Manhood, Womanhood, and Friendship in 'My Ántonia'

[Ed. note: Following up on our discussion of "My Ántonia" over here, Kevin e-mailed me some further thoughts on the novel. He's agreed to let me use them as a guest post. --GRD]

One of the interesting things about "My Ántonia," to me, is that it was written by a woman, yet the story is told by a man, reminiscing. So the question comes up, does it sound like something a man would think and write? I think it does, although admittedly it's a somewhat sensitive and reflective man. And yet, I've read it several times, and each time I do there's one phrase I encounter where I think, "A man would not write that"; however, I can never recall what the phrase is until I reread it.

For me, among its charms is its depiction of a male-female friendship, which is to me a very precious thing. I remember once having a discussion with various friends, some married and some single, about whether among Christians there could be a genuine and healthy male-female friendship. As I recall (it was 14 years ago, I think!), all of the married people said it was not possible, while the singles had more variety in their responses.

This is an intriguing question to ask here on the blog, since there is a mix of singles and married people here.

Having said this, I will say that a friendship between a single person and a married person of the opposite sex must necessarily have severe constraints, and must always be conducted in the sight of the spouse (figuratively, if not always literally). This to me is self-evident.

Kevin Peet is a guest blogger at the BreakPoint Blog. He provides administrative support at a national scientific laboratory, and is a member of a medium-sized church near Berkeley. He rides a sportbike and tries to play jazz on the guitar.


It depends...
In regards the question of having a genuine and healthy male-female relationship, I’d say: It depends. How open are both parties in having friends of the opposite sex? How much work and sacrifice are you willing to put in to maintain it? How flexible are you with the other’s evolving relational priorities over time? Ultimately, Jesus provided the most tender and loving examples of relating to people, including women. I really treasure that and keep Him in mind when I relate to others.

Yes, there are constraints, especially when married, but not always severe constraints in my experience, if expectations are adjusted. Some wives are much more generous and secure than others in sharing their husbands with me (OK that sounds soo wrong, but I hope you understand what I mean by that). A good rule of thumb for me is when I spend time with a married man, I try to imagine his wife “conjoined twinned “ to him at all times, so what I share with him will assume to be easily shared with her without any embarrassment. Even under these constraints, I feel free to love and encourage them Biblically (if they are Christians). This also means knowing my place in the pecking order of their lives and not getting in the way of dividing their loyalties to cause marital discord, for the protection of their marriage.

In Acts 18, Priscilla is referenced before Aquila, which questionably points to her prominence in ministry between the two. I’ve wondered what it looked like for the couple to minister to Apollos. Did Aquila trust Apollos or Pricilla to be alone with the other for late night teaching sessions, while he hit the sack early because he needed to be up early to make tents? Your guess is as good as mine.
I'm married, and I have a couple very close female friends. No, "the sex part doesn't get in the way", or it doesn't have to.
But I recognize that this may not be the case for every man. It's *very* important to know your limits.

Moreover, my wife and I are extremely honest and open with each other. I would tell her if I developed a crush on a friend (...and, I have).

Personally, I think it's worth it. I get something out of my friendships with girls that I don't get with my male friends. It's intangible, hard to describe, but I still find it quite valuable.
OTOH... I also wouldn't recommend it.
That's a very interesting piece indeed, Lee. Nice work by Mark Joseph. Thanks for the link.
"I don't think "the sex part always gets in the way," to quote Harry's famous line. "

I always thought that when hearing that line, the proper response was to think of how many synonyms there are for, "poppycock".
USA today may be right about the "beauty and the beast" cliche, to some degree. However songs about promiscuity seem to reveal the Hollywood cliche more. While the idea of mechanical promiscuity is probably more attractive to men then to women it is not clear that it is as much as the article makes out.
Bravo, Kevin!! Encore!!!

And regarding that passage, was it in black ink on a white page? Just trying to be helpful . . . :-)

(Aside to Gina: Please delete the following if it is out-of-bounds for this post. I can't determine if it is, myself, but the comments are trending in this direction.)

USA Today has an interesting article about gender and writing, although the focus is directly on men's and women's differing attitudes toward sex:
Actually, Gina, I think it becomes helpful when trying to recall a Bible verse (in a familiar Bible, of course). ("It was in I Peter, right-hand page, 2/3 of the way down...")

This becomes meaningless when it comes to electronic communications, which I think is another shortcoming of electronic Bibles. But there I go again...!
Isn't it weird when you can "see" a page in your mind like that, though not necessarily the words that are on it? Happens to me a lot!
Sorry, Rolley
That's kind of the point-- I can't recall what it is, sorry. However, I seem to recall it was at the end of a chapter, on the top-right part of the page.
When Harry Met Sally
I don't think "the sex part always gets in the way," to quote Harry's famous line. But I don't think it's ever wholly absent in anyone who's honest with himself. I had several good women friends during my single days (which lasted until my 40s). In some cases, they were people with whom, for some reason or another, I could never envision being married (conflicting views on vital matters, personality quirks that I could deal with in a friendship but would have been a problem for living together, spiritual incompatibility, etc.). In a few other cases, there was no such impediment to marriage, but for some reason I didn't feel I should move forward in a romantic way. But they definitely added to my life, and I hope I did the same.

I agree that the situation changes dramatically at time of marriage. "In sight of the spouse" is a good way to describe the needed context. I'm frankly glad I don't have to deal with the work situations some people have (I work out of my home).
You've Intrigued Me
What's "the phrase"?

"I've read it several times, and each time I do there's one phrase I encounter where I think, "A man would not write that"; however, I can never recall what the phrase is until I reread it."

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