Stoicism is a feminine virtue


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Stoicism is a feminine virtue as much as a masculine virtue. It is really the center of adulthood, both male and female. It’s common nowadays to hear stoicism denounced as a form of “toxic masculinity.” The answer to that was stated best in a blog thread comment (that I cannot find): “We have gone from a culture of dignity to a culture of victimhood.” The denunciations of stoic serenity in the face of adversity, tight-lipped though it be at times, are a symptom of this cultural shift.

In my family the women on both sides were pretty tough. I realize now that in their different ways they were all stoic. Epictetus says that the best course is to determine what you can control and what you can’t; to change what you can and accept what you can’t. In recent years there was a saying “It is what it is.” and I think this is basically saying the same thing. The women in my family had a saying “You can cry if you want to but you’ll just end up with a stomach ache and the same damned problem.”

Here is a astonishing example of stoicism and defiance and the strength to help others it gives. We often hear how putting women into combat will be disastrous because they will crumple in fear and demand protection. Clearly that is not true of all of them (or probably very many). From The News Tribune (Tacoma):

“As a little girl, Mary Dague daydreamed that she’d grow up to wield superpowers. She got them in Iraq. That’s where she put herself between an explosive and her team on an Army bomb disposal squad. She “hugged the bomb,” losing her arms to shield her partners from the blast. Now a double amputee, Dague is still saving lives.”

Her online presence is named “Mary Wondernubs” and that sums up her whole approach.

“She works with a black humor common among veterans that shows she understands the lasting repercussions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that she won’t let them hold her back. “I couldn’t let this whole incident change who I was,” she said. “Otherwise, they win.”

In her case the fact that she confronts and accepts reality gives her credibility with these guys.

“She defuses veterans coping with traumatic experiences, using a combination of frank talk about her own life, dark humor and an online persona called Mary Wondernubs. She’s walked people back from the brink of suicide and grieved with spouses of fallen troops. “I would not be sitting here right now if Mary didn’t answer the phone,” one veteran tearfully said in a recent video that Kleenex produced to highlight Dague’s outreach. “I would not be sitting here right now.”

It is probably her own experience of pain and healing that tells how hard it can be to break through to someone in the same kind of pain.

“Dague also appeared prominently in a book of photographs called “Always Loyal,” which was released last month by artist Michael Stokes. It shows mostly nude images of amputees from the wars in stunning poses. Most are muscle-bound men. Stokes shows Dague as a version of the armless statue, the Venus de Milo. She also appears in images as an angel. Stokes in interviews has called her a hero time and again. And, last summer, Kleenex released a two-minute video focusing on a veteran whose life Dague saved when she saw an appeal to help a former soldier thinking of suicide. Dague dialed the stranger. She wanted to tell him she had survived Iraq, breast cancer and a divorce. He could make it. “I left a message,” she said. “I explained who I was, what I’ve been through. I said, ‘Dude, don’t give up. Please don’t give up. We can get through this.’ “A few hours later he started texting me. It started with, ‘Oh, leave me alone.’ I said, ‘Absolutely not.’ ” The conversation helped the veteran overcome his crisis and eventually reconnect with his family.”

When someone takes immense pain and channels it into this kind of healing, all you can do is stand back and applaud and hope that you would be able to find the same strength under the same circumstances. Anyone who thin k s this is nay way glorifies the war that dealt her such injuries is willfully missing the point. There are non-military examples of this, but I don’t recall one that involved this much adversity. Stoicism is a feminine virtue. There are a lot of women and men who could stand to get in touch with this kind of femininity.

Jim Doyle
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Jim Doyle
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