An Unspoken Assumption

Over at Vox Popoli, this was part of the discussion. A reader there commented:

“I remember my Zen teacher (an American who was deeply immersed in Japanese culture, one of the first generation of top-level Zen teachers in America) remarking once ~30 years ago that in Japanese culture it is simply assumed that if a man and a woman are alone together, there’s some hanky-panky involved. May not always be the case, of course, but it seems to be a good default assumption, if you want to run a successful, lasting culture.”

My comment:

I assume I am a bit more old fashioned than most, but, honestly, this was the default assumption we once saw in American culture.

I was just showing my children CASABLANCA, the Bogart/Bergman film from just before WWII. Because the character Ilsa was traveling with the hero Victor Lazlo under her maiden name of Lund, Rick Blaine (and presumably the audience of the day) assumes she is a demimonde, that is, a fallen woman, a paramour, no better than a whore.

Without this assumption, Rick’s bitterness when he first speaks with her is incomprehensible: he think’s he’s been played for a sap by a manipulative harlot. When she announces in the next scene that she is married to Lazlo, the shock on his face is once again incomprehensible unless the audience understands the assumption that no woman travels alone with a man other than her husband, much less stays with him in the same hotel, unless there is ‘some hankie panky’ going on, or she is his sister.

These unspoken commonplace assumption are decried by feminists as unfair, even oppressive. Leftism is defined as a rebellion against reality and reason on the grounds that reality is unfair. Feminism is rebellion against sexual reality and reason.

In reality, these assumptions are sound and sane, and assuming a young man and a young woman can have a friendship without a sexual overtone to it is false: men young or old automatically start being gallant (that means boasting, preening, and showing off) around young women or feminine women of any age, and woman automatically being gracious (that means start flirting) whether they know it or not.

The idea that it is liberating for men and women to strip off their sex and turn into neutral eunuchs so that they can meet and work together as units in the factory or office is a false idea.


  1. Comment by Stephen J.:

    I would suggest rather that it *might* be liberating, for a certain value of that term, if in fact it could be done. That it cannot, not really, assuming normal physical and mental health for both men and women, is the reality one should not claim is not so.

    Now that said, given that in practice the vast majority of the opposite sex with whom we must associate daily will not and cannot ever be licit potential sexual partners, there must be such a thing as opposite-sex friendships in which the sexual potential is formally and deliberately disregarded. The question is how much trust, as a matter of public etiquette, such individuals are given in that area to discipline themselves when circumstances cannot. It used to be much lower; that it now seems higher might be a good thing — except for the fact that that change has come not as an increase in how honorable we believe people to be, but as an unfit and damaging decrease in how important we think the issue. It is no credit to someone’s character if you do not worry about their purity not because you trust them but because it doesn’t matter to you.

  2. Comment by Nate Winchester:

    Hah, I was wondering who that astute observer was at VP since I hadn’t taken the half second to glance at the user name. Now I feel shame for not recognizing it earlier.

    It reminds me of something Derbyshire said a month ago:

    And as a social-slash-institutional matter, if all this so-called “sexual harassment” on campus is such a blight on our society, why don’t we just go back to single-sex colleges? Hobart and William Smith Colleges originally were, as I said, two separate colleges, one for men and one for women. Why not go back to that arrangement, with the guys over here, the girls over there, and the two sexes meeting only at carefully-supervised social events arranged by the college authorities? Maybe it’s time to admit that co-education just hasn’t worked out very well.

    Should be entertaining to see how people (particularly feminists) argue against this.

    • Comment by ConceptJunkie:

      When I graduated from Virginia Tech (in 1987), they were in the process of converting some of the dorms to co-ed on alternating floors. I was used to (and had no problems with) needing an escort to visit a women’s dorm, and only being able to do so during certain hours.

      Apparently, now alternating floors is considered quaint.

      But don’t dare question whether or not it’s a good idea.

  3. Comment by Mary:

    There was BC cartoon in which BC invited Fat Broad back to his cave to look at some etchings.

    Next panel: Cute chick pouring water over her hand in its basin while Fat Broad says that of course she decked him — he had a whole cave full of etchings.

  4. Comment by GeoffSmith:

    Hmm. While I agree that based on induction this assumption proves useful, I would not agree that it is necessarily a part of nature. To say that nature plus sin makes it thus is more true.

    Jesus is able to spend time alone with the woman at the well and nothing evil comes of it though his disciples seems confused by the event precisely because they hold to this, typically useful, assumption:
    Joh 4:26-27 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (27) Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?”
    It seems that attempts to impress and return compliment (or preen and flirt), though necessarily sexual (because they happen between people of different sexes) are not necessarily coital. So though the assumption is wise, I would say that it is provisional, not necessary. This is to concede that the feminists have a point, but as per usual, they have elevated a piece of the scaffolding of all nature into its pinnacle or, as you’ve said elsewhere they’ve served one of the gods rather than having it as a servant.


