Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Internet Catholic Masculinist

Simcha Fisher today made me aware of this article by scholar and moral theologian Pia de Solenni on that remark of Pope Francis' about needing a theology of women in the Church.  The article by de Solenni is thoughtful and interesting; I encourage people to read it for themselves.  But what I want to talk about today is something Simcha pointed out, which is that Pia de Solenni's article was followed by a number of comments from male Catholic readers who, having deigned to enter a combox below the words of--you know--a girl, proceeded in their great masculine wisdom to inform de Solenni solemnly that a) she has cooties, b) she's not welcome in their clubhouse, and c) she should go make them a sandwich.

Actually, that's being much too kind.  Because what these gentlemen really did was pay no attention at all to what de Solenni had actually written but accuse her instead of radical feminism, of wanting women to be priests, of agitating for more female altar servers and EMHCs and--to use a certain priest's coy term--lectoresses, of ignoring the fact that the chief female virtue is always and everywhere HUMILITY (which means, of course, that women, even women with advanced degrees in theology, should shyly murmur that they are really quite stupid and that it's so kind of the men to explain things to them so patiently, as in this example), and of rampant narcissism.  Because, you know, the only reason anybody could possibly think that the Church deciding to sit down and ponder and talk about what it is that makes women different from men and how women's gifts are different from men's gifts and how women can develop and use these gifts for the good of all is a pretty good idea in an era in which people are really confused about the actual and real differences between men and women, preferring to see all of it as a mere social construct easily changed with a few changes made in grammar, and via hormones and surgery is--wait for it--evil "girl power" feminist nonsense.

It would be easy to laugh at the men who think this sort of thing, but I think the more interesting thing to do is try to figure out just why there are so many Catholic men--both on the Internet and in real life--who really do seem to believe that the problems in the Church and in the world today boil down to feminism.  I say "both on the Internet and in real life" because I have met a few men who seem to believe this, but just like the Internet Catholic RadTrad, the Internet Catholic Masculinist seems to be more vocal, more numerous, and more willing than his real-life counterpart to say outrageous things about women and feminism as they express his sense of deep hurt at not having been born in a civilized age when men were men and women were whatever their fathers, brothers, or husbands expected them to be.

Who is the Internet Catholic Masculinist?  I'm not at all referring here to every Catholic man whose wife stays at home and raises the children; it's possible to be a Catholic husband and father and yet to believe that one's wife is a real person, an adult human being, and one's true partner in this great quest toward Heaven (and toward surviving The Toddler Years without any great loss of patience or sanity).  Rather, I'm referring to those Catholic men who believe that the world started its journey toward the netherworld in an easily-carried basket when women got the vote, and that it has been all downhill since then.  If you think I'm kidding, rest assured that I'm not; there are blogs out there (though I won't link to them) written by Catholic men who have discussed their anti-female-suffrage leanings with all the passion of people who think they might one day actually succeed in wresting the vote away from those uppity female creatures God has (for His own mysterious reasons) littered the earth with in abundance.  Their reasoning is disarmingly simple: women, unlike men, are incapable of independent thought or disinterested action, so women will always make their election decisions based on emotion and self-interest, which is why we have abortion.  Point out to them that early feminists and suffragettes were pro-life while many men wanted legalized abortion for the convenience it offered them in getting rid of any evidence of their extramarital extracurricular activities, and they will inform you, kindly at first but with increasing hostility, that as a female person you are incapable of rational thought, which is the only reason you don't understand that they are right.  At this point you may as well give up; you will either be allowed to remain in the comment boxes on sufferance so long as your comments are limited to cheerleading, or will get yourself banned when, in a spirit of mischief, you say something like "Well, thank goodness women can inherit property and manage their own financial affairs!" which is nothing less, on these sites, than a declaration of war.

