I began my theological studies at a mainline Protestant seminary during the height of the third wave of feminism. By that time, the classification of sex and gender into two distinct forms of male and female had been thrown out the window along with most moral distinctions regarding sexual activities. And Feminist Theology had taken hold of every corner of thought in the seminary, ensuring that anyone who still insisted upon referring to the Holy Trinity as the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” was labeled insensitive and oppressive. The inclusive, and quite frankly sterile, language preferred was “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer”; though, of course, it was always perfectly acceptable to refer to God as “Mother” or “She” if one felt so inclined.
I was reluctant to jump on the bandwagon at the time but sheepishly kept my mouth shut out of fear of appearing gauche or misogynistic. However, all of this changed one afternoon as I sat in a class with a handful of other students translating New Testament passages from Koiné Greek into English. Throughout the entire process we’d gone to great lengths to feminize or neutralize any masculine imagery of God we’d found. At one point we came across a passage that referred to Satan and without even thinking about it I raised my hand and asked, “Why is it that we refer to God in the feminine, but we’d never say, ‘Satan and her minions?’ Why do we insist that language referring to Satan be masculine?” For the first time I realized that masculinity is under grave attack in our society—in fact, it is being demonized—and I began to consider the profound effect this has upon our men and young boys.
If the portrayal of men in modern media is any indicator of man’s value to society we’d be forced to conclude that he has very little value and what little he does have is quickly waning. Men are typically portrayed in our television programs as being either boorish, sophomoric, perverts or lazy, spineless, incompetent, buffoons. In fact there are few, if any, positive portrayals of men in our modern media. They are the butt of our jokes and when they are not they are chastised, feminized, marginalized or made altogether obsolete. Indeed, according to our post-feminist society we no longer need a man to experience sexual pleasure or even to father a child. With this in mind, I’m not surprised that the internet is awash with articles analyzing the “Modern Male Identity Crisis” and that an absurd amount of young men are suspended in a perpetual state of arrested development schlepping around in their mother’s basement drinking beer and playing video games. They no longer know what it means to be a man. Oh, well; at least women are happy.
The problem is that women, by and large, aren’t happy. In fact, studies suggest that despite the fact that we live in a post-feminist society in which women are increasingly better educated than men, are beginning to earn more than men, hold more mid-level managerial positions than men, and have been effected far less by our current recession (20% of jobs lost belonged to women as opposed to the 80% jobs lost belonging to men, giving rise to the term “He-cession”) they are in actuality unhappier now than they’ve ever been. And even more embarrassing is the fact that a recent study published in the Psychology of Women Quarterly suggests everyone, men and women alike, is happier when men practice what has been dismissed as a benevolent and terribly patronizing form of sexism: chivalry.
These days when we speak of chivalry we’re generally referring to such quintessential gentlemanly behavior as courtesy and decorum, even perhaps courtly love. But it is much more than that. Chivalry arose as a knightly code of conduct in the Middle Ages and included such virtues as courage, honesty and mercy. It insisted upon the protection of the weak, poor, and defenseless and the willingness to sacrifice one’s own life for another. The chivalric code required the respect and the honor of women, the fear of God and the commitment to maintain and defend His Church against infidels who knocked upon her doors and demanded that she surrender to the debaucherous whims of a godless society.
Some say that chivalry is dead, and others contend that it should be since, as they see it, chivalry only perpetuates inequality between the sexes. But true chivalry was never meant to patronize or subjugate anyone—most especially women. It was a way of humbling men, of restraining the vulgarism and violence of the Middle Ages and drawing out the heroic potential within men. Under the chivalric code women were given preferential treatment, they were placed upon a pedestal and honored. But even more than this, chivalry rightly taught men that the greatest good they could offer society was the sacrifice of their lives for something greater than them.
Many argue that such chivalry has only ever been found within stories such as The Canterbury Tales and The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights or even upon the pages of a Jane Austen novel. Chivalry may be idealistic, but it’s not realistic. I say they’re wrong. The greatest example of chivalry wasn’t a fictional Mr. Darcy but a first century peasant Jewish carpenter named Joseph. Here was a man who upon learning that the woman to whom he was engaged was pregnant humbly resigned to divorce her quietly to prevent exposing her to shame. And when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph and explained that the child within Mary’s womb had been conceived by the Holy Spirit, Joseph sacrificed his desires and dreams of the life that could have been so that he might love and honor Mary and protect and father the Christ child in order that salvation could be brought to the world. He sacrificed his entire life for the good of us all.
We need chivalrous men like St. Joseph, men who devote their lives to the protection of the poor and who will fight for the unborn and for the sanctity of all life. We need men to be fathers, men who will gently love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and men who will teach the world to do the same. We need men to protect children and women against objectification and exploitation, men to fight for the family. We need heroic men who refuse to passively sit back while the Church is under attack and instead courageously ride out to meet evil face to face; defending all that is truly good in this world. Chivalry such as this brings dignity to masculinity.
So, is the value of men waning in this world? No. But it must be reclaimed.
Rebekah Durham Hart is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism. After graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, GA) in 2002 and working within various ministries of the United Methodist Church, she entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2006. She has shared her conversion story with Gus Lloyd on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel.
Rebekah is currently a stay-at-home mom and, when she is not stepping on her son’s Legos or having tea parties with her two little girls, she blogs at: http://instinctivephilosophies.com/.
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