The surprising pro-masculinity message in the “Far From the Madding Crowd” film

A man leading a woman upward
A man leading a woman upward: another in a series of posts designed to defeat feminism

So, I have about a half-dozen older and/or experienced Christian women who advise me and assist me in various ways. The wisest and most experienced is calm and thoughtful Dina. She has a very stressful job dealing with demanding women, and what she admires most in men is “masculinity”, which she defines as a man’s ability to tell a woman what is right and wrong, what God expects from her, what she should be doing with her life, and guiding her and providing for her through the steps to get there.

What makes Dina angry is when a man makes a fool of himself for youth and beauty, abdicating his role as moral and spiritual leader because of attraction / lust. According to Dina, men who have self-control think about what a woman should do that is morally right, with the goal of her producing a return for God. Men who are swayed by youth and beauty are willing to give up that leadership role in exchange for attention and/or sex.

So, with that said, Dina asked me to watch a recent movie called “Far From the Madding Crowd“, based on a novel by Thomas Hardy. I immediately said “no” because I know about Thomas Hardy from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, where he presents Tess as the helpless victim of Providence. I really hate that view of women, where they can do reckless, selfish things and then blame everyone but themselves for the destructive consequences of their own free-will decisions. But Dina said “wasn’t I right about the debate between David Robertson and Matt Dillahunty?” I said yes, and watched the movie. And of course, she was right, as she almost always is. This movie is a punch in the face to radical feminism, and the leading man is indeed a masculine leader, according to Dina’s definition of masculinity.

Here is a review of the movie by another lady I admire, Rebekah, up at her blog “The Thoughtful Christian Parent”.

Rebekah writes:

What does this 19th century tale offer to modern audiences?  This latest rendering emphasizes something actually surprising and unexpected given that it is made in our age of radical feminism.  It is Gabriel Oak’s character that shines the most, not the proto-feminist Bathsheba.  […]In Bathsheba and Gabriel we see how men and women support one another in such a way as to ensure a flourishing in any role that fate might thrust on them.

[…]The relationship between Gabriel and Bathsheba, though unequal in earthly terms of authority and wealth, is one of mutual dependence.  We see Oak taking on a role of both counselor and conscience with Bathsheba – roles that in her striving towards independence she struggles to admit her need for.  She is not unlike the modern feminist in this regard, nor is she unlike all of us in our relationship with the Lord.  Her struggle is best seen in the various times she repels Gabriel only to find herself in desperate situations in which only he can help.  The filmmakers’ clever use of a recurring theme of Bathsheba galloping after Gabriel on a horse when he is needed is particularly moving (and surprising) here.  In the end, the film resists the urge to pander to our more extreme modern views on what women require to thrive.

Gabriel Oak also seems to be an embodiment of the biblical virtue of selflessness.  We see in his actions towards Bathsheba the Philippians admonition to refrain from “being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity,” but rather “in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” Indeed, vanity itself can be seen as a fateful character flaw of every major character apart from Gabriel.  He alone is able to move past rejection and carry on.  In fact, he is required to go so far as to be under the authority of the very woman who rejected his offer of marriage and, despite his continuing affections for her, witness her being courted and then married by another far less worthy man, Frank Troy.  No other major character is able to accomplish this challenge to their pride.  Though Bathsheba does eventually overcome the rejection of her husband, she only does so after tremendous tragedy and with the selfless and steady support of Gabriel.

Gabriel respects her independence, but, like a good shepherd, stays close by to protect and guide her.  Though he cannot protect her from her free-will choices, he does warn her.  He then remains faithful to her in the midst of the trouble she brings upon herself.  In this, he is not unlike our God, for he allows her to stray, all the while letting her know of a better course when asked.  And, she does ask.

In an important scene at a party, where Bathsheba must decide whether or not to marry a particularly obsessive suitor, when she asks, “Tell me what to do, Gabriel,” he simply tells her to “Do what is right.”  Is that not like our Lord?  Gentle shepherd, indeed, for our wild, independent hearts.  In this, I see Gabriel as most suitable for the role as the husband written of in the epistle to the Ephesians.  He loves Bathsheba “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her…”

Men and women both struggle with self-centeredness, but men usually work themselves out of it by studying hard things in school, and doing hard work that pays. Men have a natural desire to provide for others, and it is actually a duty laid out for them in the Bible. As a result of studying and working at things they don’t like, men typically are better at resisting their feelings and desires. In fact, if you ever want to make a woman less self-centered and emotional, leading her to study STEM and work a demanding job is a good plan. Both Dina and Rebekah – like all of my female advisors – have STEM backgrounds, and demanding work histories.

