Sunday, May 19, 2019

"The dangerous power of women"

     Lucky is the man who finds himself in the vicinity of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street with an hour to kill, say before meeting his younger son for lunch at their favorite dim sum place on East Wacker Drive.
      Can there be anything more indulgent than to wander into this palace of masterpieces, without goal or plan, stumbling from treasure to treasure, waiting for something to catch your eye? Because something always does.
Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago
     This time it was this picture of Judith, painted around 1540 by Flemish mannerist Jan Sanders van Hemessen. For those unfamiliar with the biblical tale, Judith has just stolen into the tent of the Assyrian General Holofernes and cut off his head. 
    I knew the story, and, seeing her across the room, practically called out her name—"Judith!"—the way one does when recognizing an old friend, hurrying over to say hello and contemplate the painting afresh. What struck me this time was her expression, the way she looks at her powerful arm, her hand clutching that sword. A kind of numb amazement, as if she can't quite believe what she's just done and is capable of doing again. 
     The heroine was a popular Renaissance subject, the placard tells us: "The dangerous power of women was a recurrent and ironic theme in the art of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance in northern Europe."
     Women's power is no longer seen as dangerous. Just the opposite. It is latent, unseen, ignored, at least in the United States, as men across the country, aided, as always, by female confederates gulled to work against their own best interests, conspire to force all women back to the distaff and the loom by revoking their rights to control their own bodies and reproductive choices. They have gotten as far as they have, I believe, because women generally have been pre-occupied enjoying the fruits of their hard-won freedoms, assumed they are permanent, and are not focused seriously enough on the real possibility that our country will indeed march back into the past, where they bore babies based on the dictates of their menfolk, or the vagaries of fate.
     It won't. Women, like Judith, will find their power, late but in time. It has to happen and when it does, I imagine it will be accompanied by the same kind of wonder, almost awe, at the realization of what they've done, what they now can do. The understanding that they had this power all along, literally in their own hands.


  1. Now watch. Someone will put out a tweet or something: "Pro-abortion columnist tells women to cut men's heads off."

  2. No going back, of course, due to chemistry and economics. The pill gave women options. Their entry to all levels of the workforce demonstrated their usefulness, and indeed the necessity of their contribution.

    An instance of the latter: When the Nixon administration ended the draft the Army was challenged with the task of filling the ranks with volunteers, something accomplished in part by opening specialties to women. The number of female soldiers rose from two percent in 1970 to 16 percent today. A consequence is that people no longer refer to "our boys in uniform," as a lady journalist observed, not the first time women have made men out of boys.


  3. You had me at Hermogenes. Not a day goes by when I don't feel that way.


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