Why are the Internet Catholic Masculinists like this?  I think that some of them have truly been wounded, perhaps personally, by radical secular feminism and its ills (no-fault divorce, abortion, and the like).  And I have great sympathy for them.  But there are others whose masculinism is more theoretical, based on romantic ideas about the past, incorrect ideas about women in general, or some combination of these things.  I've been in arguments with men who were passionate defenders of "true femininity," but when asked to define this they seemed to have some idea of a woman who was Grace Kelly out in public with her family, Ma Ingalls at home with the children, and...well, we'll leave the bedroom persona shrouded in decency, shall we?  A truly feminine woman should, according to them, pass straight from her father's guiding hand to her husband's without forming any notions of her own, but should work outside the home for as long as her husband needs her to before the children come along.  Once the children come along they are her responsibility, as her husband works hard to give her the luxury of being a stay-at-home mother; she should not expect him to help in what is properly her work any more than he expects her to help in his.  She should only have friends he approves of, since she should trust him to know better than she does who is a good person for her to know--but she shouldn't criticize his friends or be upset if he goes out after work for a poker game or some such manly entertainment now and again, even if she has been at home all day with small people who don't yet speak in complete sentences.  She should spend little money on herself yet always have appropriate dresses (and veils) to wear to Mass so as not to embarrass him.  She should take any criticisms of her housework or her mothering as evidence of his great love for her in that he's trying to help her improve when she clearly doesn't know how to do something right.  She should never criticize him, though, because God has appointed him the master of their household, and criticizing him is sort of like blasphemy...sort of.

Now: do I think the Internet Catholic Masculinist actually lives like this?  Most of them do not.  Either they are not married, or their ideas of what their marriage would be like in an ideal world where men still had all of the authority in a marriage fall far short of the everyday reality of dealing with an actual, living, breathing human female wife.  But that makes their anger and their tendency to infiltrate comboxes shouting "feminism!" flare up whenever an intelligent woman like Pia de Solenni writes about how it might not be such a bad thing for the Church to develop a theology of women--because if the Church's theology of women didn't match the above description of what a wife and mother should be then there is at least a tiny danger that no one would take their desire for this perfect femininity seriously anymore.  Of course, they have the option of declaring that this new focus on a theology of women is just proof that the Church has been taken over by radical feminist malcontents and that they're as free to ignore the Church's teachings on feminism as they are to ignore her teachings against unjust wars, torture, or immigration--but it will be more comforting to them if they can growl to their cronies "I was against this whole 'theology of women' bosh and nonsense from the first time some idiot female scholar wrote about it, way back in 2013."

Frankly, though, I think that the existence of the Internet Catholic Masculinist just proves that we need a theology of women in the Church.  As Simcha Fisher put it:
But most of the Catholic women I know are just as disgusted with the sissifcation of the Church.  We have no desire to replace the sacraments with weaving classes and yoga.  This is stupid stuff.  This doesn't tell you what woman can offer, any more than a stroll down the porn and firearms aisle of your local porn and firearms store tells you what men have to offer.

I do not want to be a man, and I do not want to be like a man.  I also do not want to turn the Church into a hand-holding, feelings-sharing warm bath of emotion.  That's a parody of womanhood, and it's just as offensive to women of faith as it is to men of faith.

This is precisely why we  need a theology of women:   because we're tired of the parodies, the clownish extremes that purport to represent womanhood.

The Church is the bride of Christ.  We are all feminine in relation to God.  If we are going to understand what that means, then we need to use a little subtlety of thought, and react without the kneejerk fear and revulsion demonstrated by the commenters on Solenni's piece.
In other words, if your default setting any time somebody talks about the gifts of and role of women in the Church is to think: a) girls are icky!  b) not this feminist crap again! or c) aww, do the poor little dears need some attention today? then you are one of the reasons the Church does indeed need to articulate a truly radical theology of women, reclaiming what was good about feminism (newsflash: feminism did some good things, too) and illuminating the idea that women are real people with the light of faith.


L. said...

Interesting post.

Reading it made me grateful & glad to be a feminist.

Tony said...

It would be easy to laugh at the men who think this sort of thing, but I think the more interesting thing to do is try to figure out just why there are so many Catholic men--both on the Internet and in real life--who really do seem to believe that the problems in the Church and in the world today boil down to feminism.

There is more to say than can fit comfortably in a comment. I will reply via my blog. :)