their homes, carrying a suitcase, unless they are fleeing for their lives.”

I was reminded of a colleague who was forced to return to his home country, having been unable to renew his green card.  His job loss was a shake-out from Philosophy Department intrigues.  At the time, my mother, herself an immigrant said, shaking her head, “So they have taken America from him!”

For some reason, listening to Helen Zia’s story smoothed the frayed edges of tragic and permanent panic in my Jewish soul.

Suffering is worldwide.

Why that thought should be soothing, I don’t know.  But it was.

As if I were looking down from high above the earth, I tried to picture all its refugees.  On this big, round, blue planet, there are patches of territory with developed economies, degrees of legal protection for citizens, and ways they can realize their aspirations.  And the rest of the human population of the planet wants to get into those patches of territory.  Some come for the benefits and the opportunity to contribute to its flourishing.  Some want the chance to rip it off.  That’s human nature.  The obvious task would be to sort them out: the sheep from the wolves.  Between Fear and Denial, it’s not obvious that this job will get done.

Getting ready for bed, I thought of this vast sea of suffering.  I prayed to see it clear – to be shown its inner features and the size of it — relative to humanity as a whole.  In what world do we live?

These days, my bedtime reading is Why Religion? a book by Elaine Pagels, author of The Gnostic Gospels.  She’s a very interesting woman.  The story she tells is autobiographical, combining extraordinary successes and shocking losses: a bewitching (to judge by his photo) young son and a loved, wonderful husband – the right man for her.  Her son died of the fragile heart condition he had from birth.  In the wake of that loss, her husband, an experienced hiker who knew the trail, fell thousands of feet to his death when a patch of ground on the path gave way unexpectedly.

Pagels describes the world-shattering awfulness of this second grief.

To me as reader, it felt as if her single grief was equal to the whole world’s grief.  So perhaps my prayer — to see and know the world’s grief — was answered.  God must feel each singular grief in the world, for all creatures great and small, as I felt hers, only more so.

Theologians distinguish two types of evil: suffering in nature and wickedness in man.  It came to me that, in the flame-hot core of both —

suffering and malice –

 they feel the same!

Some believers contend that God has a Master Plan that will put all the moral equations in balance, some day and somewhere.

I don’t argue the point.  Down here the equations don’t balance.

It’s all I can do to know

 that God feels it too.

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Men on the Timeline

Men on the Timeline

The other night I was at the Franco-Tunisian café where I go to get some of my writing done.  A sizeable group had taken one side of the section where I found a round table.  They were chatting about the high-placed people they knew.  I would have eavesdropped, were I not busy with my own work.

“Hey, this is getting to be a pretty classy café.” I said to Beth, their server and mine, when they left.

“The one seated on the left made a remark to me that was really out of line,” Beth responded, shaking her head.  “When I deflected it, he said he’d speak to my boss and I’d be lucky to work at MacDonald’s.  The rest of the group protested that ‘it’s 2019 and you can’t talk like that anymore,’ but still … .”

Still, what a memory of her working night to have to take home!

“In pre-feminist days,” I said, “my women friends and I would confide in each other.  I never heard of the bizarre, freakish and grotesque behavior one sometimes meets with now, or reads about.  It didn’t happen and it wouldn’t have been tolerated by other men!  Maybe some of it was going on and women now feel they have permission to protest.  But I doubt that’s the whole explanation.  In the world I grew up in, stuff like that would have been left to criminals!”

“I wonder,” Beth speculated, “if these outbreaks are male pushback against women’s new assertiveness.  A kind of revenge?”

“That’s interesting.  Let’s suppose we are all more connected than our current science admits.  Imagine that our minds float in the same ocean and that there’s less of an impermeable barrier between us than appears.  What may have happened is that women were focusing on their own unprecedented steps toward new self-definition.  We’ve been fascinated with ourselves and with each other.  And we’ve not devoted time or thought to men’s role in this new world.  We’ve lifted ideality from men, leaving nothing but the law of the brute.  We’ve not thought about positive models.  Instead we’ve pretended we want men to be more like women.  We want men who can cry.”

