Fascinating Womanhood: the protector


This chapter is devoted to the second “masculine need”: “a man needs to function, feel needed, and excel women as a protector.”

A man being a protector is probably one of the more foundational concepts about men in conservative religious environments– it is most especially true where patriarchy and complementarianism are fiercely held. It appears in a variety of ways, some more subtle than others.

This attitude is actually called benevolent sexism. It differs from hostile sexism in that it usually presents as attempting to be beneficial for women: women are told to stay within patriarchal boundaries, but in return, they will receive benefits, such as protection. Hostile sexism, which is the active belief that women actually are inferior or less capable than men, is less common in American culture (although still present)– but it is very much alive in Helen’s book. This chapter is where Helen crosses the line from benevolent to hostile sexism– and she stays in hostile sexist territory for the majority of the book.

She opens her argument with an appeal to biological differences:

Men are larger, have stronger muscles, and greater physical endurance than women. Women are more fragile, weaker, created for more delicate tasks.

There’s two basic problems with this idea, First off, I’d like to see any man push a seven pound baby out of a space not even four inches across. I don’t think “physical endurance” is something that men have a huge advantage in. Are their muscles attached to their bones differently? Yes. Do their hips tend to be narrower, making them, in general, faster runners? Sure. Is the average man much stronger than the average woman? Most likely.

However, biological differences are not an argument for gender identities. People are people, and who they are, while sex is absolutely a part of that, is independent of sex. Not totally independent, I’m not arguing that, but biological sex is not the magic wand patriarchal and complementarian teachings make it out to be. My biological sex is not the sum total of who I am as a person. My identity is not rooted in the fact that I have a vagina. The sorts of traits, qualities, behaviors, etc., that are attributed to the biological sexes (and there is not just two, by the way) change across civilizations, cultures, and times. Western and American traditional gender roles have never been the universal truth– and treating Western middle-class gender roles (and yes, class and economics has always been a part of gender roles, with the middle class becoming the ideal after the Industrial Revolution) as if they are some sort of biblical absolute? That is a wholly inaccurate misrepresentation of the facts.

Helen moves on to describe the sorts of things women need to be protected from, including “dangers, strenuous work, and difficulties.”

My husband is an INFJ– the Myers-Briggs personality type sometimes referred to as “The Protector.” Taking care of the people he cares about is one of his fundamental motivators, and it’s a quality that I love and deeply appreciate. Because of my background, finding someone who is strongly motivated to make me feel safe is . . . I can’t explain how huge and wonderful that is. He wraps me up in his arms when I have night terrors, and I instantly feel sheltered, and it helps me.

However, I also protect my husband– in a very different way, because I’m a different person. I make sure to do what I can to take care of him the way he takes care of me. I am trustworthy. There are things I shield him from– things that I am quite capable of handling but he is not.

We protect each other. But that’s not how it works in Helen’s world.

In the early history of our country . . . there were dangers everywhere. Savage Indians, wild beasts, and snakes created situations which called for masculine courage, strength, and ability . . .

Today dangers are different, but just as real. Women are in danger of abduction and rape, sometimes followed by brutality and murder. Lesser dangers are vicious dogs, snakes, a high precipice, a deep canyon . . .

There are also unreal dangers . . . women are afraid of such things as strange noises, spiders, mice, and even dark shadows.

Aside from the horrible racism, the stereotypes here are absolutely ridiculous. Wild beasts– men are no more capable of fending off a bear than a woman is. And snakes? Pretty sure I’ve seen men go weak in the knees and pass out in a reptile house at the zoo. Or at the sight of blood. Or a thousand other things. I’ve known men who had a paralyzing fear of spiders. And, really? Women have to be protected from a “high precipice” and a “deep canyon”? This just makes me believe that Helen thinks all women are morons. What’s a canyon going to do– jump around to make you fall into it?

Also, the whole “women are in danger of abduction and rape” thing? It’s based on the idea that the man in your life, the man you trust, is not going to be responsible for raping you. That is grossly inaccurate. According to some studies, up to 96% of all female rapes are committed by men women know. 55% of female rape is committed by intimate partners or husbands.

Also, believing that rape can be prevented if women are protected by their husbands also leads to the idea that women who are raped were only raped because they did something to deserve it. They must have stepped outside their ascribed gender role in some way, and what did they expect was going to happen to them? Sarah Moon has an excellent series discussing this very idea, and I highly recommend it.

But, moving on. The second danger is “strenuous work.” Which just makes me want to pound my head into the wall, because women have been doing strenuous work for centuries, but Helen is either blithely unaware of outright dismissing all credible historical data.

Women need protection from work that is not appropriate for the feminine sex, such as driving a truck, construction work, road work, or anything greasy or masculine. Some types of office work are inappropriate, such as executive jobs, management positions, police work, or political posts.

