On Manliness and Pluralistic Ignorance

Cardinal Burke has been in the news for his claim that the problems of the Church can be blamed on the “feminization” of boys – and allowing girls to serve on the altar.

“I think that [the introduction of female altar servers] has contributed to a loss of priestly vocations. It requires a certain manly discipline to serve as an altar boy in service at the side of [a] priest, and most priests have their first deep experiences of the liturgy as altar boys. If we are not training young men as altar boys, giving them an experience of serving God in the liturgy, we should not be surprised that vocations have fallen dramatically.”
It’s all too easy to guffaw at the idea of Burke, of all people. claiming with a straight face that altar boys learn “manliness” by observing priests saying Mass.
Here’s a more thoughtful assessment of what’s wrong with the whole idea of attempting to force – feed boys with arbitrary conceptions of “manliness”.

Letters to the Catholic Right

British feminist VJW Smith wrote a memorable blog post about a year ago in which she recounted her complicated relationship to girlhood and womanhood—a relationship, she says, that was disrupted by the anorexia that affected her teenaged years. The disease caused her to develop more slowly than the girls around her, and as a result Smith says she felt like she was missing out on essential aspects of female life. She didn’t start her period until her twenties, for example, and she didn’t experience (or realize that she was experiencing) the normal sexual harassment that most young women report. Her sexual desires, too, were “fully repressed” to the extent that she “felt no conflict between them and the passive role” she was expected to play. Without all of these experiences, she says, she felt for a while like she never really had a girlhood. Like she wasn’t really a girl.

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