On beautiful women

There are two kinds of women to whom I am attracted: bad ones and good ones. On examining my conscience, as I am obliged to do by my strange religion (Roman Catholic), I discover an interesting thing: that I am attracted in much different ways. Over time — and I suppose age helps, though not as much as the young might suppose — I find that I have been developing “a preferential option for good women.” It remains imperfect, however.

I am writing as a male, incidentally. Women will have to speak for themselves. Their attractions to men are beyond my comprehension.

Now another distinction, which I will share from my night thoughts. When it comes to bad women, I find that my attention is focused, almost but not quite involuntarily, on those who just happen to be young and gorgeous. Whereas, when it comes to good women, my attention is captured by all ages. And whereas, in the first case, the idea of possession is never far away, in the second it disperses. Let me not compare them to museum objects. But if I did, I would say that I find great artworks, and some pieces especially beloved, beautiful without any need to own them. And often enough, unconventionally beautiful, as for instance certain old ladies, married or widowed or never married or nuns, who exquisitely embody the feminine principle. To be in their company is to be somehow washed, of that which makes one most grossly male.

And then there are women with children. Among those young — and all such will be younger than I am, spare some freak of recent reproductive technology — I am struck with an irrefutable fact. The same woman who was merely pretty, becomes beautiful with child. Which is not to say childless women can’t be beautiful. But then, the active ingredient is chastity.

I was just looking at a photograph of one such, whom I’d describe as “agelessly young.” It was taken recently; it is the daughter of someone I know, in a rural community in midwestern USA. She is at work outdoors. Everything about her posture conveys what is dutiful, humble, kindly. She is in the near background, wearing a sunhat that shadows her face. Her coarse work-dress goes almost shapelessly down to her ankles. She is carrying a bucket that must be full of water: its weight is apparent. I think: there are girls like that, there always were. From all this paucity of information, I can see that she is very beautiful, and the old male instinct of protection is stirred: “Lord watch over her.”

Partly I excuse myself from all the lustful thoughts I’ve ever entertained: a lust promoted throughout “the media,” whether sought or unsought. I was raised in it: in modernity, or post-modernity, its most advanced form. Women have been not “objectified” in our culture so much as monetized; used as a sales tool. Every man who walks through our contemporary world is exposed to this gnawing devilry. Women are demeaned by the “soft” pornography that surrounds us; on the billboards, but also walking the streets. Actually it is quite hard pornography, by any traditional measure; one might even say it is exhausting. It enters not only the eyes of men, portals to the soul; but also the eyes and souls of the women. By increments they become what they behold.

There are women who are beautiful, as paintings. I could gaze on them all day. But in the moment lust enters the configuration, that beauty is destroyed. As anything else in the economy it becomes something to use then discard. That mystery of Eros — that aspect of the Love that entails the Creation — is removed from all relations between women and men. And instead we have the cold wither of transaction.