Many of our jobs in America are divided by gender– there are certain jobs, like cargo transportation and construction, that are identified as being “masculine.” However, one of my best friends is bloody fantastic at putting up drywall. She’s a magnificent beast at dry-walling. One of my friends in college drove a Pepsi truck during the summers to pay for college. These were both “masculine” jobs– and they were fantastic at performing them. I’ve also known men to be incredible receptionists and interior designers. The gender divide in the job market is an unfortunate reality– a reality created by stereotypes and culture.

Also, that last sentence– curses. Women can make excellent CEOs. In fact, the Harvard Business Review recently released a survey that indicates people value traits they identified as “feminine” as being the most highly desired in leadership positions. And women like Wendy Davis and Hilary Clinton are big damn heroes, in my opinion.

Helen continues, rounding out with how men are supposed to protect women from “difficulties”:

Examples are financial entanglements, belligerent creditors, or dealings with people who are harsh, offensive, imposing, or who make unreasonable demands.

What must have her experiences with men and women have been– or even in her own life– that resulted in the opinion that women are incapable of dealing with unreasonable, obnoxious people? It’s rough, but dealing with people you don’t like very much is a fact of life. I have to put up with them all the time. So does everybody else.

Helen isn’t doing any woman any favors by telling them they can only win their husband’s love if they become timid, shrinking people who can’t deal with any sort of problem or “difficulty.” I have met people– both women and men– who were wholly incapable of interacting with reality in a mature, responsible manner. I understand sometimes having to withdraw from something– a confrontation, a trigger, anything. But always being “protected” from any kind of conflict or difficulty whatsoever isn’t possible.

The chapter ends with Helen telling us why chivalry is dead:

We see women walking down dark streeets alone, taking long-distance automobile trips, and even hitchhiking. We see them doing the rough work, lifting heavy objects, repairing automobiles, changing tires, driving heavy equipment, fixing the roof, doing the carpentry . . .

In the working world, women are doing the men’s jobs . . . We see women police, steel workers, pilots, and even engineers . . .

If men have an inborn sense of chivalry, why don’t they offer it? The answer is very simple: Men don’t offer their chivalry because women have become capable. They no longer need men.

If chivalry is dead, women have killed it. They have killed it by becoming capable, efficient, and independent, able to kill their own snakes. They prove by their strength and ability that they don’t need masculine care and protection, they they are well able to take care of themselves. They commonly display their capacity to solve their own problems and fight their own battles.

In other words, a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

And this is where Helen slides into Hostile Sexist Land. Because women– women who aren’t hysterical harpies and shrews who will never be “truly loved” or experience happiness– aren’t capable. They lack the “capacity” to solve problems. Heavens forbid they’re efficient or independent.

This idea– that women are not allowed to be capable, becomes the battle cry for the rest of the book.

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  • Morgan Guyton

    This helps to illuminate the way that the neo-patriarchal movement is indebted to segregationism’s raison d’être of protecting white womanhood from the dangers of sex-crazed black men. It’s no longer socially acceptable to name the bogeyman that justifies patriarchy but I suspect that he still haunts the background. Recall that suburbia itself was created by white flight in the 60s and 70s. To some degree it is the ideological child of segregationism but w a completely sublimated “other.” I wrote about some of that stuff here: http://morganguyton.wordpress.com/2013/04/18/how-did-jesus-come-to-love-guns-and-hate-sex/

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      I clicked the link. The comment thread got very crazy very fast, with Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories coming out of the woodwork.

      How did Jesus come to love Guns and hate Sex?

      One word: ZARDOZ!

      And any preacher who packs in the pulpit for Second Amendment Sunday should be required to preach it in red speedos, red crossed bandoliers, and black hooker boots.

    • Crystal

      To that part about the “protecting white womanhood from the dangers of sex-crazed black men” AND THE RACISM INVOLVED, I reply unequivocally “YUCK!”




      • Crystal


  • Catcat

    “Men don’t offer their chivalry because women have become capable. They no longer need men.”

    This is jaw-dropping. So many neo-patriarchal or complementarian arguments are along the lines of “women are good at pretending to be capable but really aren’t” or even, “women are capable physically but still shouldn’t do certain things because it hurts them spiritually.”

    But this argument is flat out: “women can be and ARE capable but that’s bad because it makes men feel sad.” She doesn’t even bother to defend chivalry — I mean, SO WHAT if it’s a woman fighting off the poisonous snake, as long as the snake dies? Is it really so much better to have half the population scared and simpering in the corners, at risk of death by poisonous snake, because, hey, at least you’ve preserved an abstract and artificial sense of masculinity!? Good night!


    • Crystal

      Woman: Why are you doing this to me?

      Man: Because you won’t obey!

      Woman: But I thought you were my mate!

      Man: No, I am your very loving fat master!

      As all the Tui beer advertisements say on the roads in New Zealand…


  • Woo hoo! I’m not afraid of snakes, I change tires and I’m going to learn how to weld. Take that Helen!