We both laughed.  Crying can’t be equated with sensitivity.  We’ve all known women who could cry at will and used their tears to manipulate whoever was around them.  We’ve known studs who pretended they wanted feminists to train them in the new sensitivity.

“We don’t want that,” Beth said.

We want protection.

We want chivalry.”

We looked at each other as women will who share a secret.

Last night, Jerry and I decided to see a movie and follow it with dinner at our local diner.  For us, that’s a big night on the town.  We saw “Cold War,” a Polish film that’s been showered with international awards and praised as a perfect example of the romantic genre.

In the film, the couple meet after the Second World War in a Poland then under communist rule.  Being musicians, they must conform their talents to the heavy tread of The Party Line.   When they manage to make their escape to Paris, they come under a different pressure, this one economic: to brand themselves in a way that Upper Bohemia will find “interesting.”

On the Eastern side of the Iron Curtain — Ideology.

On the Western side — Nihilism.

Believe what you secretly sense to be false!  Or else believe in nothing!

Filmed in black and white, there was the Paris I remember, with its steep, dark, empty streets, long shadows, and the quais of the Seine where lovers still walked beside the speaking river.  Eroticism on the French model: Tristan and Iseult.  Love as sudden as a “stroke of lightening.”  Without past, without future.  Intensity without history.  A cheat, sooner or later.

In the film, the girl loses faith in her own life because the man she loves has become unreal to himself.  It was a story I recognized in lives that had been part of mine.

The world we share depends very much on men in whom we can believe.  Realistic men who

keep intelligent hope alive.

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Male Gallantry

“King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid”
Edward Burne-Jones, 1884

Male Gallantry

Like Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven, here’s a topic that’s been tapping on the casement of my mind during the past few weeks.  It’s reminded me of an incident that happened some years back, when I was tenured, published and safely embedded in professional life.

However, none of us is all that safe.  A recent mammogram had occasioned the recommendation that I undergo a diagnostic biopsy.  And I’d about decided not to go that route a second time.

I was divorced.  My parents were gone by then.  In the solitary circumstances where I found myself, it did not seem irresponsible for me to try alternative treatment approaches.

The phone rang while I was mulling over this decision.  It was X, a former suitor who now wore the respectable title of associate professor.  X was between marriages and clearly thinking of me as the next Mrs. X.  Given the stark solitude in which I was weighing life and death decisions, his call was at least a welcome distraction.

We met for coffee, but really to talk about a possible renewal of our courtship of years before.

“Why not?” he asked me.

“I’ll tell you why not.  When I was fighting to get my job back, you sent me an email defending my adversaries!”

“I didn’t know they were on the other side.  I never heard exactly what happened, who did what.”

“If you had known, I think you would have sided with them anyway.”

He thought a minute.  “Yes.  I would have.”  Another pause, and then he said,  “You’re saying I’m a worm. ….

Am I a worm?”

“I don’t know.”

Since I didn’t know, we agreed to have dinner later in the week at the New York hotel where the American Philosophical Association was holding its mid-winter meetings.  We thought it would be fun to join a group of philosophers who’d been young colleagues together with us at the university where we all had our first teaching jobs.  Hey, the gang’s all here!

At the restaurant, we exchanged reports about our present lives.  It didn’t seem like fun to talk about my possible cancer, so I decided to mention that I’d become a theist.  That was a pretty big change of mind for a philosopher, since I’d been a young atheist at the time when we’d been colleagues together.

The old gang looked startled but decided, after a bit of discussion, that it wasn’t as far out as it sounded since Z, a highly respected philosopher, called himself a theist too.

“I don’t think he can be a serious theist, since he goes around pretending to look for a job at new departments, for the sole purpose of getting a salary increase at his home university.  When I was at Sydney, the joke was about founding a “Z’s Anonymous” group so that chairmen who’d been played that way could call each other in the middle of the night when they felt the urge to take a drink!”

