It’s spring in Sydney, and the birds, bees and butterflies are back. Chaucer was right: “Whan that August with his shoures soote, The droghte of March 2016 til July 2020 hath perced to the roote“. With the drought officially over, I’m impatiently waiting for a lush and vibrant spring to work its juicy magic on people now. Some are conspicuously slow to recover from their winter torpor despite the volumes of swich licours with which they are plied; some might argue that suboptimal outcomes may be linked to the generous volumes of swich licour involved, but to this I say no sirrah!

So we have wine. With nature providing the perfume, why light candles when you can open a window. You’d think the effect would be the same? Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong, not enough candles… But for good measure the promises we’re sold to keep us on a short and hopeful leash have not been neglected. Yet despite the evidence of squeaky-clean dishes piled in the drainer, absolutely no sign that anyone’s significant other is remotely interested in a quick pilgrimage.

I’m sure Chaucer was exaggerating: his Wife of Bath was a wishful caricature then and she is now. But even she eventually started walking! History has proved how straightforward us men are in this respect. Sun comes out, we want to plough the field and sow some seeds. Women? Nah, not so much. “When it comes to worship, particularly after many years of marriage, women prove extremely sensitive to both environment and context,” says Edward O. professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. “And that’s why so many men visit the shrine alone.”

1. Men think about God more.

The majority of men under 60 think about visiting the shrine at least once a day, reports Laumann. Only one-quarter of women think about it that frequently, and many (Laumann reports) significantly overestimate the number of times they have actually been to the shrine this month. As men and women age, each think about it less but men still think about it twice as often. This is true of men until the day they die. In a survey of studies comparing male and female attitudes to regular healthy worship, Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University, found that men were ready to visit the shrine at almost any point in time, whereas women were almost always inclined to defer their pilgrimage until later in the week.

2. Men want more God.

“Men visit the shrine more often than women at the start of a relationship, in the middle of it, and many years into it,” Baumeister concluded, after reviewing several surveys of men and women. This isn’t just true of especially religious males and females, but also of pagan couples, atheists and agnostics. In fact, atheist males visit the shrine at all hours of the day and night. All males, irrespective of secularity, seem prepared to start the pilgrim’s journey at short notice. By contrast, women, irrespective of their views, are only half as prepared to find God, and even then, are only prepared to travel half as far to do it.

Men admit that they visit a shrine (called ‘shrining’) even when it’s frowned upon or outlawed:

  • About two-thirds of men admit to daily shrining, even though about half also say they feel guilty about it, Laumann says. By contrast, about 4% of women admit worshipping in private, ever, and those who do feel no guilt about it at all.
  • Worshipping with a member of the opposite sex outside the formal relationship is still mostly a phenomenon among men, although women of a higher socio-economic class report a slow but exciting growth of activity in extra-marital shrining.

3. Women are complicated.

What makes women worshipful? Not even women always seem to know. Northwestern University researcher Meredith Chivers and colleagues showed religious films to atheists and men and women of faith. They asked them about their level of worshipfulness, and also measured their actual level of worshipfulness through devices attached to their rapture-glands.

For men, the results were predictable: Men of faith said they wanted to shrine after seeing depictions of male-female worship and (in particular) female-female worship, and the devices backed up their claims. Atheist men said they felt especially like shrining immediately after watching male-male worship. For women, the results were surprising. Religious women report feeling ‘a bit more shriney‘ after watching male-female worship, but this was not corroborated by the devices. In fact, the only statistically significant increase in worshipfulness that was mechanically verified among all women occurred while watching two females at worship.

“Men are very rigid and specific about who and how they worship,” says J. Michael Bailey. He is a Northwestern University faith researcher and co-author with Chivers on the study. “By contrast, women are significantly more open to same-gender shrining. Women have a greater capacity to become religiously-involved with their own gender than men do,” Bailey says. “They won’t necessarily do it, but they have the capacity.”

4. Women’s are complicated (Part 2).

In his review, Baumeister found studies showing many ways in which women’s religious attitudes and practices were more influenced by their environment than men:

  • Women’s attitudes toward (and willingness to perform) various worshipful practices are more likely than men’s to change over time.
  • Women are greatly influenced by the attitude of their peer group when it comes to activities such as ‘lighting a votive candle at both ends‘. For many, such practices are denounced as ‘pagan’ and expressly forbidden, thus highly attractive.
  • This is particularly true of women with higher education levels, who were far more likely to perform these so-called pagan practices; education made no difference with men, who admit they ‘go pagan at the drop of a hat.
  • Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between their expressed values about worship and their actual behaviour. This is not to be confused as hypocrisy; it merely reflects the comfortably fluid position women now occupy in the world.

Why is a woman’s worshipfulness weaker and more vulnerable to influence? Some have theorised it’s related to the great power men once held in society, and the confusion that arose following their worldwide emasculation into a race of confused, simpering subjugates. Laumann prefers an explanation more closely tied to the world of sociobiology.

Men are driven by a biological imperative to spread their faith, Laumann says. By contrast, women are not. In traditional same-faith relationships, women have the power to choose or reject any shrine a man erects in her favour. Women are also much more likely to choose the male with the greatest reserves of faith in order to ensure her lifestyle needs are comfortably met into the future.

5. Women take a less direct route.

Men and women travel different paths to arrive at religious fulfilment. “I hear women say in my office that worshipfulness originates much more between the ears than at the foot of their partner’s shrine, per se,” says Esther Perel, a New York City psychotherapist. “For women there is needs to be a plot — it is more about anticipation, how you get there; it is the longing for ultimate religious fulfilment that fuels their day-to-day worshipfulness,” Perel says. “Men forget this at their peril.”

6. Women worship differently than men.

Finally, the act of worship itself is strikingly significant. Men, on average, offer up their religious sacrements within 4 minutes of commencing worship, according to Laumann. Women usually take from 30 to 149 minutes to touch God — if they do at all. Among devoted couples, 95% of men say they speak to God every time, as opposed to only 26% of the women. Not only is there a significant difference in the reality of their religious fulfilment, there is a significant difference in their perception, too. While women report touching the divine only on 26% of occasions, men believe their female partners achieve ultimate spiritual satisfaction 95% of the time.

Luckily, while I wait for these spring rains to revive the hard-packed earth, I can continue to soak up some of the swich licours myself, and dream of ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes.

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