What Would the Virgin Mary Do?

I’m currently trying to revise and expand Lady Madonna for publication as part of an essay collection, and I just had this thought.

Noting the similarities between me and a classical image of Madonna and Child is harmless enough. Concluding that I’m going to behave like the demure Virgin Mary of classical art is a step too far, and resenting me for acting like myself instead of the image is right out of line. Of course, this problem is only loosely connected to gender dysphoria: female-identified mothers suffer in just the same ways. Take the militant lactivists who confuse matters completely by aggressively demanding their right to breastfeed in public, or the mothers through the ages who protest the sacrifice of their children in needless wars.

Is this part of the reason why breastfeeding in public arouses such hostility in some quarters? If it was that perfect submissive Mary (who was delighted to be informed her destiny was to be a vessel, rather than wanting an abortion like these uppity women), she would naturally go elsewhere as soon as she realised she was making someone else uncomfortable. How dare these uppity women go around looking like the Virgin Mary and then refuse to behave like her?

Any thoughts?

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10 Responses to What Would the Virgin Mary Do?

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  2. 2
    Dianne says:

    …protest the sacrifice of their sons in needless wars.

    May I suggest the addition “and daughters”? It’s not just men who die in needless wars, although traditionally it is men who are sent off to aggressive, needless wars elsewhere, of course.

  3. 3
    SamChevre says:

    OT: I clearly remember, in Venice, seeing a classical Madonna and Child with Mary nursing Jesus, who had turned to look toward the painter. The breast and nipple were clearly drawn.

  4. 4
    Nick Kiddle says:

    Dianne: I was thinking about the MRA’s favourite about women not serving in combat, but on consideration I decided changing it made more sense.

  5. 5
    Menshevik says:

    Sam Chevre:
    There are tons of sculptures, paintings, icons and other representations of Mary nursing the baby Jesus (e.g. IIRC the Louvre has a picture of a bare-breasted Madonna holding the child which is generally believed to have been modeled on Agnes Sorel, mistress of King Charles VII), although it does seem that such representations (of the type called “Maria lactans”) were more common in some countries than others. So in the middle ages the sight of public breastfeeding apparently was not seen as scandalous. (In the Louvre and the Musée de Cluny you can also see some quite graphic representations of the Circumcision of Christ).

  6. 6
    Kaethe says:

    As far as I can tell, the outrage about lactation in public is all about the sex issues. For many people, the only time they have sene a breast is in a sexual context. The outrage at that magazine cover wasn’t about not living up to a Madonna ideal, it was Boobies On a Magazine Cover that aren’t Hidden Behind Black Plastic. Certainly I’ve seen a lot of comments by men horrified that a woman would use her breasts for anything other than the titillation of a man, and a fair few from women feeling just the same.

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    RonF says:

    If it was that perfect submissive Mary (who was delighted to be informed her destiny was to be a vessel, rather than wanting an abortion like these uppity women), she would naturally go elsewhere as soon as she realised she was making someone else uncomfortable.

    Hm. Let’s have a look at Luke 1:26-38 (NSRV)

    “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
    and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy,
    the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.”

    Seems to me she was damn bold questioning Gabriel. I think she handled the situation a lot more assertively than I would have, only submitting after questioning him closely.

    Also, I think it’s quite a stretch to read “delighted” into the above. The one word we have describing her emotional state was “troubled”, and there’s no particular indication that it changed after the answers she was given. A common emotional state for newly pregnant women, IIRC, especially unmarried ones in any culture, but especially in the 1st Century Middle East (and not much change in the 2000 years since there, I’ll bet).

    Then there’s the issue of wanting an abortion. The coming of the Messiah had been foretold to the Hebrews for 1000’s of years. Now Mary has been told that she is to be the central player in fulfilling that prophecy. Why would she even consider an abortion?

    Looks like you’re trying to fit this passage to your theories, rather than the other way around.

  8. 8
    RonF says:

    She was pretty assertive with her Son, too. Remember that his first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding, and that He wasn’t going to do it until his mother told him to.

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    Scott says:

    It’s not unlike religious people to act quite unlike their religious figures. (In fact, they often break their religious laws in the name of their religion. For example, take all the people who have died in the name of a god who said “thou shall not kill”.) Nonetheless, big deal who breast feeds where or what. As long as someone is hurting or assaulting a second person, let the second person leave if the second person is uncomfortable; assuming it’s a public place and not the home of the second person.

  10. 10
    Andromeda says:

    I don’t know, Mary was pretty brave. To find out you were pregnant out of wedlock back then, she could have been stoned. And then, she had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s men killing all the baby boys and then she had to watch her Son die. Hardly submissive to me.

    The Nativity shows a much more assertive portrayal of her.