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The Feminine Mystique.

December 28, 2017 | (1,370 words)

After an exhilarating half-century of sexual revolution, now is a good time to maybe step back and take stock.  As everyone knows, our contemporary era of free love was initiated by the invention of a particular pharmaceutical that prevents the male sperm from fertilizing the female egg.  This exciting liberation from the dictates of basic biology was then joined to a new-age belief that sexual intimacy need not involve any sort of emotional attachment, or a personal commitment of any kind.  We should all be able to “love the one you’re with” at any given moment.  This radical ideology has obviously been embraced by successive generations of randy young people, who today employ the current vernacular to describe this no-strings arrangement as “hooking up.”

But as each wave of callow youth have aged into a slightly less self-centered stage of life, their insistence on carrying forward the philosophy of free love has produced a series of rather unpleasant – and at times downright problematic – scenarios with the opposite sex.

From an historical perspective, the male of the species has always been in favor of free love.  Allowing for an attraction to any woman one might encounter, regardless of prior commitment or personal obligation, might be described as the default setting for the overwhelming majority of men in their nature state.  Christian tradition has reoriented us away from chasing carnal desire in this random fashion, by instilling a transcendent sense of how our virility is best expressed with one woman in the covenant of marriage, and extends to the raising of children with her.  Directing oneself in this way contributes to the peace and tranquility of one’s household, and that of the immediate neighborhood.  Committing oneself to the raising of children improves the well-being of the surrounding community.  And both these endeavors result in a mature and sober outlook on the part of the individual male in question.

Contradicting this noble tradition, the sexual revolution leaves men with the faulty notion we can somehow manage to be responsible husbands and fathers, while simultaneously being attracted to any fetching woman who happens to cross our path.  For most of us this return-to-form is facilitated by the ready access to pornography, which is simply the widespread dissemination of images of complete strangers who have been blessed with an inordinate amount of physical beauty.  The advertising and entertainment industries have mastered the art of using these images to peddle their wares, and draw viewers to their dramas.  As has been amply documented, this once-removed preoccupation is damaging enough in itself, as it serves to undermine commitment to our families, especially to the dear woman to whom one was betrothed in the first place.

For those who enjoy a semblance of authority, there is an awkward tendency to take things a step further, indulging wanton desire with an actual, real-life woman within one’s sphere of influence.  This is complicated by many factors, of course.  Consider the close proximity in the workplace to females who are always at their “fantasy best:”  great hair, perfect make-up, and stylish, form-fitting attire.  In defense of the run-of-the-mill immature male, there can be a number of mixed messages sent in many of these circumstances.  Women in a work environment often use their attractiveness to gain attention for their efforts, and leverage that attention to get ahead.  Since men hold the reigns of power in most cases, these women may see their behavior as nothing more than “fighting fire with fire,” and discount the role they themselves play in bringing about what can escalate into unwanted advances of a sexual nature.

Then again, a woman does not always deploy her attractiveness in any sort of premeditated or underhanded manner.  Many times she can’t help the impact her presence has on a given situation, which is to say, upon her male counterparts.  Often it is just in the nature of things.  Women in the workplace may therefore sometimes-but-not-always be innocent victims of sexual harassment.  For the purpose of this discussion, however, rather than scrutinize the motives and tactics of certain women, we wish to focus instead on what it is that men do wrong, and for which they should be chastised and called to account.

We are known, for one thing, to conveniently forget our vow to the young lady we chose to marry, but only when it suits us to do so.  Just how difficult it would be to “forsake all others” may have escaped our comprehension at the time, but that’s what we signed up for when we got hitched.  We also fail to realize, often until it’s too late, that being attracted to someone else can be a fleeting phenomenon, to say the least.  This is why many adulterers are known to regret their adultery, and plead with their wives that the other woman “means nothing.”

But the main thing we do wrong is refuse to grow up.  This is the lasting legacy of the sexual revolution, as far as men are concerned.  We continue to indulge our adolescent attraction to any and all beautiful women, without putting nearly enough energy into cultivating an adult appreciation for the complex inner workings of the female of the species.  A by-product of which is how we diminish what the spouse who dedicates herself to us – heart, mind, and body – has meant to our life as a man.

This is not to be dismissive of physical beauty, as it no doubt plays an important role in developing an infatuation with the person one eventually marries.  But there are only so many perfect specimens, or “10”s, roaming the earth at any given time.  So a stunning, knock-out figure with features to match is not what prompts most men to fall in love.

If you think about it, we marry based on how our beloved looks at us.  It’s all in the gaze, an aspect of the eyes.  That’s what draws us in.  Many shapely females may stroll past us, or pop up on our screen, but what moves us to the core of our being is a loving glance.  The attractive strangers who momentarily tempt us do not regard us in the same way.  The centerfolds who prance and pose for our puerile entertainment may try to simulate the same sort of allure, but we can’t be fooled, as we instinctively know the difference between a fake and the real thing.

Acknowledging there are attributes equal to a striking appearance, if not actually trumping such outward appeal, leads us into a consideration of what constitutes the feminine mystique.  In addition to the aforementioned loving gaze, this mystique is also located in a soothing voice, and a gentle, nurturing touch.  Such is the essence of a woman.  These charms are unmistakably revealed to the unsuspecting male only in the most intimate of settings.  This is why infants are enthralled by and so attached to their mother.  These are the characteristics we husbands should spend more time contemplating, and being grateful for, as our marriages roll on through the decades, and a steady stream of comely others continue to come into view.

The prospect of enjoying a little unencumbered pleasure with an attractive associate who appears willing and is within reach can present itself as a strong lure for a healthy, red-blooded male from time-to-time.  We are nevertheless tasked with turning away from this form of temptation, primarily through preserving the custody of our eyes.  This is not just to avoid hurting our marriage partner, as admirable an objective as that surely is.  It is also to maintain our own integrity as a human being.  Integrity, they say, is it’s own reward, even when it seems one could successfully risk a dangerous liaison with somebody new.

To fend off what can loom as the call of an almost irresistible siren, it helps to continually remind ourselves that none of those others will ever know us as well, or love us as much, in spite of our flaws.  Or care as deeply for our well-being.  Perhaps most importantly of all, none of those others has given birth to and raised our children.  But then, such remembrance requires something more than an adolescent mind-set.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
December 28, 2017

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