Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Maidens of Virtue: Chapter Two

The second chapter of "Maidens of Virtue: A Study of Feminine Loveliness for Mothers and Daughters" by Stacy McDonald is titled "Modern Day Maidens".  It is a brief five pages and can be paraphrased as "Life was so much better during the olden days when women and girls had life really easy.  I want to go back to that life."

My response can be summarized as "That time never existed - and you'd not like being during those times as much as you think you would.

I have a different feeling of regret in reading this book compared to previous CP/QF works by women.  Debi Pearl has a piquant ability to rip apart her neighbors - but her writing skills are marginal.  Sarah Mally had similarly weak writing skill - but lacked the life experience to make her writings interesting.  One of the Botkin Sisters seemed to have some severe written language deficiencies - but the other sister could occasionally put together an interesting argument.  Mrs. McDonald is different;  her writing style is surprisingly solid - as long as the reader avoids thinking about what she's written.

Antique books are much like old friends. Neither one may be as new or as strong as they once were, but as the years pass their pages soften, their character develops, and their uniqueness is made evident to a new generation. Mysteriously, they grow more precious and even more beautiful as they age.

One day I was browsing the shelves of an antique book store and found a real jewel - a forgotten leather - bound treasure. After blowing the dust off of its cover, I observed a tender scene of children playing in a pasture. Like a solitary white rose positioned carefully on the deep velvet lining of a bejeweled box, the charm of the simple painting was curiously enhanced by its gilded, ornate border.

The delightful painting included a young maiden seated upon a blanket, sewing. Her strawberry curls were tied gently behind her back, and her delicately embroidered gown cascaded about her. The look of serenity in her face made me yearn to sit beside her, to share her gentle company, to experience her peaceful afternoon.

Was this innocent vignette of beauty and tranquility a poignant memory belonging only to yesteryear? After all, where were the young lady's skin tight jeans? And why wasn't her belly showing? Didn't these frolicking little children in the pasture know that they could have been playing video games instead? Do gentle maidens exist today, or did they live only in the vivid imagination of old-fashioned authors? (pgs. 27-28)

The first three paragraphs of the quote above show her writing strengths.  She can create vivid, sweeping views of the world around her.  I can visualize the old books, the rose nestled in velvet and a lovely girl sitting in a pasture. But as always - the devil's in the details.  I don't have many old friends - but none of them have pages.  There's no mystery about why carefully cultivated friendships and well-constructed books survive over the years.  Books stored on shelves don't acquire enough dust that buyers need to blow the dust off the cover to see it.  I can admire the construction of the comparison between a rose in an ornate box to a simple paining in a gilded frame while feeling that the comparison fell flat.  A frame is supposed to compliment the painting within; a rose will be completely overpowered by a box worth a small fortune.

Likewise, her description of wanting to spend an afternoon with a peaceful young maiden reads well - but is a strange and bizarre idea.  Stacy McDonald is a married woman with a house filled with children.  That peaceful maiden isn't her peer or a mentor; she's a young girl with minimal life experience.  It's as off-putting as if I declared upon seeing a group of teenagers at the mall having fun "I really want to spend the afternoon with them!".    Imagine how strange it would be if I as a 36-year-old married woman with an infant proceeded to hang out with a group of strange teens at the mall for an evening.....

In response to the last paragraph of the quote, that innocent vignette is an artist's dream.  Those frolicking little kids faced brutal diseases, frequent nutritional deprivation, minimal education, and a strong likelihood of physical disability at a young age.  The young lady faced either marriage with the dangers of pregnancy and childbirth prior to modern medicine or the grinding poverty of being an unmarried daughter. Truthfully, our fears about inappropriate clothing and activities for children would seem overwrought to the parents of those happy children.

After Stacy McDonald's vignette of a vignette, she jumps into a discourse on the loss of the word "maiden" in modern society:
One thing you'll notice while reading old books is that young, unmarried women are referred to as virgins, daughters, maidens, and even damsels. At one time, a virgin merely meant a woman who had never been married. The fact that she was sexually pure was politely assumed. Today, the word virgin is often used by the world as a pejorative.(pg. 28)
I'm not sure what "old" books she's talking about.  I've read books that talk about daughters and maidens - but never virgins or damsels outside of people who are trying to sound "old-timey" without doing background research.