How was I to know that one was not supposed to talk that way about a Certified Big Shot?  I thought we were still all kids together.  When did my former buddies become boring and middle-aged?  Anyway, they reacted by ganging up on me.  They couldn’t care less whether Z’s pretend job searches were or were not consistent with his professed theism.  As if on a signal, they began to shower me with ridicule.

Hey, fellas!  I thought we were friends!  I thought we were buddies!  I thought we had philosophy — the queen of the sciences — the search for wisdom, in common!  They were at least four to one, so it was not obvious how to return their serves.

As I was gearing up to say whatever I could, my once-and-future suitor, seated beside me, muttered, “Don’t say anything.  You’ll only make it worse.”

“Join the mob.”

That was the pithy comment of a fireman friend to whom I later repeated this story about … the “philosophers.”

Of course, the courtship with X was aborted then and there.  Nevertheless, we did exchange a few more emails.  He took the line that, in failing to come to my defense, he was making good his credentials as a feminist.

“A modern, liberated woman should be given the space to defend herself.”

“Maybe so, but you didn’t give me that space.  What you actually did was tell me to shut up!”

Is a man who won’t defend a beleaguered woman thereby showing himself to be an authentic feminist?

Let’s not get into generalities.  In this particular case, prompted by a track record of siding with adversaries who had once looked stronger than me, X had already posed the question:

Am I a worm?

In the subsequent case, where he did it again, the answer had now come in.  It was …

Yes.

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Normal?

Abbie at 6

Normal?

There were many things I wanted to be when I grew up, but one of them was NORMAL.  Since the counter-culture hadn’t yet come to public notice, normal was the only option offered to young girls at that time.  There were many Hollywood movie stars who exemplified normality for us, but the ones I really wished to become were the bland ones with no distinguishing features whatever.  I wondered how they achieved that blandness and if I could ever emulate it.

When I took the train to Princeton, New Jersey to visit Renee, my mother’s French friend whom I loved, I would see the college girls at the station.  In their camel-hair coats, they were saying enamored farewells to Princeton boyfriends.  The boyfriends looked to me like young piggies, but I admired the girls’ ability to stare up adoringly at their piggies.  Wow!  Wish I could do that!

Unbeknownst to me, Renee was meanwhile acculturating me in a very different direction.  She expressed intuitive French scorn for these outwardly demonstrative American girls whose open-eyed faces “held nothing back” –- put all the wares out on the table.

When I graduated from the High School of Music and Art, there were captions under our yearbook photos.  The student editors wrote mine:

A good mind possesses a kingdom.

Can you imagine?  What were they trying to bestow on me?  The kiss of death, socially?  Serves me right for neglecting to supply my own caption!

Fast forward to our contemporary times.  By now, my life has been crowded with so many adventures and misadventures that I no longer try to squeeze myself into the cultural norms presently on offer.  I can see where they’re headed and, more than likely, I’ve been there and back.

My idea of normality now approaches something like the ability to inhabit one’s body, one’s experience, one’s sorrows and one’s intentions.  To be alive to one’s reality, past and present.  To have put together a defensible life.

Oddly enough, in recent months I’ve found myself on the receiving end of three verdicts – all having to do with normality.

The first verdict was delivered in a dream.  In it, the visible space was dominated by a seated wisdom figure, larger than life and wearing deep red robes.  She addressed me with authority, saying

You are Absolutely Normal.

It sounds like what philosophers call a “category mistake,” since we associate norms with statistical averages, which are determined relative to items of the same kind having more or fewer of the characteristics being measured.  If the norm is the statistical average, then it and the Absolute would be in quite different categories.

That is, unless the wisdom figure wasn’t thinking in terms of quantities, but in some other terms.

The second verdict was delivered by the horses I met under the auspices of Joan Summers, my wonderful equine coach.  Joan would talk to me, I would talk back, and the horses would respond in their body language.  What they actually communicated was that

I don’t have psychological problems.

Anyway, not the kind that send these horses bucking and rolling on the soft turf of the arena.  My big problem is my peripheral neuropathy: my walking problem.  Which is about how I see it too.

