The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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October 13, 2000 Issue
Bishop Banks'
Renew 2000 Column


Bishop Robert J. Banks
Bishop Robert J. Banks

Renew topic should spur interesting exchanges

Our society seems a bit divided nowadays on what is masculine and feminine


By Bishop Robert Banks

There should be some interesting discussions in the faith-sharing groups on this week's topic for Renew 2000: Loving the masculine and feminine.

The discussions can begin with an argument over the definition of masculine and then feminine, or vice versa. I say "argument" because our society seems to be a bit divided nowadays on just what is masculine and what is feminine.

I just finished reading an article in today's New York Times that wonders why men are so much more concerned today about their bodies than men were 50 years ago. Apparently there has been a very noticeable increase in the number of men who are going to gyms to build up their muscles and improve the shape of their bodies.

Just as some girls get caught in the grip of anorexia because they want to be fashionably thin, some men are falling victim to a body image disorder that I never heard of - bigorexia. (The spell checker on my computer never heard of it either) This disease or disorder is characterized by compulsive exercising and the person's irrational conviction that he is weak even though he may be bulging with muscle. Fortunately this is not a major problem among our clergy - bishops included.

The rest of the article tries to explain why this is happening to men. Some experts say that men feel that their masculinity is being threatened. As women take on jobs and careers once held only by men and become heads of families, men have had to relinquish their traditional roles as fathers and breadwinners. The result is that building up muscle is the only way for men to demonstrate their masculinity.

Other experts say that the transformation of our more masculine manufacturing economy into a more feminine service economy lies at the root of the problem.

Another expert, Harvey Mansfield of Harvard, says, "We've gone from this tremendous assertion of masculinity at the beginning of this century to this ideal of the sensitive male and a gender-neutral society at the end." He also says that in today's gender-neutral society, you run into trouble if you try to say that manliness is something permanent and unchangeable.

Feminists, or at least some feminists, disagree with the above. They might agree that there is a men's crisis, but it is not because men no longer have the upper hand economically. One feminist critic, according to this article, says the problem is that we are all living in a consumer culture that values body image and sex appeal. (I tend to favor that explanation.)

Here in northeast Wisconsin, where manufacturing and farming are still strong and the main body problem seems to be obesity among men and women, it might seem that all this masculine-feminine talk belongs out on the Coasts. But the talk and the arguments are here also. It's interesting that this session's Renew booklet talks about teachers discriminating against female children by giving them less attention and affirmation, and fewer opportunities to recite and lead in class. I have done no study on that assertion, but it has been challenged recently by other experts.

In any case, it is risky to make any apodictic statements about what is masculine and what is feminine. As Catholics, however, we can say with complete confidence that in the eyes of God women and men are of equal value and dignity. The command to love extends to both men and women; both are to love and both are to be loved.

In the course of history, including the Church's history, this conviction about the equal dignity of women and men has not always resulted in the equal treatment of women and men. The basic conviction and teaching, however, has always been that which can be found today in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

"In creating men 'male and female,' God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity. Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God. Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way" (Nn. 2334-5).

The Renew booklet appropriately asks that we reflect on how this equality is observed or not observed in our present day society.

The Scripture readings for this section, taken from the 29th Sunday, do not address directly the issue of male-female relationships. The Gospel, however, does contain Jesus' powerful teaching about how we are to relate to one another in the community of the Church. In response to the request of James and John that they have positions of special dignity and respect in the kingdom that is to come, Jesus says, "whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The basic relationship among the followers of Jesus is to be a love that is willing to cede first place to the other and to serve the other. We have to be careful, however, that we do not use that Gospel teaching to ask members of one sex to be satisfied with second place while members of another sex enjoy first place, economically, socially, or culturally.

I don't know if we should draw too much from it, but this incident is described differently in the Gospel of Matthew. There the request for special prominence is made by someone else: "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something." (Mt. 20:28) The something was that her sons, James and John, might sit at the right and left hand of Jesus when he enters his kingdom. Does this suggest that Jesus favors women or that at least one woman is more aggressive than her sons in seeking their advancement?