  5. Comment by Suburbanbanshee:

    1. Meeting a woman at the well and asking her for a drink was a traditional sign of courtship (or marriage arrangement, given Abraham’s servant and Rebecca), not evil. It’s a public place. Both Jesus and the Samaritan woman are referencing Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Rachel. They’re at Jacob’s well, after all.

    2. The most weird thing was a rabbi talking to a Samaritan woman. After that, it got weirder.

    3. Actually, it was a pretty charged situation, both with love interest and futurity. Samaria had been with seven husbands (the seven pagan gods) just like the woman had, and the one she was now with wasn’t her husband (God). Jesus was offering Samaria a chance to become an honest woman, and telling the Samaritan woman all the awaited signs of Samaria’s messiah/prophet expectations, while also talking about her own life.

    4. You and I aren’t Jesus.

    5. As a practical matter, it is possible to make yourself more like somebody’s sister or mother or aunt than a love interest. But this isn’t always possible despite the best efforts and intentions, which is why people get hurt. And why men and women both need to be circumspect with the opposite sex. (And even with members of the same sex, depending on the people you work with or have as friends.)

    • Comment by GeoffSmith:

      Of course we aren’t Jesus and I do agree with you over all.

      I never said that what they did was evil. I said that we can’t claim that John’s assumption is necessarily true, which you note in point 5. But precisely because we aren’t Jesus, the assumption often holds. It’s precisely because such friendships aren’t always or even usually possible that the assumption almost invariably holds this side of the fall and of the consummation of all things.

    • Comment by Bobby Trosclair:

      Good posts by GeoffSmith and suburbanbanshee. There’s a lot going on under the surface in this passage, isn’t there?

      What’s also interesting about this pivotal passage is that it is all about Love – True Love – between a Man and a woman and the ultimate new expression and focus of it within a situation that in the context of the time would have been considered sexually charged, as experienced by a woman who had Been Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places. It appears to be a chance meeting, when it was in fact chosen by Jesus for His own reasons.

      Consider that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” after He left Judea to return to Galilee. Righteous Jews at the time avoided Samaria by taking a route along Jordan. Jesus chose to take a route that took him to Samaria in order to reveal who He was, to the most unlikely woman in the most unlikely place. At a critical point in His ministry, the person to whom He chose to reveal Himself and to save was an outcast, reviled, presumably middle-aged, not-too-bright, non-Jewish woman living with a man out of wedlock. In the context of modern times, Jesus chose to reveal Himself to a multiply divorced 40-something woman living in a trailer park with some dude (who probably wears a TapOut t-shirt while working on his car, which is up on cinderblocks), and who walks to the convenience store to buy some cigarettes at lunchtime and happens to run into the Son of God. The King who chose to be born in a stable continually confounds our expectations.

      We know she was an outcast because this event happened at about noon (John 4:6-7), and local women then and now in rural desert cultures collect water from water sources in the early hours of the morning and late in the afternoon when it is coolest and easiest to lug a big jug of water. This is (then and now) a social event for women, a time to exchange news and gossip, and the Samaritan woman’s presence at that time of the day indicates that she was not In with the In Crowd. We know she is a local, not an traveller, because we are told she is familiar with the people of the neighboring town (John 4:28-42), and that she is not there for illicit reasons, like meeting a new Baby’s Daddy, but to gather water.

      As a woman who has had five husbands, and who was living with a man to whom she was not married, she would have been an outcast among the other Samaritan women and men. As a Samaritan, she would have been have been reviled by any orthodox Jew, as the Samaritans were seen as polytheists who worshipped the true God of the Jews but adulterated their worship by worshipping pagan deities as well.

      She’s also not too sharp. Jesus speaks to her in parables, but she doesn’t get what He means. She doesn’t understand what Jesus means by “living water,” and thinks He is talking about some magical drinking water she wants to try out. He takes pity on her, and reveals in explicit language who He really is. He reveals that He is the Messiah (for the first time!), that salvation is through the Jews, but (correctly) that the Jewish and Samaritan temples will soon be destroyed.

      Yet what most impresses this simple woman so much tells us a lot about who we are as humans – when she returns to tell those in town about this man she met, she says: “Come see a Man who told me everything I have done. Could He possibly be the Messiah?” (John 4:29) She believes not because of the wonderful truths he has told her, but because Jesus KNOWS her. If our common trait as humans is a desire to know and be known, Jesus knows how best to connect with us, and draw us into love – real love – with Him. And that’s why it is interesting from a dramatic standpoint (God seems to love to use irony to make points) that all this happens in this conventionally sexually-charged situation.

      It’s not by coincidence that this encounter with a “fallen woman” who has sought love through purely sensual encounters points the way towards an authentic love, in a manner that tells us about the power of agape over eros. This intensely personal relationship with their God was something new and unique to the people of the world Jesus entered.