The last verdict came in this week.  The buildup for it occurred earlier when my “Me Too” ordeal was leaving me on the verge of tears in the daytime and sleepless at night.  When I went for a routine medical checkup, my primary care physician was visibly disturbed by what I told him.  He strongly urged me to see a therapist he recommended, a lady who specializes in cases of abuse and harassment.  If I didn’t talk this through, he said, it could show up as illness later.

By now I believe the real-world problem is finally cured, but getting there has cost a lot of my time, energy and even some bits of my health.  As well as money.  I see my acupuncturist for the wrecked digestion and the massage therapist for the muscular knots.  Since I’d rather not stay in The Repair Shop any longer than necessary, I went to see the lady therapist for the first time only this week, and reluctantly.  But I was willing to see if she knew something relevant to my experience, that I didn’t know.

I hadn’t expected to like her, but I did.  She was empathic, realistic and knowledgeable.  After listening to the whole story, she concluded that I did not stand in need of psychological help.  I was normal.  It was the third verdict.

“But,” I pointed out, “I walked around for weeks on the brink of tears!”

She responded:

“It would have been abnormal

if you hadn’t been on the brink of tears!”

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 Our Twentieth Wedding Anniversary

Abbie and Jerry
January 20th, 1999

 Our Twentieth Wedding Anniversary

Today, the twentieth of January, is the actual day of our 20th wedding anniversary, though we had our celebratory dinner last Friday, after seeing the James Baldwin movie, “If Beale Street Could Talk.”

At the restaurant, we had to move as far away as we could from the party at the long table who brought with them from the bar their deafening roars of ersatz gaiety.

What did we talk about?  First, we parsed Jimmy Baldwin’s heartbreaking, boy and girl romantic cri de coeur.  I’d first learned Baldwin was gay from Richard Wright, his colleague and rival.

“Oh, too bad,” I remarked.

“Why do you say ‘too bad?’” Wright asked me.

“Because,” I said sincerely, “we need every good man.”

Wright laughed.

After talking about the film, we reviewed the twenty years we’d had together.  Actually together!  Not longed-for in nostalgia or yearned-after in anticipation.  Alive and present.  What had they all meant, all our real years?

(Is it only philosophers who’d ask each other that question?   Maybe.  But I assume everybody’s a philosopher au fond.  Only, some of us are out of the closet.)

When we met, I wasn’t looking to fall in love.  I was calling persons and organizations outside the college where I taught, hoping to find someone who could help save our nationally-recognized core curriculum.  If I’d been able to convince then New York Senator Patrick Moynihan that Brooklyn College was more important than the stuff he was busy with (welfare and the arms race), then I never would have phoned Jerry’s organization for help.  But Moynihan was unmoved, so I had to call Jerry, whose organization was next on my list.

Though I flatter myself that, being female, I’ve got to be more emotionally intelligent than any man, in fact I did not notice that my inner barriers and defenses were falling during our months of telephone strategizing about how to save Brooklyn College – as eventually we did.  Jerry knew he was in love long before I knew I was.

Here’s how I found out.  The philosopher Edmund Husserl had a method he recommended for seekers who want to see through the surface of a thing to its essence.  He termed it the “phenomenological reduction.”  What you do is bracket ”the natural attitude”: all the practical, real-life worries, hopes and attachments with which ordinarily you surround the thing.  Just focus on what remains of the thing, once you have let those encumbrances drop away.  Contemplate the thing as it is.

What did I see, once I put out of play my fears and practical misgivings?  What was the truth about my relation to Jerry?  After all, I’m a philosopher.  I simply wanted to know!

The unexpected happened.  Instead of any disinterested contemplation of essences, I found myself plummeting down a well of feeling that appeared bottomless.

Hey, wait a minute!  What’s going on here?  Reflexively, I tried to reverse the process.

What goes down must go up, right?

Not right.

Try as I did, I could not mentally scramble back up to the rim of the well.  I had fallen in love and could not fall out again!