Thanks to that quote, I realized that I've never wondered about if a person was a virgin or not before.  I politely assume that a person's previous sexual experiences (or lack thereof) is none of my business.

On a semi-related note, people have been having sex prior to marriage as long as humans have had marriages.  Even the Puritan culture so adored by CP/QF adherents managed to produce lots of unwed mothers and babies born to married couples who had been married less than 9 months.

I've never run into the word "virgin" being used as a pejorative; perhaps I run with the wrong crowd....

With no sense of irony, Mrs. McDonald introduces a definition from the 1828 Webster's Dictionary a few pages later that shows that marital status and virginity had already severed:

The Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines the word maiden as "a young unmarried woman; a virgin; fresh; new; unused." It goes on to describe a maiden as one who speaks and acts "demurely or modestly." I don't believe that the extinction of the term is accidental, but instead it exposes a disturbing loss of virtue and dignity in modern womanhood. (pg. 29)

]I think Mrs. McDonald is approaching one reason the word "maiden" disappeared in a roundabout way.  Her definition of maiden is now "a young, unmarried woman who is sexually inexperienced and behaves demurely and modestly".  That word has so many interlocked attributes that the word "maiden" becomes clunky to use.  And - as I've mentioned before - I prefer not to think at all about other people's sexual experiences so if a word implies a concrete sexuality I'm going to avoid it.
In our modern culture, girls tend to be referred to in a variety of ways. Someone may occasionally ask, "How many daughters do you have?" but you will never hear anyone ask, "how many virgins do you have?" or "how many maidens are in your family?" Is it that our contemporary dictionaries don't have room for these outdated terms or is it that our culture embraces gender neutrality and spurns titles that signify innocence or purity? (pg. 28)


In what context would it be acceptable to ask how many virgins are in a family?  Do you really want to know the answer to that question?

Asking how many maidens are in the family - assuming the family is not at a Renaissance Fair - just makes a mess of answering the standard question of "Do you have kids?  How many?"   How well would the answer of "Well, I have one maiden, one unmarried not-a-maiden, a married daughter, a virginal son and a non-virginal son" go down?  That's far more information than I want to know about people - and I think it's creepy that Mrs. McDonald is that interested in other people's kids' sex lives.

My dictionary has the words "daughter", "maiden", and "virgin" in it.  I engage in hyperbole myself from time to time - but stating that those words are missing from the dictionary is sloppy.

As Christians, most of us understand that scripture teaches unmarried young women (and men) to stay sexually pure until they are married. In addition, their outward behavior should be consistent with what's in their hearts. (pg. 29)

I pulled this quote for two reasons.  First, the use of parentheses around men visually demonstrates CP/QF's obsession with female sexual purity with male sexual purity as a belated add-on.  Second, Scripture teaches that marriage is required for lawful sexual intercourse for all adults - not just young adults.  That's a common mistake in CP/QF writings due to the relative infrequency of early widowhood in Western society.

The remainder of the chapter yammers on about how immodestly everyone dresses and how there is nowhere anyone is safe from sexualization.  This next anecdote made me laugh so hard that it took me a few tries to read it into my transcription program.

Our world today assaults men of all ages. Everywhere they look they see indecently dressed women... on billboards, in pictures in department stores, in magazines in grocery store checkout lanes, even walking down the street.

In a way, our daughters have not been spared.

I recently picked up a bottle of hairspray at our local grocery store for my daughter. When she decided to use it the following Saturday, what she found on the back of the bottle shocked her, and she came downstairs to show me. This is what it said:

"WHAT YOU WEAR BEGINS WITH YOUR HAIR. (TM) What's on your body... Skin tight jeans. What's in your hair... Shpritz Forte Glam Rock finishing spray for big, sexy, rock'n roll hair."

When the lady who worked at the customer service counter asked us a reason for returning the bottle of spray, we simply showed her the back of the bottle and said we didn't want "big, sexy, rock'n roll hair." Given the way she looked at us, I'm sure she wondered why we thought we were in any danger! (pg. 30)

My husband was listening as I read this into the program.  He stated that no men he knows feel tempted by billboards, ads in department stores or grocery store magazines.  CP/QF morality enforcers have created an issue where none exists.

