Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron

On Valentine’s Day, here’s a currently non-PC view of the sexes from the inestimable G.K. Chesterton. His essay starts by discussing a proposal for the co-education of children and moves, here, to a general commentary on the sexes.

I can reach my meaning best by another route. Very few people ever state properly the strong argument in favour of marrying for love or against marrying for money . . . . The argument is this, that the differences between a man and a woman are at the best so obstinate and exasperating that they practically cannot be got over unless there is an atmosphere of exaggerated tenderness and mutual interest. To put the matter in one metaphor, the sexes are two stubborn pieces of iron; if they are to be welded together, it must be while they are red hot.

Every woman has to find out that her husband is a selfish beast, because every man is a selfish beast by the standard of a woman. But let her find out the beast while they are both still in the story of “Beauty and the Beast.”

Every man has to find out that his wife is cross — that is to say, sensitive to the point of madness; for every woman is mad by the masculine standard. But let him find out that she is mad while her madness is more worth considering than anyone else’s sanity.

This is not a digression. The whole value of the normal relations of man and woman lies in the fact that they first begin really to criticise each other when they first begin really to admire each other. And a good thing, too. I say, with a full sense of the responsibility of the statement, that it is better that the sexes should misunderstand each other until they marry. It is better that they should not have the knowledge until they have the reverence and the charity.

We want no premature and puppyish “knowing all about girls.” We do not want the highest mysteries of a Divine distinction to be understood before they are desired, and handled before they are understood.

Those whom God has sundered, shall no man join.

Well, all generalizations are false, eh? I’m especially wary of one that separates people into two great lumps: That doesn’t leave much room for nuance or for individual differences.

But in a society in which we seem ready to deny any differences between the sexes, it does leave room for some reflection.



Excerpted from “Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron,” originally published in The Common Man, 1950; anthologized in “In Defense of Sanity.” Additional paragraphing is provided to suit our current attention spans.


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4 Responses to Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron

  1. Tom Watson says:

    I had never read that particular piece by Chesterton before. Thanks for posting it. It might help to explain why Janice never quite managed to fix all my blemishes! I’m still a work in progress.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – He’s quite a delight, even when I don’t understand everything he says, or agree. Welding is a fun metaphor, for sure.

  2. Here’s a welcome surprise: a studied, gracious, and deferential reflection on a subject fraught today with so many perceived or imagined issues that one dare not raise the topic. The male and female brains are constructed differently. We are not certain yet what that means in terms of thought processes, behavior, or relationships. G.K. Chesterton may be proven correct by neurological science but when those facts emerge they will not be so kindly conveyed.

    Thank you <3

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Yes, it’s hard to imagine what today’s society would do to/with a person like G.K. Chesterton – or he to/with it! He is always clear what he thinks, but he is — as you note — also gentle in communicating it. A good role model in more than one way.

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