Saturday 25 May 2013

Is this CS Lewis's most famous sputter-and-point 'misogyny' passage?


What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid.


In context, this comes from the section of Mere Christianity which is about the sin of Pride:

Greed will certainly make a man want money, for the sake of a better house, better holidays, better things to eat and drink. But only up to a point. What is it that makes a man with £10,000 a year anxious to get £20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. £10,000 will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride—the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers. What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride. What is it that makes a political leader or a whole nation go on and on, demanding more and more? Pride again. Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.


In the first place, in context we can see that this is in the middle of a list of examples of pride - following an example of pride in a man (somebody like a Boss or a General) and followed by an example of pride in a political leader (such as Hitler?) or nation (such as Germany?).

So, Lewis is not going out of his way to, errr, insult women - just providing a female-related example of the sin of pride, to go with the male example/s.


In the second place, why is this statement supposed to be evidence of misogyny?

Is the statement false?

Does anyone suppose that 'pretty girls' of this sort don't actually exist, and don't indeed 'spread misery' - and that this misery-spreading activity is 'quite often' not about sex; but instead about the desire for attention, adoration, money and privileges... about power?

If anyone supposes such women do not exist, or are so rare as to be statistically ignorable, or are typically motivated by powerful sexual appetites rather than 'pride and power'; well, I can only say that such people must either be blind to the workings of human society, or else have led exceptionally sheltered lives - or be dishonest.


ivvenalis said...

Well, this damning excerpt suggests Lewis believed women are capable of sin, so I think it is pretty clear he is a misogynist by any reasonable person's definition of the term.

Bruce Charlton said...

@i - Indeed. Shocking, isn't it...

davidstanley said...

In my (limited) experience,those women who perceive themselves to be in competition with them hate these types and will go to great lengths to
point out their flaws while those who see themselves as far below in attractiveness are often more forgiving.
re they really responsible for the men's unhappiness or shouldn't we take that blame for our own?

Lewis seems to have had a hard time with women though. His mother dying,then his onerous obligation to Mrs Moore whatever the truth of that was. Finally,he seems to have been bullied into some sort of marriage with a woman who all of his friends couldn't bare to be in a room with. Still maybe he was right about her and all the others were wrong? I imagine you have a low opinion of A.N.Wilson and his biography Bruce?

Bruce Charlton said...

@ds - AN Wilson's biography of Lewis is bad, as Wilson pretty much acknowledges. He admits that he strongly disliked Lewis.

And Wilson abandoned both Christianity and his wife (coincidence?) while writing the Lewis biography.

The only good things about it are the Lit Crit aspects relating to that side of Lewis's output - Allegory of Love, OHEL etc.

But Wilson is essentially a shallow, spiteful, conceited hack - albeit knowledgeable, hard-working and a decent writer.

davidstanley said...

I think I will have to follow your advice and read the Sayer and then The McGrath. And I have not read NCP yet either...One characteristic you seem to share with Lewis is high productivity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ds - "read the Sayer and then The McGrath" - sounds like a good plan, you'll enjoy it. There are also some good collections of memoirs, and the selected/ collected letters are marvelous.

Chris M said...

Dear Bruce,

You are so quaint. The question whether the statement is false is immaterial to those of a modern mindset. I love your blogs because you are so outdated... like me.

Chris M

Chris said...

then his onerous obligation to Mrs Moore whatever the truth of that was

If memory serves me correctly, Lewis signed a letter from this time period with a Latin pseudonym translating as "The Spanker". I think we need not look deeper into his relationships from this time. However, I do not find this to be damning. Spanking, in both its heterosexual and homosexual (i.e., boarding school) varieties, seems to be a particularly English interest (at least in mid-20th century), and Lewis was not a Christian at this time. So, c'est la vie. He was (is?) English. At least he wasn't the "spankee".


Bruce Charlton said...

I noticed another example of sputter and point wrt to this specific passage in Alan Jacobs The Narnian biography.

(AJ is here clearly signalling his basic liberalism to an NPR audience - and perfectly sincerely, since he is indeed a liberal - indeed AJ does a lot of this in almost all his writings; which is probably a necessary maneuver for a Professor at Wheaton College who is seeking establishment acceptance.)

Strangely, AJ thinks it implausible that Lewis could have known anything about this kind of 'pretty girl' - whereas I would have thought that such experience is almost impossible to avoid!