I worked in customer service for ten years - although never at the returns desk.  I am certain that Mrs. McDonald's counter-cultural action of returning Shpritz Forte Glam Rock Finishing Spray for moral reasons provided great amusement for overworked staffers for several days.  Much of that amusement could have been avoided if she had stated that she didn't approve of the advertising of the company rather than implying that a hair spray automatically shapes hair into 80's glam rock hair styles.  Communication is an art worth studying.

Alas, in terms of sending a message about advertising content, her action was a complete failure.  If the spray was unopened, the store likely returned it to the shelf and recouped the lost sale.  Even if the spray was opened and needed to be discarded, stores assume there's a certain amount of lost profit from damaged merchandise called "shrink".  Stores won't change their buying patterns unless the sales of an item drop or the amount of shrink to compared to sales becomes unsustainable.

But - on behalf of all overworked cashiers who need a laugh - I do thank her for the story of when a lady returned hair spray because it would make her hair too big and sexy.

Each chapter ends with a series of "discussion" questions for mothers and daughters to discuss.  Truthfully, the questions are more about brainwashing the daughters' to think like tiny little judgment machines about evil outsiders.  Here are some choice examples:

Have you ever seen a girl in public dressed in boyish clothes or who carried herself in a masculine way? Which of the following thoughts came to mind?

  •  Oops! Is that a boy or a girl? 
  •  What a lovely young lady! I wonder if she is a Christian. 
When you see a girl who is dressed immodestly, which of the following thoughts come to mind?

  • What a lovely young lady! I wonder if she is a Christian. 
  •  How sad, she must not have any respect for herself. 
 What about when you see a modest young woman dressed in nice, clean, feminine attire? Although it certainly doesn't mean that she's a Christian, as long as her behavior matches her attire might you suspect that she is? Why? Discuss with your mother the importance of communicating Christ to others with your appearance. (pg. 30-31)
This will surprise no one - but I've never worried about if a stranger I saw on the street was a Christian or not.  If I was concerned about if a stranger was Christian or not, I would not use their clothing as a determining factor.  On the other hand, the fact that a person assumes that external characteristics show if someone is Christian or not is a good sign that that person is following a very shallow and self-centric form of Christianity. 

I do enjoy darkly the fact that even a woman who is the exemplar of white, middle-class, conservative - but not dowdy - fashion is only probably a Christian  while a less-feminine woman is clearly not Christian.

How can you be sure that people automatically know you are a girl when they see you from a distance (without revealing or accentuating your private feminine parts)? (pg. 30)  So, which bits are my private feminine bits?  I'm assuming boobs and butt are supposed to be covered - but what about my hips?  Also, that question made me think more about women's anatomy in a sexualized way than anything I've seen in a grocery store.

I'm betting the correct answer is something about long hair and a skirt that is long, flowing and A-line. 

I do find the question funny because Stacy McDonald and her husband moved from Texas to somewhere in the Midwest for his ministry.   One advantage of winter in the Midwest is that everyone looks identical with heavy coats, gloves and hats.  Sure, you could dress entirely in pink or light purple, but that's about the only way someone is going to pick out if that blob of clothes walking towards them is a woman or man.
Have people whom you have never met ever asked you if you were a Christian simply from observing your appearance and behavior? Discuss with your mother how this might happen? (sic) (pg. 30)

This is my favorite question ever.  It sets girls up to expect that some random stranger will walk up to them and ask them about their salvation status at any point.  I live in Western Michigan which is highly conservative and filled with Calvinistic churches - and I've never heard of this happening. 

More amusingly, how is someone you've never ever met supposed to ask you a question?  If they've asked you a question, you've met them. 

Maidens of Virtue.  Two chapters down.  Way too many more to go :-)


  1. I remember reading this book as a teenager-I had bought into the purity culture and thought this was awesome! Thanks for taking the time to review these-it helps to see them from a healthier perspective!

