Friday, October 3, 2008

A Regrettfully-Heteronormative and Heavyhanded Fable About Christian Masculinity

Once upon a time, there was a village in which the men married themselves.

Oh, of course, a wedding would include a bride. But the bride was not the groom's beloved, nor did anyone expect her to be loved. The groom's beloved was a future version of the groom himself -- the man that marriage would make him into. Who was more worthy of love than that man?


And here is how the weddings would go:

The priest would hand the groom a mirror and ask: "Do you promise to be true to the husband you will be? To love him more than anything? Will you work to make sure that when anyone looks at you, they see him?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Then the priest would hand the groom a sword and ask: "Will you use the best parts of yourself to wage battle against the worst parts of yourself?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Then the priest would hand the groom a brick and say: "Will you build walls to keep out enemies, and levees to hold back the raging sea?"

To which the groom would respond: "For the love of him, I promise."

Finally, the priest would hand the groom a spade, and say: "Will you devote yourself to the relentless cultivation of your own virtue?"

To which the groom would say: "For the love of him, I promise."

And the priest would say, "I now pronounce you a husband." And the gathered assembly would praise the husband for his selflessness.


Then the priest would turn to the bride and say, "Don't you agree that the man we've just described -- selfless, heroic, virtuous, self-giving, and self-contained -- is worthy of praise?"

And the bride would agree that such a man would be praiseworthy indeed. And she'd be pronounced a wife.

And the husband and wife would move toward each other to embrace, only to find that the husband's arms were too full. For he was still holding the mirror, sword, brick, and spade.


Marriage in this village had a curious effect on brides' bodies.

After the wedding, a wife would follow her husband home as a solid creature, with a distinct shape, distinct features and textures that were her own. But gradually, as her husband became the the diamond-hard man he'd promised himself to be, and as her own body stretched and gave way to the children his love had begotten, she would lose this solidity.

And here is how the disappearance would go:

One morning she would wake up, begin getting dressed, and stop in fear.

Looking herself over, she would discover that it had all gone blurry: the arm that he'd stroked, the face that he'd kissed, the hand that he'd held tenderly. Blurry, and unrecognizable. For example, her birthmark might be gone, or in a different place. The bemused glint that would appear in her eyes sometimes -- also gone. In fact, her whole face was no longer recognizably hers; it was just a vague quantity of Face. And her whole body was just a vague quantity of Wife.

She would rub her eyes, and wonder if her vision was failing. But then she would look over at her husband, and find that she could still see him clearly.

It would continue in this way. As time went by, she would find she was only barely-there, floating through her own home like she was half vapor. The hazy outline of herself would get fainter and fainter. In a moment that nobody could pinpoint or predict, the lingering definition and shapeliness would be gone. She would evaporate, joining the indistinct vapor of all the wives before her.


Generations passed this way, faint outlines of wives disappearing every day.

The husbands thought them gone, if they gave them any thought at all. Meanwhile, their marriages to themselves were strong.

But the vapor wasn't gone. It hung heavy over the town.

What the husbands didn't know, and what the wives didn't know, was that this vapor was volatile, highly-combustible.

One day (and who knows what ignited it?) it all caught fire. And the fire burned for days. The vapor fed the fire, and fed it, and fed it, until it had all been entirely consumed. The whole village was consumed by it. There were no survivors -- not husbands, not wives, not brides, not grooms, not children, not priests.

But there is a happy ending.

For this fire, though huge, did not burn very hot, as fires go.

It was not as hot as the glassblowers' fires out of which had come the glass for the grooms' mirrors. It was not as hot as the ovens that baked the clay for the grooms' bricks. It was not as hot as the smiths' fires that refined the steel for the grooms' swords, and the iron for their spades.

So those artifacts survived -- unchanging testaments to the husbands' constant virtue, a legacy for the ages.

Centuries later, these artifacts were preserved in glass cases in museums. Observers would file by, regard them reverently, and exclaim, "How strong their men must have been!"


bon said...

What a horrifying vision of marriage and masculinity.


estherar said...

You're a gifted storyteller, A Sarah, but this clueless Jew would really use some Cliff notes to better understand the moral...