“Ask a Priest: Do We Men Have Anything to Contribute to the World?”

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Q: Most of the secular world believes that the Church favors men over women, most often citing the inability of the Church to ordain female priests, or the famous passage from Ephesians 5:22, “Wives submit to your husband ….” I have the opposite problem and wonder if the Church favors women over men. For one thing, there is confusion about the role that men play in the world. The role of woman is so frequently esteemed — they are the earthly representation of God’s beauty, they are uniquely able to bear new life, they are strong in ways that men are not, they were created as a helper for man. It seems that it isn’t possible for a man to be who he is supposed to be without the aid and support of woman, but the same cannot be said in reverse. What do we offer the world that women don’t, and is our contribution actually as valuable? We men are always told that we must become worthy of women. In fact, that’s pretty much what I take away from every men’s conference I’ve ever been to: “Women are amazing, beautiful, powerful, fragile treasures, and we must undertake the impossible task of becoming worthy of them.” I don’t even bother going to men’s conferences anymore, because all we ever hear is how amazing women are, how bad we are, and how we’re supposed to try to be better. So I wonder: What do we offer women? They have a special power to inspire to be the best that we can be, to be our helper, our aid, our support. What do we bring to the table? – P.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: You touch on a big issue that resonates with a lot of people. A full answer to your questions could fill a book. But I’ll go out on a limb and offer a few general points that might help.

First, men and women are equal in dignity but different. Both are children of God. When God made human beings, he made them male and female (Genesis 1:27). God wanted to reveal something of himself in both men and women. Hence the complementarity.

The coming of sin into the world has triggered perennial problems between the sexes. This is suggested in Genesis 3:16 when God tells the woman: “Your urge shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Why do some circles now emphasize the greatness of women so much? One reason is that it is a backlash against certain trends.

Let’s call the first the male chauvinistic trend. For centuries women haven’t always received the respect they deserve, often being treated as second class.

Some of this was a result of men’s tendency to shield the women under their care from the outside world. While this system (actually a whole range of systems) had its shortcoming, it probably contributed to social stability in many places.

On the downside it could feed a notion of male superiority; on the upside it instilled in men a sense of obligation toward women and helped to protect them.

For various reasons the pendulum began to swing in the opposite direction. This is a complex topic, but for the sake of simplicity let’s say that a result of this change was the coming of feminism, in various forms.

Understandably, many women have reacted by becoming more independent (they don’t count on men as earlier generations of women might have) and more prone to voice their anger at mistreatment by men. The result is that male-bashing has become something of a cottage industry. This is what you might be sensing at those men’s conferences.

Perhaps those conferences are just trying to motivate men to be more sensitive to the women in their lives. There is, however, no theological basis for thinking men inferior to women.

In day-to-day matters the contributions of both sexes are indispensable.

While women have a gift for intuition and for unifying people and being sensitive to others (part of the “feminine genius”), men have a special capacity for problem solving and for building.

And while women have the indispensable gift of being able to nurture life, they need the contribution of men, along with the protection and leadership that males should provide.

Historically there was a tendency to limit women and to downplay their talents and rights. This situation has been improving, and this is something all of us can contribute to overcome.

We need to respond to the feminization of culture with a renewed look at what masculinity really is. It is a topic that needs a lot of attention.

Maybe you can be part of the solution. It might comfort you to know that many other people share your concerns. For a sampling, you might check out the article at https://thosecatholicmen.com/articles/the-masculine-genius/, as well as the interview at https://www.faithandreason.com/2016/05/6342/. And see this website: http://www.masculinegeniusinstitute.com.

What we need now a new balance: to give women the respect they deserve but without resorting to male-bashing.

Men for their part need to understand the mission they have, to protect and cherish women, and to be moral leaders in their families and communities.

One ingredient in all this will be a rediscovery of the wisdom outlined in Humanae Vitae. That 1968 encyclical has been amply complemented by Pope St. John Paul II’s theology of the body. (For more reading see “The Prophetic Power of Humanae Vitae,” in the April 2018 edition of First Things.) I hope some of this helps.

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