    1. You are welcome! I'm sorry you read this as a teenager - it has a lot of very unhealthy views.

  2. If someone asked my Mom, "How many virgins do you have?" she would have probably punched them. Also, I play a sexually menacing witch at Renn Faires. Clothed in artfully ripped rags, groping other performers (with their permission of course) and people still occasionally greet me with , "Greetings, fair maiden!"

    1. Oh, yeah. My mom would have ended up in jail - and no regrets! I love your Renn Faire persona :-)

  3. I'm not sure if it was a pejorative or not, but I was taught that Virginia was named after Elizabeth I the "virgin" queen because she was unmarried. So, in the late 1500s at least a few people were linking not being married with virginity, though probably to protect the Queen's honor since I'm sure there were plenty of rumors.

    1. Queen Elizabeth played up the "Virgin Queen" persona because she knew the dangers of marriage since her older half-sister Queen Mary had married a Spanish Prince who was insanely unpopular in England and watched her suffer through two pseudo-pregnancies. Elizabeth's mother was executed on trumped-up charges of adultery and that left Elizabeth open to the charge of being a cuckold's illegitimate child. Elizabeth also saw two of her stepmothers - Jane Seymore and Catherine Parr - die of infections after childbirth as well as the execution of Catherine Howard for probably-not-trumped up charges of adultery.

  4. This stirred up memories of going through a book of English folk songs and running across one where a young woman complained about how tired she was of being a virgin, how much it weighed upon her, and how much she wanted to dispose of her virginity. The other verses included her mother's tips and cautions about sex, as well as the sentiment "well, being a virgin isn't THAT bad."

    1. That's quite a folk song! Wow....

    2. And it shows rather nicely that people back a few centuries weren't always so concerned about purity.

  5. Oh, and here it is. I didn't remember much of it, but it's called, "Whistle, Daughter, Whistle."

  6. "Thanks to that quote, I realized that I've never wondered about if a person was a virgin or not before."

    Oh, I have--when I was a hormonal teenager, and who was and wasn't Doing It was an issue of deep fascination and concern, kind of like how who'd had her period and who was wearing a bra was of utmost importance in early middle school, and how many teeth had you lost was a Big Question in first grade. However, as with those other phases, I grew out of being interested in who had or hadn't had sex, as sexuality became less of a new, exciting, and novel thing as I grew older and adult concerns took over. Fundamentalists appear to just never grow up.

    "I've never run into the word 'virgin' being used as a pejorative; perhaps I run with the wrong crowd...."

    Again, I have. And, again, not as an adult. In high school, sure, sometimes implying that someone--generally a boy--was a virgin was a way of implying that he was a loser, although this was less of an issue in my school because it was a selective enrollment public school--we had a lot of nerds, so the traditional markers of popularity, like sexual activity and sports, didn't have quite the same weight or currency as they did for my peers at regular schools. Making fun of people for being virgins or for being speculated to be so seems to be a thing in bro-y frat culture, and other macho subcultures too. I always dealt with this issue by staying far away from those social scenes. It wasn't particularly hard, even for my worldly self, so I don't see how Stacy McDonald is finding herself bombarded with these attitudes.

    Also, I doubt things were that different in Ye Olden Days. Sure, the middle and upper classes had to at least give the appearance of toeing the line when it came to norms of sexual propriety (though their private lives were another matter), but I can't imagine the talk among, say, male factory workers in a saloon or sailors on shore leave was terribly different from what it is now among frat brothers or, um, sailors on shore leave. Sexual prowess and "conquest" as a mark of masculinity is nothing new, culturally. The fact that sometimes girls are shamed for being virgins now is a newer thing but it's also not nearly so pervasive--and the issue is less that a girl hasn't had sex than it is what that could possibly imply, which is that boys are not attracted to her. And the failure of young women to attract young men being socially damaging is, again, nothing new.

    Also, in my experience as a teenager, you were just as likely to hear people sneering at people--girls, generally--for not being virgins as you were to hear them sneering at them for being virgins. Stacey McDonald can relax, slut-shaming is not dead.

    1. I was a nerd in the middle of a nerd-geek group - so I don't know that any of us were having sex. We were too busy being insanely overworked between school, extracurricular activities and jobs - which is depressing.

      I completely agree - they've never grown up!

