Virtuous Women Hand to Hand

Merriam-Webster defines Virtue as follows:

1 a: conformity to a standard of right: morality b: a particular moral excellence; 2: plural: an order of angels see celestial hierarchy; 3: a beneficial quality or power of a thing 4: manly strength or courage, valor; 5: a commendable quality or trait: merit; 6: a capacity to act: potency; 7: chastity especially in a woman

  I especially like number 1 because it is so ambiguous. A woman of virtue conforms to an established standard of right.

My question as I contemplated the definitions is who defines right for the rest of us? Am I only virtuous if I conform to the vague standard that others establish? What should I do if I believe these standards are counter to my best interest as a woman? Do I simply ignore them and live my life in my own best interest, outside of social boundaries? Should I silently allow others to cast aspersions on me because I do not agree to their definitions?

Is there a super-secret list somewhere?

I wondered about this and so went looking, my curiosity was aroused, what I found was enlightening.  Originally, there were four Virtues Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Temperance these came down to us from Plato and Aristotle. With the advent of Christianity, they were expanded to including four Cardinal and three theological virtues to offset the seven deadly sins.

  1. Chastity <=> Lust
  2. Temperance <=> Gluttony
  3. Charity <=> Greed
  4. Diligence <=> Sloth
  5. Patience <=> Wrath
  6. Kindness <=> Envy
  7. Humility <=> Pride

After looking at the list, I searched for how these might directly apply to women today. The search was long and aggravating, all to often running into the historical references and more general terms, I even found reference to more modern video games. Eventually, what I found was women and the application of any virtue usually came back to Chastity, Obedience (huh?) and other strange manipulations to fit expectations of how women should behave within the context of religious characterizations. Historically, virtue was intended to carry women unerringly from their father’s house to their husband’s house to widowhood.


My Fathers House

Medieval Practice of Giving away the Bride

All Images Google

Widows Weeds

This took my mind down the path of what about?

What about the duality of expectations between the genders, something that despite all the other social / economic and cultural changes remains consistently set in our minds. Why must women be chaste yet men need not be. Okay, let me rephrase the question, why is it that if women are unchaste there are distinct classifications (slut, bitch, whore, ho) which are lightly to extremely uncomplimentary, while if men pursue an unchaste lifestyle they do not qualify as anything other than STUD, with a wink and a nod.

Why is obey still an option in wedding vows? Sometimes not an option at all but a mandatory part of the vows a woman must recite. Would most men consider including this particular piece in their vows to their future wives? Somehow I suspect the answer is no. I am aware many women choose not to include it in theirs, but the fact remains it is still there. There are even national figures, women who stand in the spotlight of our political debate today who say  with pride they ‘obey’ their husbands and follow they ‘commandments’ in things as crucial as career choice and body privacy.

I am a woman of compassion. I have merit in my own right for my accomplishments. I have the capacity to act for good or ill and try always to act for good. While I do not have manly strength, I have strength, courage and valor. I am a survivor; truly, I am a victor over circumstances that might have left others bereft of joy in life. I know many other women like me; other women who have managed to thrive in a society that does not often look upon us with gladness or welcome us warmly to the hearth fire.

Women and virtue, are these still relevant today? I think they are but perhaps not in their original meanings. How do we then define the virtues so they are easily understood and capture the essence of who and what we are.

I struggled with the direction of this blog for the past week. This is the direction I am taking for now. I hope you follow and offer your thoughts.


  1. wonderful points altogether, you just gained a new reader. What would you suggest in regards to your post that you made some days ago? Any positive?

  2. Well, as a married man, I’ve learned that even though I didn’t say “obey” during the ceremony (she did), I’ve done it every day since. (It’s ok though, when she’s at work and the kids are gone, I do whatever I want!) I think modern men sometimes want to hear the word during the ceremony just because they know better than to say it afterwards.

    You make a great pint about the lack of emphasis on chastity for men. Far too often, we are encouraged to ignore discretion, discipline and chastity, to the detriment of all.

    Great piece!

  3. Good writing Val. While I still have not recuperated from the tag team lashing that I received previously, I would like to try to take a stroll on this shaky ground. While everyone knows that wives are supposed to OBEY their husbands, most do not lay their pride and pig-headedness aside to understand the deeper ramifications of this statement. This goes for both sides of the gender scale. If a mans heart is in the right place, he understands that the word obey DOES NOT mean that his wife is a slave. If a womans heart is in the right place, she understands that the word obey means to follow and lift up her mate in ALL decisions. Typically, this is where the lines of communication break down. It is my understanding that God ingrained men with the ability to quickly( in most cases) breakdown a problem, analyze it, come up with a solution and lead his followers( family) through. Women have been ingrained with the ability to love, nourish and bring humanity to this world. If you put these together, you would have better relationships than what we have today. Something most people miss is that a man is supposed to love his wife as himself. So, if you don’t love yourself, save the suffering. Never get married. Thanks, Grant

    • How does everyone know that? I don’t know that, I don’t subscribe to it and don’t agree with it and would certainly not include it in any agreement I made with a partner.

      Obey? Pfft

      Clarification on this. Communication, compromise absolutely. Obey on either side of the partnership? Can’t get there from here, ever. The day any husband or partner of mine attempted to force obedience simply because he saw himself as above me would be the last day he was my partner.

      Maybe this is where we have a jumbled understanding of roles. In both my work and home life I quickly breakdown problems, analyze the issues, determine the solutions and act on them. In my work life I am paid to do so. I do it better than most men I know which is why I am sought after and paid well. This is not a gender issue, I know lots of women with these very same skills. Because we are women we have to work harder to be recognized in our field.

      In my home life I am the primary breadwinner, it works well for us as we both follow our own unique paths and goals. I don’t hang my earning capacity or contribution out, we remain equals in our partnership equals, not one above the other. There is no obey and there wasn’t any obey in our vows. I also do a great deal of the breakdown, analyze and resolve problems in the home because that is frankly what I am good at. He is good at other things of equal value to our peace and contentment.

      No, I don’t think everyone knows this. I would certainly challenge the idea that everyone agrees. I know I don’t agree. Obey? Pfffttt

  4. Well I don’t think you get to swap them, though you can roll about gleefully in them refusing to accept the definitions. I think that is the point.

    I am going to look at them one at a time as the relate to women in particular, now. The stereotypes are obviously skewed. The question is, how badly and how much harm does it do.

  5. I would swap from 1 and 7 and take up 5 and 6.

    Merit: Knowing a meritocracy is a pipe dream in American society, it may be as amorphous as “right”. Certainly women can and do merit many things, from wages to accolades, yet these are often met with American scorn. How medieval.

    Potency: Women must act. Not only to obliterate the stereotype of sexually inequality and inferiority but also to expand the sense of self to embody confidence, success and empowerment.

    As a bare beginning.

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