Gendered Virtue or Is This Bench Taken?








Are there virtues exclusive to women?
Are there virtues which should be exclusive to women?
Don’t the scriptures make a listing of what it is to be virtuous?

This week I was prompted to read a blog entitled “Militant Virtue” by Rachel Janovic at the Femina blog. Rachel makes all sorts of assertions in her post about “female virtues” and how we as women should have an “active defense” against men who would “leave a mark” on us (yes, like a dog marks its territory).


First let us look at the definition of the word virtue. defines virtue as:

vir·tue [vur-choo]


1. moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
2. conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
3. chastity; virginity: to lose one’s virtue.
4. a particular moral excellence. Compare cardinal virtues, natural virtue, theological virtue.

5. a good or admirable quality or property: the virtue of knowing one’s weaknesses.

The word virtue is not used in the Old Testament rather, the word virtuous is. The word for virtuous in Hebrew is chayil (which you will recognize if you have been following this blog for long).
Chayil is defined by Thayer’s Lexicon (Strongs #2428) as:

















Did you catch that? Chayil is used 243 times and translated:

  • army
  • man of valor
  • host
  • forces
  • valiant
  • strength
  • riches
  • wealth
  • power
  • substance
  • might
  • strong

Chayil is used 3 times specifically of a woman or women.
Ruth 3:11  – And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.
Proverbs 12:4 – An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.
Proverbs 31:10 – An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.

We have been through this before, but the Proverbs 31 list is not viewed in the Jewish tradition as a list of things all good wives (read “women of virtue”) must live up to. But rather it is a listing of examples of ways that women can show their Chayil. Just a bonus, if you read Proverbs 31 and compare it to the list above these are all different ways women can show valor or virtue. I will assert here again that there are as many ways to be an excellent wife as there are women. I would also assert that even these examples of virtue can have application to men as well. Could you not (gasp) reverse the genders in the Proverbs verses and still have truth? Let’s try it and see…

An excellent husband is the crown of his wife, but he who brings shame is like rottenness in her bones.
An excellent husband who can find? He is far more precious than jewels.

I know my excellent husband is like a crown to me. I am a very blessed woman. And I know plenty of women who can attest that a man who behaves shamefully is “like rottenness to her bones”.
Second one, once again, true. As the saying goes, “a good man is hard to find” and honey if you find one as good as mine you better hang on to him tight! He is more precious than a big ass engagement ring.

Okay, for grins, now let’s look at the word virtue in the new testament and see what it has to say. The word for virtue in the new testament is Dynamis. Dynamis is defined by Thayer’s as:



Dynamis is used 120 times and translated the following ways:

  • power
  • mighty work
  • strength
  • miracle
  • might
  • virtue
  • mighty

Dynamis is never used to exclusively describe men or women but rather God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Kingdom, miracles and even the strength of sin.

Ok, enough background (sorry about the length of this post but I felt like proper background was needed), on to the article. Ms. Janovic lists what she considers to be “female virtues” at the beginning of her post: gentle and quiet spirit, modesty, chastity, faithfulness at home. She states that, “Scripture does not define virtues in terms of empty space; it is defined in terms of fruit.” First of all I feel compelled to point out that I am unable to find a verse in the Bible that defines virtue in terms of fruit. I am also unable to see where virtue is delineated along gender specific lines. I do see in Galatians where it lists the fruit of the spirit for both men and women.  I do see in scripture where it says that in Christ there is no male or female.

It would seem that the author subscribes to the gendered virtue model embraced by Rousseau. This model asserts that there are special virtues characteristic of each and arising out of their different basic natures. This model is extra biblical. P.J. Ivanhoe of the University of Michigan summed it up this way in his paper Women and Virtue,

In his work Emile, he describes the ideal education that a young man should receive, an education that will develop the set of virtues that are the full manifestation of his manly nature. In this same book, though not occupying as important a position, is a description of the proper education Emile’s sister, Sophie is to receive. It too is described in terms of developing virtues that fully manifest her basic nature. But while Emile’s virtues concern life in the public realm of a citizen, Sophie’s virtues concern life in the private realm of the home. According to Rousseau, women not only have special virtues that are theirs alone, they lack many virtues that are seen as exclusively male. And virtues that women are thought to lack are those required for public, political life – the realm of a great deal of power.

Ms. Janovic or other Christians I know who take her positions in this article might say they disagree with my characterization, however I think her post belies that assertion. First of all her use of the Fairie Queene as an illustration points directly to the division of the virtues into masculine and feminine. Chastity in this story is represented as a female Knight or female virtue. As she says, a “militant virtue” that “requires an active defense”.

What happens next and throughout the article I find patently offensive. She decides to use the imagery of men as dogs who simply go about “marking their territory”. She states:

“…if you have ever watched a nature film, or seen a dog on a walk, or really paid attention to life at all, you will have noticed a certain tendency among the male of the species. They mark their territory. They make a claim. They fight over the girl water buffaloes. Men do exactly the same thing, starting somewhere around the sixth grade. They like to impose on women around them in a way that builds their territory, or their prestige, or their ego.”

So guys, here it is, you are nothing but a beast who cannot be trusted to control himself when wanting to…
wait for it…
wait for it…

But it is ok, “it is not necessarily springing from any deep nefarious desires. Sometimes, it is just an accident. Sometimes it is a bad habit, or a different culture. Sometimes they aren’t actually paying attention when they impose. So don’t take this post as an accusation towards the men who impose on, or attempt to impose on you. These are all excellent opportunities for you to practice virtue.”
You see, you don’t even know you are being inappropriate, you are simply clueless. But that is ok too because it is all the woman’s responsibility to have a strong defense! She must not allow herself to “be imposed upon”. She should not “just let these things happen.” It is her fault if she stays on the bench when you sit down to chat. “Simply not resisting is how [she lets]a mark be made.”

Of course it is also her responsibility not to be shrill. According to the author, “Young women have a great deal of trouble with the fear of being shrill, and if that doesn’t scare them they probably are shrill.” So ladies, it is also your job not  to”overreact, but to be perfectly firm and cheerful. Someone unwelcome joins you on a bench? Unjoin him. Stand up. Walk away.”

The author also appears to think the women are clueless. She writes:

I know another problem for the unmarried women is that they might think that the young man, or young men, are all interested in them seriously. They feel like these things would not be happening in Christian circles if the men involved had no intentions. They would not be getting rides with me, walking me to my car, making a show of having inside jokes with me, or otherwise giving me attention if they were not actually interested in me.

Perhaps *gasp* the man and the woman are JUST FRIENDS! Perhaps they just want to get to know each other.

In the end her advice is this:

So if you are a young woman in this kind of situation, practice cheerful resistance. If the world of interaction between the sexes was a billiard table, be a bumper, not a pocket. Cheerfully, firmly, rudely  enforce your standards. You don’t owe him an explanation. Don’t get caught up in reasons you can’t give him a ride. Just say no. If he insists, pushes, tries harder, say, “Have a nice walk!”
Do not be afraid that this kind of defense will keep anyone from ever seriously being interested in you. If it is the right kind of man, this sort of behavior will bless him deeply.

Again guys, if this kind of behavior is off putting to you, if you think that when you sit down to chat with a girl on a bench and she gets up and walks away that she isn’t interested, you just aren’t the “right kind of man.”