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CS Lewis on men and women in the Purgatorial Kitchen

From a letter to an American woman, 31.7.62

I have a notion that, apart from actual pain, men and women are quite diversely afflicted by illness.  To a woman one of the great evils about it is that she can't do things.  To a man (or anyway a man like me) the great consolation is the reflection "well, anyway, no-one can now demand that I should do anything." I have often had the fancy that one stage in purgatory might be a great big kitchen in which things are always going wrong - milk boiling over, crockery getting smashed, toast burning, animals stealing.  The women have to learn to sit still and mind their own business: the men have to learn to jump up and do something about it. When both sexes have mastered this exercise, they go on to the next.

A clarification written 03.09.62

[this] is simply my lifelong experience - that men are more likely to hand over to others what they ought to do themselves, and women more likely to do themselves what others wish they would leave alone.  Hence both sexes must be told "mind your own business" but in two different senses.


5 thoughts on “CS Lewis on men and women in the Purgatorial Kitchen

  1. Heather

    You know, I bristled at this on first glance. Of course it has nothing whatsoever to do with my tendency to take over...

    Guess that proves the truth of it, eh?

    Anyway, Craig has said he thinks one reason men are instructed in scripture to lead the Church and women are to "be quiet" is that women often are more likely to take charge (we've seen a lot of women-dominated churches over the years) and the men have a natural tendency to sit back and let them. I don't think he's ever read that quote from Lewis.

    The take charge-sit back pattern even seems to be in play in the Garden.

    We all definitely have plenty of our own business to attend.

  2. david

    Your post reminds me very much of something GK Chesterton wrote, to the effect that female emancipation in the work-place was actually a new kind of slavery because women were generally so much more conscientious than men. I also think that Heather got it right in her comment about Adam and Eve; my wife (like most women I know) seems driven to what looks to me like an insane busyness, whereas I'm devoted to devising barriers to protect my peace!
    Which also reminds me of your 5th December post, which spoke about the complex networks we construct around ourselves and make us so very interesting to ourselves, but the reality of which is sin.

  3. Glen

    Yes indeed David and Heather,

    I forget where I first heard this marriage advice but I think it's a fair generalisation: All men are cowards, all women are controllers.

  4. John Richardson

    I can't remember how, but I'd also worked this out a long time ago in relation to marriage - the 'typical' male failing is to avoid taking responsibility, the 'typical' female failing is to take up precisely the responsibilities the man is avoiding.

    Theologically, I now think it goes back to Genesis 3:16b. My take on it would be something like, "And with your husband will you strive, and he in this must resist you." (Compare Genesis 4:7 which is the same.)

  5. Glen

    Hi John, yeah that's how I take Gen 3 too. Ephesians 5 being the overturning of it.

    A non-Christian sitting on our Christianity Explored table summed it up brilliantly the other day. She said "No-one can be selfish like a man, but no-one can be bitter like a woman."

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