I would be suspicious of men who don’t prioritize providing, especially as they get older, because it is the experience of self-denial and endurance that helps a man to want to lead a woman to do the same: deny her feelings and desires, and make prudent decisions that will allow her to love and serve others – including God – in a sustainable way. Over the long-term, this practice of effective, self-sacrificial love will be worth more to the woman than the short-term pursuit of fun and thrills. And men know this – we can look ahead and see where a woman needs to be, and then coach her on the interim steps, however difficult those may seem in the moment.

Dina’s advice to young women

I asked Dina to take a look at the draft of this post before I hit “Schedule” and Dina said:

What I would advise to all young women is not to expect a Gabriel Oak to be waiting for you at the end of your reckless years of hooking up, partying and wasting your youth on fun and men who have no desire to lead you to God or guide you to goodness. Don’t expect the hot stud that your friends approve of to turn into someone with the character of Oak with the magic powers of your premarital sex life. Find a man who doesn’t give in to your every whim, because if he does, you will only resent him for it, and blame him, for being what you thought you wanted him to be.  Find a man who leads, one who demonstrates self control, self denial, who can provide and protect. And most importantly, respect him for doing it.

Emphasis mine.

Sound advice from the Dina, young ladies. By the way, Dina’s favorite drama is the BBC production of “North and South” from 2004. I also give it a 10/10. If you’re looking for a good movie to get for Christmas, I recommend asking for that one.

Rebekah’s comments on the post

Rebekah wrote to me privately to react to the post:

I think you’ve touched on something important that’s a pitfall for women today – and really, men, too, but maybe less so – we live in a time of radical autonomy PLUS radical “feelings” orientation. Yes, I agree, women might be more prone to being affected by these because we do tend to be more feelings oriented. Plus, the pendulum has swung w.r.t. women’s rights compared to Hardy’s day.

Yet, can I say that from my virtuous single women friends I hear that it is hard to find a man that acts like a grownup? They are finding that many men watch porn and play video games after work each evening. They are not being responsible with their hearts – porn WILL affect their marriage one day. It’s a huge temptation for them. I think this is a major pitfall that men face today.

And, notice that each of these pitfalls – of men and women – feed and reinforce the other.

I would recommend STEM for everyone since the humanities have become so radicalized. I wanted to be an English major, as well, but my father wouldn’t let me because of the leftist values in those departments. STEM is a much safer bet and much surer return for the $$ spent.

That’s a generalization, though. I have a friend that majored in English at Hillsdale – a very conservative university. She’s amazing and brilliant. So, there are exceptions – I am sure you’d agree.

I am glad you liked the movie. And, I agree “North and South” is excellent – one of my favorite books and movies.

There are exceptions, I do agree.

Finally, I have some advice for Christian men. If you pick women who will advise you, don’t pick women who just want attention and control over you. Pick women like Dina who understand your male nature and will attempt to persuade you with facts and arguments, not feelings and sex appeal. And whatever you do, don’t marry someone who cannot communicate and disagree with you in an analytical way. That becomes a nightmare when they have the leverage of no-fault divorce to hold over you.

9 thoughts on “The surprising pro-masculinity message in the “Far From the Madding Crowd” film”

  1. I think you’ve touched on something important that’s a pitfall for women today – and really, men, too, but maybe less so – we live in a time of radical autonomy PLUS radical “feelings” orientation. Yes, I agree, women might be more prone to being affected by these because we do tend to be more feelings oriented. Plus, the pendulum has swung w.r.t. women’s rights compared to Hardy’s day.

    Yet, can I say that from my virtuous single women friends I hear that it is hard to find a man that acts like a grownup? They are finding that many men watch porn and play video games after work each evening. They are not being responsible with their hearts – porn WILL affect their marriage one day. It’s a huge temptation for them. I think this is a major pitfall that men face today.

    And, notice that each of these pitfalls – of men and women – feed and reinforce the other.

    I would recommend STEM for everyone since the humanities have become so radicalized. I wanted to be an English major, as well, but my father wouldn’t let me because of the leftist values in those departments. STEM is a much safer bet and much surer return for the $$ spent.

