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!)

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” (www.dearabbie-nonadvice.com) where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Her next book project will be Conversations with My Father, the "Genius" Among the Giants. Some of her articles can be accessed at https://brooklyn-cuny.academia.edu/AbigailMartin . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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