I have no answer to that question. Maybe our best stance is that suggested by the title of this week's reflection: Loving the masculine and feminine.

There should be some interesting discussions in the faith-sharing groups on this week's topic for Renew 2000: Loving the masculine and feminine.

The discussions can begin with an argument over the definition of masculine and then feminine, or vice versa. I say "argument" because our society seems to be a bit divided nowadays on just what is masculine and what is feminine.

I just finished reading an article in today's New York Times that wonders why men are so much more concerned today about their bodies than men were 50 years ago. Apparently there has been a very noticeable increase in the number of men who are going to gyms to build up their muscles and improve the shape of their bodies.

Just as some girls get caught in the grip of anorexia because they want to be fashionably thin, some men are falling victim to a body image disorder that I never heard of - bigorexia. (The spell checker on my computer never heard of it either) This disease or disorder is characterized by compulsive exercising and the person's irrational conviction that he is weak even though he may be bulging with muscle. Fortunately this is not a major problem among our clergy - bishops included.

The rest of the article tries to explain why this is happening to men. Some experts say that men feel that their masculinity is being threatened. As women take on jobs and careers once held only by men and become heads of families, men have had to relinquish their traditional roles as fathers and breadwinners. The result is that building up muscle is the only way for men to demonstrate their masculinity.

Other experts say that the transformation of our more masculine manufacturing economy into a more feminine service economy lies at the root of the problem.

Another expert, Harvey Mansfield of Harvard, says, "We've gone from this tremendous assertion of masculinity at the beginning of this century to this ideal of the sensitive male and a gender-neutral society at the end." He also says that in today's gender-neutral society, you run into trouble if you try to say that manliness is something permanent and unchangeable.

Feminists, or at least some feminists, disagree with the above. They might agree that there is a men's crisis, but it is not because men no longer have the upper hand economically. One feminist critic, according to this article, says the problem is that we are all living in a consumer culture that values body image and sex appeal. (I tend to favor that explanation.)

Here in northeast Wisconsin, where manufacturing and farming are still strong and the main body problem seems to be obesity among men and women, it might seem that all this masculine-feminine talk belongs out on the Coasts. But the talk and the arguments are here also. It's interesting that this session's Renew booklet talks about teachers discriminating against female children by giving them less attention and affirmation, and fewer opportunities to recite and lead in class. I have done no study on that assertion, but it has been challenged recently by other experts.

In any case, it is risky to make any apodictic statements about what is masculine and what is feminine. As Catholics, however, we can say with complete confidence that in the eyes of God women and men are of equal value and dignity. The command to love extends to both men and women; both are to love and both are to be loved.

In the course of history, including the Church's history, this conviction about the equal dignity of women and men has not always resulted in the equal treatment of women and men. The basic conviction and teaching, however, has always been that which can be found today in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

"In creating men 'male and female,' God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity. Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God. Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way" (Nn. 2334-5).

The Renew booklet appropriately asks that we reflect on how this equality is observed or not observed in our present day society.

The Scripture readings for this section, taken from the 29th Sunday, do not address directly the issue of male-female relationships. The Gospel, however, does contain Jesus' powerful teaching about how we are to relate to one another in the community of the Church. In response to the request of James and John that they have positions of special dignity and respect in the kingdom that is to come, Jesus says, "whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The basic relationship among the followers of Jesus is to be a love that is willing to cede first place to the other and to serve the other. We have to be careful, however, that we do not use that Gospel teaching to ask members of one sex to be satisfied with second place while members of another sex enjoy first place, economically, socially, or culturally.

I don't know if we should draw too much from it, but this incident is described differently in the Gospel of Matthew. There the request for special prominence is made by someone else: "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something." (Mt. 20:28) The something was that her sons, James and John, might sit at the right and left hand of Jesus when he enters his kingdom. Does this suggest that Jesus favors women or that at least one woman is more aggressive than her sons in seeking their advancement?

I have no answer to that question. Maybe our best stance is that suggested by the title of this week's reflection: Loving the masculine and feminine.



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