I recently was treated to a reminder of just how completely the female imperative permeates our culture — at a Catholic men’s prayer breakfast, of all things. I’ve been mulling it over since then and thought I’d “share.”
First, the good points. Number one, it was truly a “men’s” (and teenage boys) event; no women (or girls) in attendance at all. That surprised me a little — I’d almost expect at least one whipped guy to bring his wife along to prove we weren’t planning to reverse the 19th Amendment or something — but it’s a fairly new event, so that hasn’t happened yet. It’s surprising how relaxing it is to be in the presence of only men. It’s quiet, there’s no drama at all, and everything just gets done.
It’s amazing how quickly 200 men can go through a buffet line. Even more striking was that I didn’t see a single guy go back for seconds. After I thought about it, I realized that was because they provided us with really big plates, so guys were able to take as much as they wanted — no wives around to say 8 pieces of bacon is too many. We got our platters, loaded them up, ate it all, and moved on.
There wasn’t much outright shaming language. I was watching closely for that and only winced a couple times. The focus stayed on making men better, not on beating them up, so that much was good.
So much for the good points; on to the rest.
We started with Mass. I won’t get into the problems with the new Mass except to say that many of the changes since Vatican II have been a direct result of having women more involved in church leadership and planning liturgy. The whiny dirges that pass for music, the de-emphasis on the Sacrifice and the over-emphasis on the “communal meal” aspect, the hand-holding during prayers, the push for more “participation” by lay people, the applause for everything from birthdays to having visitors — these are all the result of women (and effeminate men) trying to make Mass more welcoming, more fun, more “inclusive” for everyone. As a result, men left the church in droves during those years, and most of those who remained sat stoically through the silliness.
So you’d think that a bunch of men with no women around would dispense with the happy-clappy 70s music and the hand-holding. Well, not so much. It was all still there. I’d like to think that they just don’t know any better, but when I looked around and saw guys holding hands with their eyes closed, looking like they might shed a tear at any moment, it hit me: maybe they like this! Maybe they haven’t just been putting up with it; maybe they really enjoy this stuff.
After Mass and breakfast, we had our speakers, starting with our bishop. Now, our bishop is one of the good guys. He’s been a leader in speaking out against abortion and homosexual marriage and calling out politicians who use their Catholicism to get elected and then violate it in office. He’s talked about the martyrdom of the early Christians, and warned that we could be facing serious persecution for our beliefs in the near future. I honestly think he would go to the lions for his faith and to set an example for his flock. He’s no wuss.
And yet, when he started talking about the lack of men in leadership positions in the church, he had to include disclaimers about how there’s nothing wrong with women in leadership, that what we really need is balance. There weren’t even any women in the room, and yet he practically stammered when he got too close to saying that maybe it just might not be best to have women running everything. This man with the courage to face up to authorities who can — and someday may — send armed men to imprison or kill him for his beliefs, can’t tell a bunch of men that there are some jobs women shouldn’t do (except for the priesthood, which he jumped past very quickly). Then it hit me again: is he saying these things because he’s afraid to offend women, or does he really believe it? When he says what families and churches need is more “balance,” is he trying to get men involved so they can truly take their leadership back, or does he really think that a 50/50 balance is best? I’m not sure.
The second speaker was from a Catholic men’s group. I couldn’t figure out what their goal is, but apparently they get men together and get them excited about being men and doing things like “leadership.” It reminded me of groups like Promise Keepers, which got lots of men together vowing to be better men and fathers and….then what? What ever comes of it? Leading whom where, and to what? It occurred to me later that they’re following a feminine model. That’s how women resolve things, with the baby shower model: get a bunch of women together, and they’ll talk about babies or clothes or gossip or whatever else isn’t the issue, but when they leave they all know what the herd’s consensus is on everything. Men don’t work that way; if you want men to fix a problem, you have to do more than get them in a room and “inspire” them. They need actions to take, specific challenges to tackle.
That was really the crux of the problem with the whole conference. If you say there’s a problem with “failed male leadership,” fine; I won’t dispute that today’s men could be much better leaders, much better men. I certainly include myself in that group. But if you’re going to get men together and teach them to be leaders, you’re going to have to do one of two things: either give them someone to lead, or explain to them why no one seems to want to follow them. Otherwise you get the guy all worked up and he goes home and says, “Hey, Honey, this conference was awesome; I’m ready to be a real leader for you and the kids.” And she says, “Great, you can start by leading this trash out to the curb.”
