Letters 04.26.20

Readers respond to Register articles.

(photo: Register Files)

Return to God

The world is, no doubt, in a crisis that most of us have never encountered before in our lifetime.

The coronavirus pandemic might be a way of God calling us to come back to him.

Society today is so overwhelmed by distractions and attractions of the body that they are forgetting their souls.

Even the churches seem to ignore the obvious. The sermons we hear Sunday after Sunday give the impression that the homilist has no clue about what is going on in the world.

We need to wake up and return to God.

He is waiting.

            Mel Barror

            Roseville, California


Viewing Masculinity

In June 2019, the Register published an article titled, “Boys Should Be Boys to Become True Men” (In Depth column, June 9, 2019, issue).

In it, the author argues that boys are fundamentally different from girls and should be treated as such, both inside and outside of the classroom.

However, as a faithful Catholic and future educator, I’d like to challenge this belief.

In early childhood classrooms, we strive to create environments that enable children the freedom to be their most authentic selves.

Studies have shown that children who do not conform to traditional gender roles and forms of expression are likely to be bullied, harassed and physically assaulted throughout life.

In addition to this, youth who do not conform to traditional ideas about gender are less likely to finish school or college, are overrepresented among homeless youth, and more likely to have mental-health issues than their gender-conforming peers.

These are significant issues that cause us to act, and not by putting boys into a box.

In the article, the author states, “The nature of boys and men has not changed. Good teachers work with and not against the nature of their students.

We Roman Catholics believe that such nature, though compromised by original sin, is God-ordained and good and that grace does not obliterate nature, but elevates it, purifies it of its dross and perfects it. That includes the nature of boys.”

He continues by making a general assumption about all boys, saying that schools and the culture are stifling masculinity by forcing boys to read books such as Little Women and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

This in itself is problematic, since, essentially, what you’re saying is that men’s stories are universal, while women’s stories are only for girls.

Next, I’d like to discuss the author’s perception of men and what makes up a “true man.” What makes a “man,” as opposed to some other phrasing like “male” (which is determined by biology), all comes down to the same old question of gender roles and expectations.

Society has a deeply entrenched idea of masculinity that a large majority of men follow, especially among those in religious circles: masculine appearance, strength, providing for others, bravery, etc., and various other ideals of manhood.

However, studies have shown that if children are regularly exposed to images, actions, people and words that counter stereotypes — for example, through books, photographs, stories and role models — they are likely to modify and expand on their narrow theories (Brill & Pepper, 2008).

Instead of pondering on what defines manhood and what manhood should be, I think it would be far more productive to move past the idea of manhood in general.

We as early childhood educators would like to build a world in which boys growing up don’t feel any pressure to “man up”; where you can define yourself however you want, regardless of your sex. In the end, we can’t ever hold up a definitive template for everyone to follow, because we are all individuals.

We are all different, with various strengths and behaviors.

Boys are going to express their masculinities slightly differently, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

I would like to encourage your readers to change the way they view masculinity for the sake of our boys.

I would encourage them to instill a balanced perspective of all virtues to develop the next generation.

This includes a love for Jesus, moral character, fortitude and mental strength.

These virtues will not come from a person raised to be exclusively “masculine” in nature. Instead of asserting that “boys will be boys,” let’s strive for our boys to be held accountable for their actions and to teach healthy virtues regardless of the stereotypes that society places on us.

            Maria Verbrigghe

            Ferris State University

            Big Rapids, Michigan


Anthony Esolen responds: I appreciate your care for children who are in danger of being bullied, but you are wrong about the facts, and thus wrong about the remedy. 

You seem unaware of the amazing consistency of masculine and feminine behavior, across all cultures, in all climates and at all stages of technological development. 

You, therefore, seem to deny, or not to notice and acknowledge, the goodness and the created reality of masculine and feminine. 

It is a plain fact that boys and girls do differ in profound ways, and it is not “society” that has determined it, but nature, in the teeth of a society that does not affirm it at all.

Boys who are not obviously masculine in their inclination toward rough play are, in my experience, obviously masculine in a dozen other ways; such boys need to have their masculinity affirmed for those things, rather than to be told what their childish fellows assume, that they are not masculine, or what you assume, that there is no such thing at all.

As for how we aim to teach boys, you are in danger of letting your sexual indifferentism blind you to reality. 

Boys are not going to be interested in Little Women, and you know that, which is why you do not bother to give us a wealth of examples of boys set afire in the imagination by reading about girls in Massachusetts reading books and falling in love. There are not such boys. 

You say that what I said implies that books for girls are not for boys, but books for boys are for everybody. 

There is truth to that, and it is exactly the kind of truth that you do not want to hear. Girls wear boys’ clothing all the time, but would you put your own son in a dress?

Once you get past your clichés about some vague “society” and “putting boys in a box,” what we have is no more than a denial of kinds, as if “boy” and “girl” were merely names, at most a description of some little details of plumbing. 

I urge you to consider, in love, in gratitude and in humble appreciation, the beauty of being male as a well-defined thing in itself, of course instantiated in as many ways as there are healthy and decent men, but still always and readily recognizable. 

Instead of helping those boys who may be unsure of their boyishness, instead of guiding them toward that healthy manhood, many teachers heap confusion upon them and the rest of the boys, too.

And what are their criteria for success? 

The percentage of boys so raised who grow up normal, get married and have children and become successful enough to support their families and to be a powerful force in their neighborhoods and places of work? 

Hardly. They are concerned only with those boys who fail to grow into that manhood, concerned with making things easier for them, which is rather like making it easier to fail. 

That is not the mind of the Church.