  6. Comment by Arakawa:

    On the one hand, there are indeed issues of prudence that dictate a man and woman should prefer to meet in a neutral public location, or in the presence of other friends, or otherwise chaperoned.

    On the other hand, the conclusion that is drawn from this, that friendship between men and women is impossible, or somehow intrinsically not worth it, or not real friendship (but rather a facade for unholy lusts), strikes me as a slander against the notion of friendship. I already shared my position on this in more detail elsewhere, so I should just link to my comment on that post:

    Edit: in the event of a response to the effect that the post doesn’t say men and women can’t be friends, but rather that they can’t be friends without sexual overtones, which may or may not be kept under control depending on circumstances and the moral character of the participants — from the way the post jumped from pointing out that a man and a women travelling alone with each other are likely to be fornicating, and then to pointing out the inevitability of sexual overtones in friendship, I notice that other commenters seem to have come away with the former interpretation. i.e. that friendship between men and women is impossible, or thoroughly undesirable and morally questionable, or something.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      Such is not my interpretation. I say men and women can be friends, but that he will be gallant and she will flirt, precisely because their sexual natures activate in the presence of the other sex. This can be minimized by altering the social cues, that is, have the woman dress, talk, and act like a man, and have the man dress, talk and act like a serf (or a child), which is basically what our society has done.

      This, of course, robs life of as much zest and pleasure as if poetry and waltzing had been outlawed, or turning into mere noise or ugly hopping and shaking motions.

      • Comment by Arakawa:

        So, we appear to have pointed out a pair of extremes.

        On the one extreme (what I fear), we can say that men and women should never be expected to suppress their own masculinity and femininity, and if it would lead to problems with lust in a given situation, then such situations should simply be avoided (i.e., in this particular case, people should be discouraged from maintaining any heterosexual friendships they happen to be in, by telling them that they can’t ‘really’ ever be ‘just friends’ with the opposite sex).

        On the other extreme (what you say you fear), we can say that men and women should self-castrate into genderless entities (not androgynous ones; the distinction between these notions is another rant entirely) who do not elicit sexual attraction from one another, which would handily solve the problem of being tempted to fornication.

        From what I understand, neither of these has much to do with reality, wherein there is actually a middle way between these two extremes, which involves the practice of the virtue called modesty, and does not preclude the possibility of remaining masculine or feminine, nor of there being meaningful friendships between men and women as such.

        • Comment by John C Wright:

          Er… I don’t think I said that. I think I said the opposite.

          Modesty is of course the answer, and a sudden and complete reverse of all the poisonously stupid ideas of the sexual revolution.

          I am not saying young women should be chaperoned at all times, but I am saying male and female colleges are a better idea than coed schools, and the rebuttable presumption that if a man is alone with a women, some hanky panky is going on, is a good assumption.

          Consider that both my Church and my Boy Scout troop operate on the assumption that if a man is alone with a boy, the man is a faggot rapist bent on making the boy his catamite. Because of this assumption, which is NOT rebuttable, no adult male of either organization is ever alone without a chaperone with a boy.

          I am not sure how to express the stark insanity of a culture where chaperoning teen boys is considered normal to protect them from the less than one percent of the population that is homosexual and pederast, whereas even suggesting that one should chaperone College Freshmen coeds in the peak of their sexual allure and vulnerability, to protect them from roughly 99 percent of the male population of all ages from randy young buck to dirty old man, this is considered an unmitigated and hateful insult to the dignity of womankind.

          And this is during a period history when Western nations are importing Muslim gang rapists as fast as the boats can bring them in, and punishing the fathers who dare to rescue their daughters from the rape houses (no, I am not exaggerating:

          It is difficult to overstate how awful these crimes were, nor how completely victims were failed by the authorities. One girl was doused in petrol and told she would be set on fire if she didn’t comply. Others were forced to watch rapes and told they would be next if they spoke out. The police regarded these girls with as much contempt as the rapists.

          And in perhaps the most horrific paragraph in a report published yesterday, we learned that in two cases fathers had tracked down their daughters and tried to rescue them from houses in which they were being held, only to find themselves arrested by police, while the rapists walked free.

          How many council staff do you suppose are under investigation, or have been sacked? Yup, you guessed it: none.

  7. Comment by Malcolm Smith:

    Actually, the unspoken assumption is still going strong today, but not because society is still virtuous, but because it is more depraved. It is automatically assumed that friendships between men and women are impossible, that there is always hanky-panky going on.
    Indeed, it is worse than that. In my day you always got a flatmate of the same sex because, if the two of you were of opposite sexes, “people would talk”. Nowadays, if you have a flatmate or travelling companion of the same sex, “people will talk”. It’s getting to the point where you can associate only with members of the same sex in groups of three.

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