Women's Dreams...Then and Now
- 2007 29 Nov
Classics have staying power because they deal with universal themes and human experiences that cross national boundaries and historical eras. There is such a story in the Bible; since the original, fascinating story runs more than 3,000 words, here are the bare details.
A messenger arrives bearing expensive gifts. He has been sent back to his homeland to find a wife for a wealthy relative's unmarried son. The host receives the messenger warmly and is willing to send a beautiful young virgin to be wedded to the relative's son. There is only one condition. The messenger must delay his return for 10 days.
The messenger insists that he must return immediately. The host replies that the young lady must agree to the arrangement. When she is consulted, she decides to go with the messenger. They return to the homeland; she marries the son and they eventually have twin boys.
The young woman's name was Rebekah, and you can find an account of her life as Isaac's wife in the book of Genesis. What stirs my imagination, more than the problems they faced as husband and wife, is the amazing way she chose - as a young girl, probably no more than 15 or 16 - an unknown future in an unfamiliar land cut off from everyone she knew. She could only have dimly perceived the full reality of her choice to embark on this adventure. Likewise, the mysterious, rich young man in Rebecca's imagination probably bore little resemblance to the real person she met at the end of her journey.
Most of us can guess what her dreams were like.
Her early years had probably been happy and sheltered. We are told she was a beautiful virgin with a kind and generous disposition. So it seems likely that her optimism was uncontaminated by bitter experiences. No doubt she had the audacious hopes of youth, the unquenchable thirst for life that comes with blind assurance of great possibilities. Adventure beckoned her. A wealthy Prince Charming waited. Coupled with her hopes and dreams was likely a primal drive to find love, to mate and have children -- whether she was aware of it yet or not. In short, she was a young girl eager to become a woman.
This ancient story shares basic similarities with more modern ones.
Near the end of the 2003 television movie A Painted House, based on a John Grisham novel, a pretty girl stands at a proverbial crossroads of life. A brute of a young man had just accosted her when a second young man aptly named Cowboy arrived on the scene. In a testosterone-fueled battle between the two men, the brutish one is killed. Cowboy, an outsider who knows that a plea of self-defense will be no defense at all in the local court, realizes that he will have to leave or be hung. No one is surprised that Cowboy has won the pretty girl's heart. She makes an immediate choice to go with him into an uncertain future, knowing only that she wants to be with him. She hardly knows him, but she will go where he goes.
Such are the mysterious ways of a girl and guy.
Some view love -- illustrated in both the Biblical and the modern story -- as powerful as an outgoing tide. Others see it as nebulous and transient as the fog. Whether strong or ephemeral, the inner force of womanhood has made generations of women follow their men into the unknown.
It staggers the imagination to think about the uncertainty facing the first European settlers on this continent, or the pioneers who blazed trails through mountains and forests to tame the American West. Generations of women have chosen to follow their men with no immediate guarantee of shelter, safety or sustenance. They realized that they would likely have their babies with little to no medical care. They knew there was a high probability of death in child birth and, if they did indeed survive, they would bury some of their babies.
Nevertheless, they followed their men; some didn't live through the hazardous trip and others were buried without ever seeing their dreams realized. Most early cemeteries have family plots showing men buried alongside a beloved young wife who died in childbirth and, often, several babies who died in infancy. Still these pioneers could not be stopped. They conquered the wilderness and filled it with children.
Their choices and the consequences of their world appall feminists today. To follow some man, to belong to him, is inconceivable to them. But the feminists' view of patriarchy is not quite the way Sarah, Rebekah, Rachael, Tamar, Rahab and Ruth lived it. These Biblical characters were not passive women. They acted decisively - within the constraints of their environments - to shape their future, and the future of their children.
In these women's stories, I see far more partnership - even in the bad old days of patriarchy - than do the feminist critiques today. The patriarch Abraham loved Sarah his wife and acceded to her wishes in Sarah's conflict with Hagar. Rebekah and Isaac betrayed the subterfuge of their claim to be brother and sister by acting like the sweethearts they were, unaware that the king was watching them from his window. Jacob loved Rachael so much he was willing to work for seven years, and then another seven years, to earn her as his bride. His love for her was so great that her death in childbirth with their second son was very much on his mind even as he lay dying decades later. In fact, before his death, he wanted to settle one last matter with his son Joseph, Rachael's firstborn. All those many years later, Jacob was still troubled that he had been unable to bury Rachael in the family tomb next to where he was to be buried. And he wanted to make Joseph understand.
How do these love stories of yesterday compare with the stories of today?
There is a track of innumerable young women today who are not so very different than I was as a girl. I certainly had a burning desire to have a career and "be somebody," but there was this guy.
Oh, I had seen the struggles of my parents and I had no illusions as to the difficulties of married life and having children. But there was this guy.
With the boundless hope of youth and the power of young love, I followed my heart, heedless of all the uncertainties and inevitable problems. I wanted to belong to him and like millions of women before me, being with him trumped all my reservations about getting married.
There is another track of women -- those with predispositions and experiences vastly different from mine. For them, freedom is so free it has become license. They have no desire to belong to someone completely, exclusively, permanently. I can understand and have a measure of sympathy for those who haven't met a guy who completely steals their heart. What I cannot relate to is the idea of someone who finds Mr. Right, yet does not wish to be his, totally and completely.
Perhaps a parent's bad marriage or a divorce is so crippling that fear or cynicism overcomes her. Perhaps her own promiscuity has robbed her of the mysterious power that fuses two persons' hearts. Whatever the case, it is a terrible loss to be stripped of the capacity to be foolishly blind to all else but belonging to the love of one's life.
Sadly, one central factor in this second track has to be the celebrity role models. To gauge their influence, look at the covers of magazines filling rack after rack along the checkout lanes in the supermarket.
In an earlier time, the tabloids fed our curiosity with features about Hollywood marriages, and then the focus evolved downward to feed us stories about Hollywood couples. Now, the tabloids offer accounts of Hollywood hookups.
Think back to the pioneers' relationships forged on the anvil of common dreams, mutual commitment and shared sacrifice. Think of the weeks and sometimes months when couples had only each other's company and each other to depend upon. Think of all those couples who lived out their pledge to be together "until death do us part."
Can you imagine today's temporarily famous couples buried side-by-side like their early American ancestors?
Do we call such postmodern relationships progress?
Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse is a Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute. She writes about contemporary issues that affect women, family, religion and culture in her regular column "Dot.Commentary."