You can’t warn guys about that, or give them any specific actions to take, without talking about female rebellion. You just can’t, but no one went near that topic. Headship and submission in marriage are a package deal; you can’t tell a guy to go home and take more headship of his family without him taking power away from his wife. If you can’t explain that to him or tell him why it’s necessary, because you’re afraid of offending women or convinced that equalitarianism is correct, you can’t give him any tools. All you can do is get men together and pump them up with buzzwords, and then turn them loose, hoping good stuff will happen somehow.
Leadership is a zero-sum game, in a family or in any organization. If I’m the leader of a scout group, and you come along and insist on being the co-leader, that doesn’t give the group twice as much leadership. It divides the leadership between us. Men can’t re-invent themselves as leaders in their churches without taking it away from the women who currently hold it. Those women are not going to give it up gladly, so men who try are going to have a fight on their hands. To fail to even warn them of that, let alone to supply them with the proper tools, is setting them up for failure. It also doesn’t help to imply that women only took over leadership because men abandoned it. That makes them think that if men volunteer for leadership positions, women will gladly step aside for them. That’s a lie, and it will leave men confused and frustrated when they try and get rejected.
The last speaker, a priest, did hit some good points. He stressed that masculine men who try to fix the current problems will get no help from most of the Church hierarchy, so we have to depend on each other and other sources for that. But even he said at one point, when talking about how men need to get their priorities straight, that “the ladies get it.” The ladies don’t get it, any better than the men do — maybe worse. I didn’t get to talk to him later, but I’d bet (from his general tone) that he doesn’t really believe the ladies get it; but that’s the female imperative that we’re all breathing every day. If you don’t make a conscious effort to avoid it, it’s so easy to slip into that assumption that women are more engaged, more spiritual, more “together” than men.
On the whole, it was pretty disappointing, even though it didn’t get into the shaming I was afraid it might. The phrase that kept coming to my mind throughout the day was “playing dress-up.” I couldn’t figure out why until I’d had some time to think about it later, since you normally think of that as a girl thing. But that’s really what it was like: a bunch of boys dressing up for Halloween as cowboys, astronauts, or heroes; but at the end of the day the costumes come off and they’re back to real life, with no lasting effect. If you just put on the hat and spurs but don’t learn to ride the horse, you’re not a cowboy. And if we can’t even talk about how wild many horses have gotten or what to do after one throws you, we’re just playing dress-up.
The problems with marriage today, and the wider societal repercussions of feminism, are problems of both sexes. We could argue about which sex is more to blame, but I don’t think there’s any rational argument that can put all the blame on men. So there won’t be a solution that doesn’t put at least some of the responsibility on women. There certainly won’t be one coming from men who can’t even discuss women’s weaknesses.
I got to thinking about what a good men’s conference would be like. I think it would start with a speaker asking, “Okay, men, let’s have a show of hands: how many of you asked your wives if you could be here today? Okay, now how many told your wives you were coming? We have a problem here.” There has to be a discussion of what feminism has wrought in families, churches, and society. There has to be an explanation of biblical teaching on headship and submission. Most of all, tools must be provided for men to achieve their proper state in life. Each man needs to go home with a plan, at least one action he’s going to take to work toward the proper headship in his family or the proper leadership in his church or community. Specific actions, not just talk and emotions.
I think sometimes there’s a hope that if we fix men women will follow. If men all become masculine and dominant, women will happily submit to them, and over time the laws and mores will change back to where they should be. That sounds nice, because it means we don’t have to confront women about their behavior. But it’s a pipe dream. That may happen to some extent in individual relationships, but to expect it to happen society-wide is to ignore that women (like men) have a sinful nature, and part of that is rebellion against male headship. That’s never going to go away completely, no matter how manly men are. Besides, we’ll never get all men on board; there will always be some Pajama Boys waiting to cut us off at the knees, and the legal system is already in place to assist them. Making men so attractive that women can’t resist them, even if it were possible, isn’t the overall answer.