Who should die for whom?

As a teenager, I often daydreamed of dying for one pretty girl or another by pushing her from the path of a speeding car. I would breathe my last while her tears fell upon my face like angelic anointment. I later joined the Masons, and had to swear that I would risk my life to save a fellow Mason if the odds of my survival were at least 50%.

I have no doubt that I would die for Peggy, but when I asked Peggy if she would die for me, she said she didn’t know, and I said I wouldn’t want her to. This isn’t about, “If you love me, you’ll die for me,” but about a man’s obligation to give his life for his family by virtue of the fact that he is a man, and although he would be grievously opposed to them doing the same.

You might ask how I can be so sure I would die for Peggy. I have several reasons. One is that it’s my responsibility as her husband. Another is that my life would be hell if I were to outlive her. A third is that if I saved my life at the loss of hers, I would be overwhelmed by self-hatred. The fourth is that she would deserve it by virtue of her goodness. You might ask if I too am not good, and I would answer yes, but that I receive Peggy’s devotion in different ways, which I’ll go into in a moment.

I’m touched when I reflect upon that frigid night in 1912 when the men of the Titanic drowned in order to save the women. Surely, many of those men opposed suffrage and considered women their physical and mental inferiors, so what was it about women that they so valued that they were willing to die for them? I believe their behavior was a product of their gender. What this means in regard to my relationship with Peggy is that nature didn’t create in her a feeling of obligation to die for me, but this shouldn’t be taken to mean that she loves me less—not that I would care if she did, unless the imbalance was significant. 

Here is what I know about Peggy. If, in order to save my life, she had to give-up everything she owns and spend the rest of her days nursing me, she would, partly out of love and partly out of duty. If, instead of her doing these things for me, I were called upon to do them for her, I would regard it as a far greater challenge than merely dying outright. It is generally the case that men simply aren’t well equipped to provide years of care to a spouse whose decline is continuous and inexorable. We are fixers rather than caretakers, and nothing alarms us more than being helpless where our wives are concerned, yet where nobility exists, it surely involves ongoing sacrifice rather than a speedy death.

Back to the Titanic. I wouldn’t face certain death to save a woman I didn’t know, but to pretend to be a woman in order to get into a lifeboat would be to choose survival at the cost of dishonesty and humiliation. Yesterday, I read a sentence by Margaret Deland that seems relevant to this monologue if one substitutes the word survival for happiness:

“…it seemed to her than no one, for his happiness, had a right to do a thing which would injure an ideal by which the rest of us live.”

I can think of exceptions to her statement, but it is certainly true that the ideals of one’s society should not to be dismissed so lightly as I have often done. It is my hope that men and women never become so “equal” that men forget they are men, and women forget they are women, but I fear that is where political correctness would have us go. For instance, as of last month, American women can  assume any combat position that is open to a man.

I recently learned of a pitbull attack in Canada in which the husband locked himself in their bedroom while his wife was mauled by two dogs in the living room.* Is it conceivable that the demand for gender equality has overturned two-million years of evolution and made male cowardice acceptable? Surely, it would be preferable to die by her side than to listen to one’s wife scream while doing nothing to save her. I can’t conceive of a man, who is worthy of being called a man, who would be other than horrified by the thought of his wife facing almost certain death to protect him, yet I can’t conceive of a man, who is worthy of being called a man, who would choose to live if it meant letting his wife die alone, even if there was only one chance out of a million of saving her. If I were to fail in this, it would be to pronounce my very existence a mistake.

I don’t know the extent to which the word honor can be applied to the actions of the majority of men on the Titanic since they were but obeying a societal demand that was itself based upon an evolutionary impulse, but I’m quite sure that dishonor applies to those who saved themselves by pretending to be women.

Manhood and womanhood involve more than physical differences, although this seems to appear anything but obvious to many. While it is true that men can nurture and women can protect, there are significant and unalterable gender-related differences in emphasis and manner. I can even see this in the way Peggy and I parent our cats. It’s not that I’m less nurturing or she’s less protective, but that the ways we undertake our roles are as apparent today as they were in our childhoods when she changed the clothes on her Patti Playpal doll and I shot bad guys with my Roy Rogers’ cap pistol. No amount of political correctness can make men and women the same, but it can make them dishonest, confused, and cowardly.

*Later reports gave a different story, but the truth of what occurred in a specific instance doesn’t invalidate my concern.