The Virtuous Woman
There has been a shift in how young women see themselves. A friend of mine posted this on facebook last week:
“Brumberg is a historian who has looked at the diaries of young girls to see how the idea of self-improvement has changed over the years. She has found that, ‘Before World War I, girls rarely mentioned their bodies in terms of strategies for self-improvement or struggles for personal identity. Becoming a better person meant paying less attention to the self, giving more assistance to others, and putting more effort into instructive reading or lessons at school.’
This meant that when girls in the 19th century thought about ways to improve themselves they would focus on their internal character and how it was reflected in their outward behaviour. ‘In 1892, the personal agenda of an adolescent diarist read: “resolved not to talk about myself or my feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self restrained in conversation and actions. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others’
A century later, Brumberg found that girls thought very differently about what bettering oneself meant. From one typical diary entry of contemporary girlhood Brumberg quotes ‘I will try to make myself better in any way I possibly can with the help of my budget and babysitting money. I will lose weight, get new lenses, already got new haircut, good makeup, new clothes and accessories’” (Natasha Walter’s ‘Living Dolls’ 2010 p65-66).
Pretty striking isn't it! I wonder if this is an example of what Cameron identifies as a societal shift from Virtues to Values (ch 5).
Values & Virtues both describe settled patterns of action and feeling. But while virtues are applicable to all, values are self-chosen by each individual person or organisation. Values can be great! Our schools have values like care, honesty, inclusion etc. But your values depend on you.
Cameron is right in that we have a sense that some values seem more significant than others. Valuing ‘integrity’ seems weightier than valuing ‘playing tennis each Tuesday’. This points to the fact that something bigger is going on. Something ‘cosmic’. This cosmic ‘biggerness’ is better caught by the older concept of Virtues.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to see the world in terms of virtues, rather than just values.
The key has been to see ‘virtuous’ not as a lady from the Victorian era with a high ruffled collar but as a ‘life springing from Jesus Christ’ (ch31 p 197). And, one might add, life fueled by the Spirit.
So, when I’m hunting for the Virtuous woman – I’m looking for a woman who vibrantly loves Jesus & his kingdom and whose patterns of acting and feeling flow out of that.
In putting on my virtue-coloured glasses I’ve noticed two things:
1) It’s made me keener to look for examples of virtuous people. I’ve been looking at my friends & family around me (hopefully not too stalker-ish) and thinking through what virtues they shine in. It’s been a great exercise – I’d recommend it! It’s made me value these people more and also given me examples to follow. Some virtues you have to see to know what they’re really like.
2) It’s also made me think differently about myself & my walk with God. It’s shifted me from focusing on particular things I do wrong to a broader notion of who I want to be. I am going to make mistakes but that’s ok – I’m looking to have settled patterns of acting and feeling which spring from who I am in Christ. I not only want to stop gossiping. I want to be a gracious woman and love building others up.
About this month's contributor, Annabel Nixey
I'm a Sydney-bred, Canberra-newbie who's still getting used to the idea of four distinct seasons (yes, in winter it is chilly!). My favourite genres are… for movies - period dramas, for books - biographies and for coffee - tea. I love trying new recipes and the occasional crafty exploit.