So what’s it been like, our 20-year marriage?   Given the near-opposite ends of the planet that our ancestors came from, there’ve been differences of taste and habit to accommodate.  That’s obvious.  But the main rocks and rapids we’ve navigated together were met in the world that we’ve chosen to share.

For example, we had one last fight at Brooklyn College after I took early retirement.  It was important to save the job of a stellar colleague from another department who was being fired for the high crime of refusing to “go along [with the boys in the back room] to get along.”  For insisting that personnel decisions should conform to academic criteria, he stood out like a sore thumb.  We – Jerry mostly – provided key guidance all the way to a highly improbable happy ending.

A lot of what we’ve encountered has been unpredictable.  Quite unexpectedly, Jerry had a life-changing religious experience.   It summoned him to terminate some deep-going connections: with the organization he had founded in Washington D.C. and the professional life he had built there.  Instead, he turned to dedicate himself to a new calling.

Here I have to say, if Jerry had to confront that kind of a life-somersault, with all its attendant risks, he found the right wife.  I may not be a paragon of womanly skills but – for those dimensions of life – I’m okay.  To me it seems normal.  I’m not claiming that every such report would be credible, no matter from whom it came.  But Jerry is, in his own modest words, “boringly normal.”   And to my mind, he’s gotten more normal (less encumbered by … uh … “male ego”) since this summons entered his life.

And what about me?  Since we married, there’ve been crucial projects I’ve completed that previously I would not have dared to undertake.

What of the world around us?  We live as quietly and harmoniously as we can. We don’t look to get in any fight.  But, if we find that a fight has my name on it, or has his, and there’s no honest way to dodge it, we will go the distance.  The values we shared at the outset became more concrete and alive as we faced the fights to which those values called us.

The past year has been perhaps the most difficult since we married.  Vital things, sacred things, defining projects were at risk, one after another.  It’s been a helluva ride.

And our marriage?

An inspired,

unfinished,

unpredictable

adventure.

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Now You See It, Now You Don’t

“The Falling Angel”
Marc Chagall, 1923

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

Last night I watched Renique Allen being interviewed on C-Span about her book, It Was All a Dream: A New Generation Confronts the Broken Promises to Black Americans

I was utterly riveted by her self-revelations, which felt to me like mine would be if I were black.

She did not allow her tale of obstacles to disappear into modes of discourse currently formulaic.  Her personal situation was presented fresh, though it had its parallels in the 75 or so millennials she interviewed for her book.

First and last, what struck me was the erotic predicament.  For a black woman looking for a suitable relationship with a man, the pool of educated males is relatively small.  The pool of men who have done time in jail is large.  Incarceration being somewhat chancy for our black fellow citizens (one can be sentenced to a fairly long term for being a bystander), some of those men may be well qualified by character.  But still, what do you tell people?

And if they’ve got through the neck of the racial bottle and emerged with similar credentials, many of the eligibles (men and women) come from single parent homes with no models, no parental couple that lasted and learned to work things out together.

There is also the larger context.  The cities of the North are still quite segregated residentially and in terms of social groupings.  Even white liberals and radicals rarely glide effortlessly across the erotic color line.

Some of these young people are moving south.  The weather’s better, the rents give you more space, and … “what the hell, it’s home.”  It’s the black equivalent of the Mayflower: the place of origins in America.  There can be a frankness, even an ease, that goes with that.  The history may not be the greatest, but it’s shared and it’s in the open.

I thought of another woman I once met, descended from a well-known Lakota chief who figures in the history of the American West.  (That means, we killed some of his and he killed some of ours.)  His descendant, a woman I admired on sight, had married three times, but damned if she could find a man of her people who wasn’t demoralized past the point required for a common life.  She was a princess.  The prince wasn’t on his way.

Out of a vast longing to better understand my people and their strange assignment in history, I’ve been reading Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law.  Its author, Chaim N. Saiman, is praised unreservedly by people whose endorsement puts the book over the top.  I bought it, aware that I understand Biblical Israel better than I do rabbinic Judaism. What happened in the God/Israel relationship, to turn the one into the other?

