Do Men Outsource Virtues to Women?

"Women's virtue is man's greatest invention."

Posted May 15, 2020

Our persistently "male-dominated culture has chosen to outsource virtues like self-control and the capacity to nurture to women." So says Hugo Schwyzer, a former professor who taught history and gender studies at Pasadena City College.[2] 

While evangelical pastors, right-wing politicians, and evolutionary psychologists want women to tame the savage masculine beast, Schwyzer argues, men are simply trying to hold women responsible for doing things they have chosen not to do for themselves.

Here’s how the story goes. Because men are less able to control their sexual desire, they can be aroused beyond their “natural” capacity for self-control. Because women are less libidinous, they are charged with setting the boundaries. Women must be the ones to say “No.” 

Men have successfully “outsourced” to women their responsibility to manage their sexual desires—they cede this virtue to women.    

The Virtuous Woman

According to Glenn Stanton of the Focus on the Family organization,

Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them.[3]

While Stanton wants to ground this idea in scripture, women religious leaders note that this thesis is simply not biblical [4] and that he does not reference any Scripture in his article, beyond noting that Christ was born of a woman.

The rise of the Victorian Age ushered out the previously held view that women were weak and wayward creatures who needed to be married off to keep them from wickedness.[5] Instead, the Victorians exalted women as naturally religious, moral, and virtuous—although they were still believed to be intellectually, emotionally, and physically inferior to men. This bifurcated notion generated the idea that women are best suited to the “separate domestic sphere” while their husbands labored in the morally tainted public sphere characterized by materialism, aggression, vulgarity, hardness, and rationality.

The Dangerous Women—the Femme Fatale [6]

On the other hand, there are those that claim the provocatively dressed woman is dangerous. Certainly not virtuous, she is a distraction and a temptation. She can lead good men to bad thoughts of infidelity. She can distract men from work and boys from their studies. She is the proverbial femme fatale—the woman who uses her sexual appeal to control and manipulate men to get what she wants from men who are hostage to their sexual desire. Despite their best efforts, men become powerless in the face of a woman’s allure. 

The Modern Femme Fatale—the Porn Chic

Porn chic is a term that describes fashions and trend-based behaviors that are linked to the porn industry. These behaviors have been mainstreamed and are widely viewed as normal in both the United States and Britain, particularly among young and urban population groups.[7] This trend intensifies patterns of self-objectification as young girls and women adopt hyper-sexualized fashions and behaviors.

The corresponding masculine archetype of the hyper-sexualized girl or woman is Unapologetic Bad Boy Pop Culture in which men (even those with higher educational backgrounds) present themselves as an Average Joe who has had to deal with difficult, non-compliant, and rejecting women. They are obsessed with sex, prizing the achievement of orgasm. They have nothing but disdain for women who do not measure up to the Porn Chic ideal.[8]

Can Men Be Virtuous?

Women are either virtuous or dangerous. In either case, men are entitled to act on their sexual desires, even if the women who are the objects of that desire reject it. They are entitled because they are not responsible for controlling this desire. Or are they?

Dean Burnett, a neuroscientist, says they are.[9]  He asks the question, “So, is it biologically possible for a typical man to be sufficiently aroused by the sight of a woman (particularly the provocatively dressed woman) that it overwhelms his restraint?” Burnett says the current evidence suggests the following:

  • There are many cognitive (mental) components, beyond the basic physical characteristic of male sexual desire.
  • Our sexual desires, both for men and women, and the biological systems that support them are influenced by the world around us.
  • The world around us presents the sexualized female form in almost every medium.

Burnett notes that the orbitofrontal cortex has been identified as that part of the brain that helps us regulate and/or suppress sexual behavior. It’s the part of the brain that says, “This isn’t a good idea, don’t do it.”

Misunderstood ideas about testosterone (T) also feed into the idea that male sexual desire is purely driven by a biological imperative. For a discussion about newer research on T and sexual desire, take a look at my post, The Male Libido: An Impediment to Equality in Marriage?

Do Men Want to Be Virtuous?

I thought it would be a good idea to Google “Do Men Want to be Virtuous” to learn what men today think about virtues like sexual self-control. Wow! What I found was nothing about whether men want to be virtuous. I did find most of the entries were about women being virtuous. I also Googled “What do men want?” as a counter to the classical Freudian “What do women want?” Almost all the entries were about what men want sexually from women.

