Thoughts on Sex: On traditional patriarchy and Christianity

I’m calling it “traditional patriarchy” for lack of a better term. What I mean by it is a certain sexual code that conservative traditional societies generally hold by. From ancient Greece to modern Afghanistan to tribal Africa to nineteenth-century Korea, it is basically the same:

(1) Women carry the burden of sexual honor. Sexual abstinence before marriage, and sexual fidelity in marriage are honorable, but they are required of the woman only. You insult a woman by questioning her sexual honor — you insult a man by questioning his mom & sister & wife & daughter’s sexual honor. Women carry the sexual honor for the family.

(2) Men, on the other hand, are expected to sow their wild oats in their youth, and to have an occasional affair during marriage. As long as he doesn’t do it too much, his wife has no right to complain.

(3) Adultery only “counts” if the woman is married. In other words, a woman can cheat on her husband, but a husband’s extra-marital affairs don’t count as cheating against his wife. Because fidelity is one-way, men can often be polygamous. The women must be faithful to one man, the man does not need to be faithful to anyone.

(4) Because women carry the burden of sexual honor, female rape victims are often required/expected by society to commit suicide. Not that they are necessarily blamed for what happened, but their “honor” is “broken” and the way to restore your “honor” to your family is by your death. It’s not required all the time, but it is certainly admired (e.g. Lucretia’s suicide lauded/celebrated in Roman tradition).

The fact that this traditional patriarchy is across all cultures makes me suspect that it is inherent to human beings. It’s a bad thing and I hate it, but I think any society, given a few hundred years, has a high likelihood of evolving into traditional patriarchy. I don’t know why, but I suspect it will be around until the end of the world. The “progressive approach” (for lack of a better term) tries to bring back some gender-fairness by extending to women as well traditional patriarchy’s permissive sexual code for men. Women, along with men, should not have to bear the burden of sexual honor– nobody should. We can scoff at Traditional Patriarchy as “unprogressive”, but that won’t stop it (as darwinian-style, unprogressive societies outproduce progressive ones throughout history. Progressive cultures have a tendency to fade away, a dead end reproductively-speaking, hence they die out after a few centuries).

Anyways, Christianity has made various compromises/treaties with patriarchy, creating its own modified form of it. The first modification is to (1) transmute sexual honor/dishonor into sexual sin, because unlike dishonor, sins can be washed away by Christ’s blood. The second modification is (2) to hold men to the same standard. What Christianity attempts to do is also approach gender-fairness as the progressives have, but through the exact opposite of the progressive approach. Rather than extend traditional patriarchy’s permissive code for men to women as well, they try to extend patriarchy’s strict code for women to men as well.

Here is a sermon from a bishop in sixth-century France, when it was still a hodge-podge of the remains of the Roman Empire and Germanic tribes. His name is Caesarius of Arles.

Since [these men] want their wives to be chaste, with what kind of a conscience do they commit wicked adultery, thereby asserting that what is not lawful for their wives is perfectly licit for themselves? As though God gave two commandments, one for men and another for women! If anyone does this, let him tell us with what sanction he acts, for all adultery is punished by both divine and human law. This vice is not forbidden because many people commit it. In fact, the less it is restricted by men, the more severely it is punished by the divine Judge.

How is it that some men are so insolent that they say cruel vice is lawful for men but not for women? They do not reflect that men and women have been redeemed equally by Christ’s Blood, have been cleansed by the very same baptism, approach the Lord’s altar to receive His Body and Blood together, and that with God there is no distinction of male or female. ‘God is not a respecter of persons.’

Therefore, what is unlawful for women similarly never was and never can be lawful for men. However, the unfortunate practice has been introduced whereby a wife who is found with her man-servant is punished, but if a man wallows in the sewer of lust with many maids, not only is he not punished, but he is even praised by his associates. Moreover, telling each other who has done most of this sort of thing, they admit it with laughter and most foolish jeering. On judgment day their laughter will be turned into wailing, and their jests will be changed into wounds. But men who do this do not fear or believe at all in the future judgment.

— from Sermon 42, titled “A Reproof of Married Men Who Do Not Blush or Fear to Commit Adultery.” by Bishop Caesarius of Arles, 500s A.D.


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