  • NuttShell

    Oh. My. Word. I desire a man because God said it is not good for man(kind) to be alone NOT because I am some needy, sniveling, shrieking, inept idiot that is only good for my uterus and ability to “mother” a man.

  • Kreine

    “If chivalry is dead, women have killed it. They have killed it by becoming capable, efficient, and independent, able to kill their own snakes.”

    I remember wondering why Helen thinks of capability, efficiency, independence, & the ability to kill one’s own snakes as bad things.

    Especially with growing up hearing traditional gender roles stressed, but also being expected to carry firewood, mow the back 3 acres with a garden tractor, gather & burn brush, and know how to change the fluids & rotate the tires on my car.

    • I use to keep pet snakes, big ones. I used them to chase of Mormons and others who I didn’t want knocking on my door. How rude of me, right?

  • This kind of teaching isn’t just harmful to women; it’s harmful to men as well. What man wants to be thought of only as a meal ticket or doer of dirty jobs? My husband is worth so much more to me than that. He’s my lover, companion and friend. I would want and need him in my life even if I were capable of servicing my car or changing pipes under the sink. The unique perspective he brings to making decisions and solving problems keeps me centered and confident. Life is hard, raising children is hard. It takes two people doing their EQUAL share to make it go right.

  • Margaret

    Who protects you when a husband is the cause of your “difficulties”? I’m thankful to have a good man, but he’s not perfect. I’m also thankful that he sometimes hates mowing the lawn more than he hates doing dishes. He will “rescue” me from the kitchen duties, and I will “rescue” him from mowing. His parents were more “traditional” than mine, so he tends to feel guilty about letting me mow; but occasionally, I need the satisfaction of doing something that stays done for more than five minutes.

  • Angela

    Men are taller than women. That’s a well-documented fact. At least it’s true that the average man is taller than the average woman. However, at 5’10” I am not only taller than the average woman, but the average man as well. In Helen’s world this simply isn’t possible because all men are X and all women are Y. There’s absolutely no room for overlap (and this is leaving aside that most of these supposed differences between the sexes either are imagined or a result of cultural conditioning).

    • One of the reasons none of these traditional roles work is humans change. Our expectations change, society changes and our needs within society changes. I am the shortest of the sisters at 5’5″, I have one sister 6′ even the rest fall in between us. I made up for it by wearing high heels (all the time).

  • Helen needs to meet me, yes she seriously needs to meet me. I am the survivor of a carjacking / kidnapping that ended in me being shot three times and left on the side of the road for dead. I saved my own life. My family was told I was unlikely to survive surgery, then I if I emerged from a coma it would likely be in a vegative state, then I would unlikely walk again. Well, I survived, I am not vegative and after 30+ surgeries I am walking. Not always without pain, but I walk. In fact I am part of a program called Victims Impact. I go behind the walls of state and federal prisons and speak to offenders about violence, about their acts and the affect of their acts not just on the direct victim but on the community and on their families, our families and their lives. I teach, compassion, empathy and how to make it right.

    Oh yeah, did I mention I also own my own business. I raised two sons because after it happened their father fell apart and left.

    So much for women are weaker. Bah

    • Angela

      To Hell with Helen. *I* would love to meet you! You go girl!

    • Kreine

      I think we all could benefit from meeting you. You are an inspiration because of who you are & what you’ve overcome, period.

  • Catcat

    And what about when something like this happens: http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20728930,00.html? This woman sure doesn’t look like she’s afraid of being capable!

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    This chapter is devoted to the second “masculine need”: “a man needs to function, feel needed, and excel women as a protector.”

    In Bronydom (My Little Pony fandom), this is the appeal of Fluttershy, the one of the main six characters who embodies the nurturing archetype. There’s just something about that gentle, painfully-shy Pegasus that makes a male want to protect her.

  • Pingback: Fascinating Womanhood Review: The Protector()

  • Lucy

    This story, about a young French exchange student who dragged a giant lizard out of a restaurant, gives the lie to the idea that only men can handle dangers like mentioned in the book. The species of lizard involved is called a goanna, which is known to be potentially aggressive and highly dangerous, though timid as well (the same could be said of snakes, too – venomous snakes are highly dangerous animals who usually bite when scared). This particular lizard was roughly 6 feet long from tip to tail, and nearly everyone in the restaurant (yes, including the men) backed away from the lizard. The girl, Samia Lila, who, by the way, is apparently scared of spiders, was working as a waitress when she saw that goanna. She grabbed it by the tail and dragged it out of the restaurant, showing no fear at all. And apparently that is not the first time she saw a goanna, either. The first time she saw one, she was at a winery, and when she saw that goanna, she scared it away. It’s no surprise that Ms. Lila has been nicknamed “Goanna Girl” and likened to Crocodile Dundee. And when you see her expression in her best attempt to be demure (shown in a photo in the article linked below), you can tell that if she were a man, that expression would probably be described as “rakish” or something like that.

    Here’s the article with the story and the video of the incident: