On today’s episode of What Public Catholics are Angry About Now: Dr. Taylor Marshall is angry about gingerbread houses.
Specifically, he’s angry that a seminarian would participate in a gingerbread house decorating competition. He tweeted as much just now:
“How Fabulouth!” says Marshall. ” These seminarians had a gingerbread house making contest and Corey won. This is effeminate and puerile, and it’s why some Seminaries are horrific. Grown men don’t gather to decorate gingerbread. (Can you imagine Basil and Gregory Decorating cookies together?)”
Actually, Dr. Marshall of the strange random capitalizations, grown men do gather to decorate gingerbread. My friend Leeana pointed out that, in her town of New Orleans, professional chefs compete to build the most intricate gingerbread house at Christmastime. The world of chefs, in New Orleans and the world over, is dominated by men. Culinary arts are, in most places, a male-dominated field. Female chefs are in the minority. Just watch any televised cooking contest and see who’s the judge. Taylor wouldn’t last five minutes in Paris if he started mocking the manhood of every male pastry chef he saw decorating desserts. And this isn’t some new modernist inclusive development either; it’s always been that way.
I asked my friend Heirodeacon Abouna Moses, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and who cooks all the meals for his monastery, if I could convince him that cooking was women’s work.
He replied, and I quote, “You can try.”
But that’s really not the point. Having fun by decorating a big intricate three-dimensional cookie isn’t a gendered activity. The seminarians weren’t doing anything to be ashamed of; they were playing with sugar to make a craft at a party. That’s a party game. It’s a normal thing to do at your average awkward Christmas party, and way more fun than playing “White Elephant.”
How mean-spirited do you have to be to publicly mock the sexuality of a seminarian decorating a gingerbread house? How insecure in your own masculinity must you be, to make up arbitrary gender designations like “competitive gingerbread is women’s work?”
And what would be a party activity seminarians could do, which meets the Taylor Marshall Masculinity Seal of Approval? Cigar smoking? Arm wrestling? Talking about Thomas Aquinas? If it’s the latter, I’m glad I’ve never been invited to one of Marshall’s Christmas parties. I can’t imagine anything more boring.
I myself am not a man. Someone called me a “man of God” on the Patheos Catholic newsfeed this morning, and I snorted. So it could very well be that I’m missing something about the male experience. Feel free to enlighten me. But I’ve known a lot of men in my day. I’ve known internists and psychiatrists, priests and brothers, farmers and park rangers, architects, athletes, Marines, college students, artists, art teachers and actors, and they were men. The men I liked best didn’t waste time worrying about their manhood; they did what was theirs to do. They were kind to their neighbors. They protected their families and served their parishes. They were tough when required to tough something out and gentle when someone needed to be treated gently. They were diligent at their work and they knew how to relax at silly Christmas parties. They were good dads to their children, good Christians who loved the Lord, good citizens who cared for others in the community.
Not one of those men ever acted like they would find their masculinity threatened by the presence of gingerbread and sprinkles. Some of them would probably pour the sprinkles in their mouths for a treat instead of decorating; some would faceplant in the fresh icing just to see what we’d say. Some of those men would attempt to decorate to be sociable, and would fail miserably, and that would make them laugh. Some of them, the artists and architects, would sit down to decorate the gingerbread and produce a genuine work of art. All of them would remain men when the party was over, because masculinity is not something that can be taken away by that means.
Can I imagine Saints Basil and Gregory decorating cookies together? No, I can’t. But that has to do more with the fact that they lived a thousand and a half years ago than the fact that they were men. I can’t imagine Basil’s sister Saint Macrina decorating gingerbread either– nor Saint Scholastica or any number of other female saints. I imagine that, if some regional dessert needed to be made for a good cause and the usual cooks weren’t around, Saints Basil or Gregory or Macrina or Scholastica would’ve done what was theirs to do and not fretted that it was effeminate of them. Men and women of God have far more important concerns than that.
I don’t know why some seminaries are horrible. I don’t even know definitively that they are. I’ve known my share of horrible seminarians, and of good ones as well, but most of the horrible seminarians were preoccupied with measuring up to some imaginary standard– desperate to look masculine, often enough, and afraid of being thought of as effeminate.
If there are any seminarians reading this: you’re studying to be a priest. You’re on the path to being in persona Christi. Christ was Man enough and so are you who follow Him in this very special way. You don’t have to worry about whether you’re masculine. Instead of wasting time with that, learn to be courageous, generous, protective of those more vulnerable than you are, humble with those smarter or more capable at any particular task than you are. Learn how to communicate with the women who will make up half of your flock without acting like a teenager in front of them. Learn to be patient with and welcoming of the children for whom you’ll be a role model someday. Learn to keep house and cook for yourself because you’re surely going to need it. Learn the humility to have a sense of humor about yourself when you fail, because we all fail. And for Heaven’s sake, have fun at a Christmas party. It doesn’t diminish you in any way to enjoy cookies. If gingerbread houses had existed over a thousand years ago, I’ll bet Saints Basil and Gregory would’ve loved them. They’d have given most of their share to the poor, but they would have loved them.
Congratulations on your win, Corey. May God grant you many happy and blessed years.
Let’s all stop worrying about public Catholic hysterics and have a peaceful Advent season.
(image via Pixabay)