Maiden, Mother, Matriarch

Louise Perry, author of The Case Against the Sexual Revolution, a 30-something United Kingdom columnist, feminist, and host of a podcast with the title of this article, has written insightfully about the three stages of a woman’s life. Here is her analysis. A woman is first a maiden: young, single, at the peak of her physical beauty. To one degree or another she is admired and sought for her physical appearance. Then she marries, and in the normal course of things she becomes a mother. Motherhood consumes her thoughts and energies for the next couple of decades. She is depended upon by her children and husband alike for care of the household. Finally, her children leave home, marry, and have their own children. She is now full of the wisdom that comes from years of experience as a maiden and mother. She is honored as a matriarch.

Among the foolish tragedies of our time is the elevation of the first stage (maiden) over that of the second (mother) and third (matriarch). Most of our cultural attention is on the maiden. She is the ideal. She appears in all the advertisements. Her older mothers and even matriarchs expend exorbitant amounts of time, energy, and money trying to retain a maiden-like appearance. They dress like maidens, talk like maidens, even medically alter their bodies, trimming here, adding and lifting there in order to look young. Like maidens.

At the same time motherhood is denigrated and the matriarch is invisible. “I’m just a mother,” or worse, “a stayat-home mother.” Childbirth sometimes takes a toll on the female form. So do the years. It is crucial to minimize this, women are told subtlely and not-so subtlely. Why? Because it is the maiden who is prized, not the mother or matriarch. A maiden-like appearance must be maintained at all costs.

As for matriarchs, they are just old, that’s all. They are old, out-of-touch, behind the times, out-of-fashion and out-of-shape. Consequently, their accumulated wisdom is left untapped. Their vast knowledge of how to live with a man, of how to rear children, of how to navigate home, vocation, and avocation, of how to negotiate with the neighbors and handle the in-laws is unsought and unheard.

Can we not do better than this? Must we always follow the pattern established by the world? Traditional cultures honor matriarchs. So do biblical cultures. “Older women,” says the apostle Paul, are to “train the younger women to love their husbands and children” (Ti 2:4). Ordinarily matriarchs have learned these lessons and can give the younger women the benefit of their knowledge. The older women, the matriarchs, can teach the younger women how “to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands” (Ti 2:5).

That we still name our daughters Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Ruth, and not Bathsheba or Rahab reveals a remnant of respect for mothers and matriarchs. Solomon stepped down from his throne and “bowed down” to his mother when she entered his presence. He then had her seated at his right hand, the place of honor (1 Kg 2:19).

Our mothers and matriarchs need not pretend to be maidens. Whatever the world might do, the Christian community must honor all three natural stages of a woman’s life. If anything, we must honor mothers and matriarchs above our young maidens. Indeed, it should be our goal that our young maidens will aspire to be what our mothers and matriarchs now are.