Biblical Israel is unique among the world’s religious communities in that its models are (or purport to be) real people in locatable cultural and political situations who try at the same time to stay in contact with a God who is more than the world and its parts.  They’ve agreed to relate their lives to this God.  A consequential, even terrifying agreement.  Their God promises them a Land in which to carry out and record what happens next.  A record the world still reads.

The Bible and the rabbis explain their eventual exile from the Land as the consequence of sin.  Less reverently, I’m inclined to see it as inevitable, built into their strategic vulnerability and size relative to the empires surrounding them.  And built into their covenantal refusal to disappear.

However explained, they could not shuffle off the habits, prescribed conducts and memories that tied them to the literal space-and-time conditions of their origin.  Not and stay Jehudim, a tribe in Israel.

So they took with them as much as they could: an Israel-in-the-head.  Rules designed for Israelite geography and temple architecture were retained and discussed “in the Sanhedrin,” that is, ideally – together with rules adapted to later circumstances.  They traveled sheathed in those prescriptions-in-the-head.  It was the most portable part of their origins.  The narratives might grow more distant with time.  Law is, in a manner of speaking, timeless.

Where is the woman, in this Israel-in-the-head?  I’m not sure.  My recent experience as a beleaguered woman suggests that the male co-religionist will try at the outset to find a precept or a prooftext that will preserve the actual, de facto community.  So the woman will be advised to stay within the communal consensus and to keep her head down.  Compromise is preferred.  Except in three cases:

idolatry, murder and sexual immorality.

As I see it, these three “exceptions” cover all the large-scale defacements of the divine image in humankind. The point is to recognize when these defacements loom and to resist them at that time without compromise.  Absolutely.

I take “sexual immorality” to stand for the defacement of a facet of the divine.  That facet is called “Shekinah,” divine Presence, and it is feminine.

I look at the defense of the feminine by Renique Allen, by the now-departed Lakota princess, and also by me recently, at my local temple.  Yesterday a Jewish woman friend said this:

You were defending the Shekinah. 

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The Feminine Honor

The Adams Memorial
Augustus Saint-Gaudens, 1891

The Feminine Honor

My recent “Me Too” experience now appears to be winding to its close with the moral fundamentals suitably restored.

Since I’m a city kid, with street smarts, who had reason to believe that her life skills were more than sufficient to steer her clear of the “Me Too” experience, what have I now learned that could be of use to other women?

est-ce que vous ne plaignez pas le sort des femmes?

(Do you not pity the destiny of women?)

Years ago I heard a French actress voice her famous question, in the beautiful accents of the Theatre national populaire.

What is the destiny of women?

Edmund Burke, writing his Reflections on the Revolution in France, laments that a thousand swords were not raised to defend the person of Marie Antoinette.  The English didn’t much like the French in those days, and he was derided for the sentiment of thwarted chivalry he voiced.

But I will never ridicule chivalry.  It’s clear water for the thirsty.  It mitigates, as nothing else can, the destiny of women.

Why do women who’ve suffered disrespect related to their sex hesitate to come forward?  I’ve learned enough about the answer to understand now why my feminist friends were reluctant to utter any words of encouragement as they realized what field of combat I was preparing to enter.

It has to do with the stakes here.  In no other fight I ever entered have I felt so lacerated — at the start and at the finish.  To change the metaphor: this is by no means my first rodeo.  In my life, I’ve won some and lost some and been badly thrown before.

Why is this one different?  It’s the only one where my right to be treated appropriately as a woman was jeopardized.

The world does not come right,

manliness does not come right,

unless feminine honor

is valued at its just price.

A woman, like a man, can fight for a cause without regard to her sex.  She can fight for the Spanish Republic, fight for the Free French, fight in the Haganah as my cousins did, fight against slavery worldwide, fight for a woman’s right to vote, to drive, to get equal pay for equal work, fight to save wild nature – get into any fight that she thinks has her name on it.

She should never have to fight for the cause of herself as a woman.

Of any circumstance, any combat, that fails to respect this invisible constraint, one can only say,

C’est indigne!

(It’s ignoble!)

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