A note about virility from the new book “A History of Virility.” A review of the book in the New Yorker, by Joshua Rothman gives us a rundown.[10]  The authors of the book point out that for  most of history, it was normal to praise exemplary men as ‘virile.’ In the past century the term, “virility” has been displaced by the les provocative terms “masculinity” and “manliness.”  What did “virility” originally mean and is it worthwhile salvaging this concept of what it means to be a man?

To the Romans, virility was to radiate not just sexual power but “virtue, accomplishment.”  The virile man wasn’t just sexually “assertive,” “powerfully built,” and “procreative,” but also intellectually and emotionally “levelheaded, vigorous yet deliberate, courageous yet restrained.” The defining quality of “virility” was self-control.

Relating to Each Other as Equals

Women cannot be held responsible for saving, creating, or maintaining civilization. As Rachel Green Miller, a researcher who wants to improve the cultural conversation about gender relations while defending orthodox Christianity says:

But men can’t sanctify their wives. And wives can’t sanctify their husbands. To teach otherwise diminishes the inherent worth of man and woman. [11]

Let’s not confuse cultural ideas about men and women with biblical truth, evolutionary psychological dogma, nor right-wing political ideas. Let’s be aware of the science that debunks the idea that men cannot control their sexual desires and, therefore, are not responsible for these desires. 

And, let’s debunk the ideas that women are virtuous saints responsible for civilizing barbaric men who cannot control their impulses.

And, let’s not encourage young girls and women and men to adopt Porn Chic. Let’s discourage them from modeling themselves after problematic female celebrities. Let’s encourage them to find genuine power through social, economic, educational, and sport activities rather than through the male gaze.[12]

And, let’s not endorse the Unapologetic Bad Boy Pop Cultural icons like Tucker Max, Howard Stern, Eminem, and Charlie Sheen. Let’s elevate men who take pride in managing their own sexual drives in the context of their relationships with the women they care about[13].

Takeaways

  • Our persistently male-dominated culture encourages men to “outsource” the virtue of sexual self-control.
  • In order to support this outsourcing, women are elevated to virtuous, moral, and naturally religious beings who are responsible for civilizing our society.
  • But, women are also cast as femme fatales—currently known as Porn Chics—who control and manipulate men who become sexual pawns.
  • Current research (both brain and hormone) demonstrates that men can maintain control of their sexual desires.
  • Do men want to be virtuous—to be responsible for control of their own sexual desire is TBD.
  • To want to be virtuous means: (1) Being aware of the research about male and female sexual desire, (2) Know that women can’t sanctify men and men can’t sanctify women, (3) Don’t get caught up in Chic Porn, and (4) Relate to women as equals.

References

1. ______ “Cornelia Otis Skinner Quotes.” https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/147204.Cornelia_Otis_Skinner.

2. Schwyzer, Hugo. (2012). “Why Men and Women Do Not Complete Each Other.” RoleReboot. http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-03-why-men-and-women-do-not-complete-each-other/.

3. Stanton, Glen T. (2016) “Why Men and Women Are Not Equal.” The First Things. https://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2016/08/why-man-and-woman-are-not-equal.

4. Milller, Rachel Green. (2016) “Do Women Make Men civilized? A Daughter of the Reformation. https://rachelgreenmiller.com/2016/08/31/do-women-make-men-civilized/ .

5. Miller 2016

6. Wolfendale, Jessica. (2016) “Dangerously Provocative.” The Dangerous Woman Project. http://dangerouswomenproject.org/2016/07/04/dangerously-provocative/.

7. Katz, Jackson. (2013) “Porn Chic, Gender Performance, and Halloween Fashion. HuffPost. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/porn-chic-gender-performance-and-halloween-fashion_b_4159679.

8. Ibid

9. Burnett, Dean. (2018).  “How ‘provocative clothes affect the brain—and why it’s no excuse for assault.  The Guardian.  https://www.theguardian.com/science/brain-flapping/2018/jan/25/how-provocative-clothes-affect-the-brain-and-why-its-no-excuse-for-assault.

10. Rothman, Joshua. (2016)  “When Men Wanted to Be Virile.” The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/when-men-wanted-to-be-virile. 

11.  Miller 2016

12. Wolfendale 2016

13. Wolfendale 2016