Monday, July 06, 2015

The history of 'pearl clutching'...

Braldt Bralds: Pearls Before Swine

A trendy cliché become useful for dismissing ordinary people.

I just did a post - as yet unpublished - where I referenced the expression 'clutches pearls' and noted that it's often a disparaging phrase used to dismiss another person - especially conservative women - who are dismayed by permissive, liberal attitudes or social behaviors.  Most recently, the expression was liberally used for anyone who was disappointed by the SCOTUS resolution legalizing same sex marriage.

Pop-culture adopted the phrase and one author traces the contemporary usage here:
The phrase pearl clutching, which means being shocked by something once-salacious that should now be seen as commonplace, like sex, is ubiquitous on blog posts, especially in media geared towards women. For instance, a recent post on Jezebel called Girl Land author Caitlin Flanagan a “professional pearl clutcher.” Less than two hours later, another Jezebel writer called a sexy Calvin Klein ad “sure to inspire pearl-clutch-y local news stories across the nation.” The feminist website Feministe used the phrase in a blog post about privilege and oppression; another feminist website, Tiger Beatdown, used it to deride a Wall Street Journal writer who was panicking about the subject matter of YA novels. But the phrase isn’t just used in the lady blogosophere: A Washington Post columnist wrote dismissively last week about the “pearl-clutching that hippies’ parents did in the 1960s.” Basically, a writer who discusses pearl-clutching is saying, “I’m too blasé and worldly to be shocked by this.” - Slate
The entire article is quite interesting.  I've always thought the image was amusing, knowing full well there is a tendency to silence traditional women, stay at home moms, homeschoolers, conservatives, by shaming them to some degree, often relying on cultural stereotypes - such as ladies who dress appropriately and modestly for Mass.  They might be pearl clutchers.

Pearls before swine.

Thinking about the phrase, especially in relation to the recent gay rights victories, I came to the conclusion the meaning has deeper roots.  I decided 'clutching pearls' is related to the scriptural admonition to avoid, 'casting your pearls before swine.'  In other words, to take care when under attack, as it were.  Especially when immorality threatens the traditional family.

You see the expression used on Catholic blogs as well - including mine.  You also see it used by gay-Catholics and more liberal Catholics.  Some of the gay bloggers on Patheos may not use this particular cliche, but they do refer to more 'conservative' women with a hint of disdain.  References to chapel-veiled, traditional women invokes a vague connotation of  prudishness.

Male chauvinism and rad-feminism demeans wives and mothers.

I've done the same thing over the years, making it known 'I don't read mommy blogs,' making fun of denim jumpers and chapel veils, as well as 'modest fashions' being more or less unfashionable, and so on.

I think I owe some apologies to these people.  As the author of the Slate article I cited concluded:
The loss of novelty isn’t the only problem with the phrase. While the mental image is amusing, the use of the phrase has degenerated into accusatory shorthand, particularly in blog comments. People—particularly women—lob the charge at one another to accuse them of not being liberal, or feminist, or open-minded enough; not infrequently, it prompts tedious semantic debates about whether something is “pearl clutching” or a legitimate concern. - Slate
Reading mommy blogs. 

This weekend I came across a beautiful mom's blog, by a woman happily married with many children.  She is a faithful Catholic - strikingly similar to saintly Catholic women and mothers in history.  She home schools and writes about family life.  I was so edified, just paging through her blog posts with photos of her family - her husband and children.  Looking at the innocence and beauty of all the kids touched me deeply.  I never knew such love, such innocence growing up, or as an adult.  I so admired this mom and her family and more deeply, I saw how important it is to support and protect such families in our culture.

This woman wrote a post in response to the SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage.  She was not clutching her pearls, that is for certain.  She expressed her profound sadness instead.  She experienced a sense of fear.  She cried.  She worried about religious liberty.  Nevertheless, she recognized discouragement is not from God and she expressed hope, trust in Divine Providence.  She expressed her love for those happy with the decision - though noting it is not the right path - yet she is willing to agree to disagree to avoid hatred and division in the family.

That's not pearl clutching.

Her sadness struck me - her sorrow reminded me of the manner in which 2 St. Peter 2:7-8 described Lot:
Lot, a righteous man oppressed by the licentious conduct of unprincipled people (for day after day that righteous man living among them was tormented in his righteous soul at the lawless deeds that he saw and heard ... 
That's not pearl clutching.

That is a faithful heart of one whose heart is pure and chaste.  One whose refuge is in the Immaculate Heart of Our Lady.

I wondered if she ever read other Catholic blogs which discuss things that St. Paul says "should not even be mentioned among us"?  Or, as Paul reminds us elsewhere: "No foul language should come out of your mouths ..."  How alien such blog posts must be to this woman and her family.

Extraordinary-ordinary Catholic faithful.  

They remind me we need to support, defend, and protect such holy families.  Families such as this Minnesota mom's need to be held up as a model for the Church.  They can never be dismissed or trivialized or marginalized.


  1. Beautiful post, Terry. Thank you...

    1. Thanks Adrienne - I had an in-your-face experience this past weekend which really woke me up to some things.

  2. Terry, I too, want to thank you for this post. .I have been referred to (not to my face, but obliquely) as a "pearl clutcher" recently and wonder how I missed the marriage devolution. .guess I was too busy trying to stay married and raise my family. .I pray for you and hope you will continue to blog. .I would miss you greatly if you stopped. .reading you is like a chatty phone call from a friend, and as a traditionally married person who's raised nearly 4 children to productive adulthood on mostly a single income (I worked fulltime when we had 2 and then decided having more children was more important than a second income) I find my old compatriots have nearly all kicked me to the wayside and chatty phone calls are rare. .

    1. Thanks Melinda - I appreciate that. God bless you!

  3. Speaking mostly for myself (but I think it's in line with what you're saying), the thing that poisons the well of appreciating and seeking goodness, earnestness, purity--the stuff you admired in the blogger--is irony. I react against these things because the remnants of the sense of irony I spent my twenties so carefully developing says "simple is unworthy...these things are nuanced..." Irony is the lazy man's way to sophistication. To be sophisticated, you can put in the work required to be well-read, prudent in the use of your time, productive in your studies, truly broad minded, tasteful, etc. Or you can mimic sophistication with a sense of irony coupled with a quick tongue. One is real, the other false. One is assertive, the other negating. One leads to human flourishing, the other to hell. Bad habits are hard to break.


Please comment with charity and avoid ad hominem attacks. I exercise the right to delete comments I find inappropriate. If you use your real name there is a better chance your comment will stay put.