    That’s a generalization, though. I have a friend that majored in English at Hillsdale – a very conservative university. She’s amazing and brilliant. So, there are exceptions – I am sure you’d agree.

    I am glad you liked the movie. And, I agree “North and South” is excellent – one of my favorite books and movies.

    1. I wanted to be a prosecutor, then an English teacher. I only settled on computer science when I took a mini-course from a law professor and an English course from an English professor. I could not stand the liberal bias, so computer science it was. My Dad pushed me into computer science, and it turned out that it was the right decision. Dads are usually right.

  2. Great review. Gabriel certainly is a good man – though arguably not a good role model for men inasmuch as he puts his life on hold for a married woman.

    WK, I agree that women who succeed at STEM have shown dedication and mental rigour. I don’t think however that men should be leading the women in their lives towards a STEM career during their childbearing years.

    Women’s fertility starts to sharply decline at 27 or even earlier. If you are committed to raising the strongest, wisest, most influential children for the kingdom of God (as I am, and I think you too), then your wife must have her first child in her early twenties.

    The only way a woman can really have it all (a meaningful career, and marriage, and children) is to prioritise. Childbearing has an early expiry date, so I have chosen to make it first priority.

    Marrying and having kids is so important, and it’s far better to do it in my youth while I can still chase after a houseful of under 10s. (Trust me, I know – i’m the eldest of 10 ranging in age from 2 to 21.)

    Interested to hear your thoughts.
    AM

    1. You’re right about Gabriel putting his life on hold for her, especially once he got himself sorted out. There was nothing “good” in her character for him to fall in love with, she just had good looks and maybe a feisty spirit. I was actually disappointed that he took her back at the end at all. But at least he did not go crawling back to her after she disrespected him.

      I agree with you that it’s important for the woman to marry around 25-28, so she can have 2-4 kids before her fertility gives out. Kids are a super important way to make a difference, especially if the husband has the money to afford good schools, and if he is allowed to lead them to practical skills at a young age.

  3. I was seminary trained to be a pastor. I, of course, had a rather rigorous schedule and was taught by those steeped in Biblical prespective. Yet, once out of the ministry, I began to wish I had really stuck with my early mathematical prowess and concentrated harder on science and technology. As it turns out, Knowing twelve languages and having enough credits to major in English doesn’t do one much good outside of a theoretical life in academia. Nor does a deep knowledge of history help much in a world unaware and destined to repeat it. Even in my attempts to become a language teacher, I chafe because I know what I want to do but lack the technological skills to make it happen.

    Plainly in the Bible, some were set to be pastors and teachers. Most are meant to be the support staff, the nuts and bolts that take the theoretical from the pastors and teachers and put it into practice. So, even in the church we see the value of STEM. Consequently, there is much practicality, not only in being able to function and survive and thrive in society, but also in keeping the church strong.

    As for Amy’s comments, I agree with her. Yet, consider not for yourself, Amy, but for your children. You will be exposed to what they are exposed to in their school years. For their sake, then, you must be able to help them excel in these disciplines. Perhaps this is where you and your husband team up, or you find other parents that excel here and work in partnerships. This is why many parts of society are in deep trouble. Schools cannot teach what the parents don’t reinforce. As a former piano teacher, I can tell you that no student ever got very far whose parents didn’t make piano a priority for them. (Piano, by the way, besides being artsy, teaches math, science, language skills, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, higher cognitive thinking skills. All kinds of studies as to how the brain is not properly formed without music education.)

    1. I agree with you about STEM / vocation first. Those things you mention are all valuable, but they are hard to earn a living with, outside of academia, and academia is so liberal. I think it’s better to get a humdrum job that pays and look into the really interesting things in life in your spare time. I wouldn’t trust university professors to teach me non-STEM things anyway, they are so liberal.

  4. I enjoy reading your blog WK.. just wanted to lead with that, so you don’t think I’m here just to “bash heads.” :)

    “As a result of studying and working at things they don’t like, men typically are better at resisting their feelings and desires.”

    I don’t get how you can come to that conclusion. I give you that men are better at resisting their feelings, but resisting their desires?? With all the debauchery going on in the world now and since the beginning of time, I don’t think so. Especially those who are not Christian.

    Separate topic.. What are some other STEM degrees that you considered besides Computer Science, if there were any? I understand STEM makes the most sense if you go the school route, but don’t you think there are just some who are “wired” for STEM? Thanks and God bless. -d

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