  7. Can I just add that no one has ever asked me how many daughters I have. They have however, asked how many children I have. I guess that's a dangerously gender neutral question to this woman but I figure, if you don't know me well enough to know how many kids I have, I certainly don't think you would make assumptions about the gender of my kids.

    I myself tend to avoid asking people how many children they have ever since a friend lost her oldest child to a horrible accident. She finds it very painful to tell strangers either 2, which feels as though she is leaving out her son, or 3 and then have to explain that one died. I try to let people bring up the subject of their kids on their own, if they choose to.

    But then, I'm not obsessed with judging others and assessing their holiness based on their reproductive choices.....or sex lives....

    1. I avoid asking if someone has kids unless they clearly a parent - e.g., we are waiting in a doctor's office and they are holding a kid who is chatting at my baby.

      My middle brother died of an un-diagnosed, asymptomatic birth defect just before his first birthday. I spent many years feeling guilty about answering that I have a twin sister and a younger brother while leaving David out - but it doesn't bother me any more - but mainly because describing that my brother died often leads to the vaguely ghoulish question of "How did he die?".

    2. I am sorry for your loss.

      I think that perhaps, the farther away you get in time, the easier it becomes to figure out how to deal with a loss. My father killed himself when I was relatively young and having to tell people he was dead ALWAYS led to the question I dreaded and you have rightly labeled vaguely ghoulish: How did he die.

      Now, well into middle age, I find it much easier to be casual when I explain that he committed suicide. Plus, I have learned that many people have such traumatic losses in their past: sharing my own experience sometimes allows them to talk about it.

      I agree, its certainly okay to ask about a child when it is obvious someone is a parent. I also know that my friend is aware that people do not mean to hurt her; it's just that loss of a child is much rarer in the modern era so well-meaning people tend not to think that someone may have such a loss....

      I guess the best we can do is try to be kind and gentle with each other and assume that no malice is intended by simple questions.

    3. I am sorry about your father.
      Time - and in my case simply growing up - made things much easier. When I was young, I assumed everyone saw the world in the concrete way that I did as a 4 year old. As a pre-teen, I realized that many questions that people ask are really more of a formality as an attempt to bridge small talk. That took away a lot of my stress about answering that I have two siblings instead of three. As an adult, I play it by ear. In random social gatherings, I usually answer 2. When I was teaching, I'd tell my students the truth because I always had a few "difficult" kids who were grieving a loss - but didn't think anyone else would understand.

      Nothing makes David's death OK - but I've been able to help a few kids because I understood loss and grief so I feel like a terrible situation brought some good in the world.

  8. Seems like the best solution for Mrs. MacDonald would be to encourage herself and her girls to wear hats with the exclamation "I'm a female" written across it. Then people can see what gender they are from a long distance and she wouldn't have to be so fussy and judge-y about clothing.
    Oh, but wait. Seems like that would take the fun out of it for her.

    1. That's a great idea - so I doubt the McDonald's would accept it as legitimate :-)

  9. "One of the Botkin Sisters seemed to have some severe written language deficiencies - but the other sister could occasionally put together an interesting argument"

    That's a cool observation. Can you give an example of an argument you found interesting?

    1. I can try. They have a section on their blog that was a sample of the book.

      That section - although not the entire chapter - was pretty decent advice written in a style that was readable and light.

    2. Thank you! I ultimately started noticing a difference of style between the sisters when reading their individual articles and listening to different speeches, but never noted a lopsided advantage one might have. Your observations are interesting.

  10. I remember this book too! My mom read it to us and we did all of the discussion questions. I especially remember the weird chapter about the importance of floral smells and the one where Stacy and her daughters enjoyed a refreshing judge-a-thon at the local pool. As I recall, even the one woman they saw with an acceptably long skirt ended up being judged for her 'attitude,' which was apparently discernible from a distance. Good times... Sometimes I wonder why I'm so screwed up as an adult, then I remember delightful tomes like this. :P

    1. Huh - the judge-a-thon had must have been removed from the second edition - or I blocked it out.

      We can't control what we were exposed to as kids or teens - but thankfully most of our life is lived as adults who can pick what they want their lives to be like :-)

    2. I think the woman with the long skirt was supposed to be sashaying her butt around or something, lol.