“Sola skirtura” and Sexual Woundedness

“Sola skirtura” and Sexual Woundedness July 8, 2011

While the “sola skirtura” debate raging elsewhere in the Catholic blogosphere is not interesting to me personally, the torrid ground from which it springs is. For some of the skirts-only enthusiasts, the matter is ostensibly a question of femininity.  For others, it’s a question of whether women in pants are in commission of a sin, or are providing men with a near occasion of sin, by allowing the outline of their lower bodies to be seen, however discreetly, rather than simply inferred.  As a woman who, after my reversion to the Catholic Church, found myself wading into the waters of orthodox Catholic dating, I can’t help but thinking that men who get hot and bothered about women wearing pants are coming from a place of sexual woundedness.

When, after a lackadaisical childhood catechesis, years spent doing my own thing, and a dramatic conversion experience, I came back to the Catholic Church in 2002, I found that there was a New York City subculture I had never known existed, that of young orthodox and Traditionalist Catholics.  Many of this subculture’s adherents were actively looking for a mate, and I dated a few of them, which was an experience unlike anything I was familiar with from my own romantic struggles.  Many of the men I met in this subculture seemed to be  essentially wounded in their masculinity.  It was as if their sense of manhood had been deliberately constructed out of subversive images of masculinity refracted to them from the culture; as if, finding certain norms of masculinity repellent (not without reason, it must be said), and not having viable male role models to demonstrate how a strong Catholic manhood might appear, they had skirted, so to speak, the edges of male behavior and had finished by taking affect for essence.  Their own visions of manhood seemed to have been forged in  negation, cobbled together out of sometimes-strident opposition to what repelled them culturally, rather than stemming from any positive desire to take on meaningful male roles — fighting real enemies, for instance, or providing for and protecting the vulnerable, including women and children.  In addition, some of these men self-consciously adopted styles, tastes, hobbies, and mannerisms associated with other times and places than twenty-first-century New York City, identifying themselves with, say, Mitteleuropa before World War I, or fin-de-siècle Paris, or New York in the Gilded Age.

By suggesting their sexual woundedness, I do not mean to imply that these men were homosexual.  In fact, I never got close enough to any of them to be able to speak with  authority to their actual sexual proclivities or problems.  I believe that at least one man from this subculture whom I dated had a problem with pornography, based on some oblique conversational hints he let drop, as well as on the fact that, after we had decided to stop seeing each other and I was engaged to someone else, he sent me a bizarre email containing soft-porn images.  This particular man was employed in a field related to Catholic apologetics, and I do not mean to suggest that to be a successful, or even a sincere, apologist, one must be free from dark sexual neuroses and addictions.  Only God knows what is in the hearts of any of us, including — as we have seen lately in the case of the disgraced Fr. Corapi — of the priest who is saying Mass, and of those who hear him say it on a daily basis, even those who insist on hearing him say it in Latin and ad orientem; only God knows what snares even they must run from each and every day of their lives in order to escape falling into the hells that are peculiarly and horribly familiar to each of them.  I am simply saying that the combination of qualities I saw in this subculture, or at least in this particular member of it — a shrinking from ontological maleness, a way of being a man that seemed gerry-built upon opposition to accepted standards of masculinilty, a self-professed orthodox Catholicism veering towards Traditionalism, and some deep-seated sexual problems — strike me now as disturbingly emblematic of a certain type of Catholic man.

Nor do I mean to suggest that I am not also sexually wounded myself, or that, as I mentioned earlier, sexually-wounded men cannot be apologists.  I am, and they can.  It is when they write or speak out of a poorly-hidden crisis in their own masculinity, which I believe is a reflection of a wider cultural crisis in essential masculinity, that I get worried for women, especially for orthodox Catholic women who want to marry orthodox Catholic men.  Some of these men seem to be trying to regain an impossible Edenic ideal of manhood and fatherhood that they may never have experienced in their own lives.  Others,  perhaps unconsciously, appear to be doing everything possible to avoid the self-sacrifice called for in marriage and fatherhood by attempting to disassociate themselves from any accepted cultural norms of masculinity, and, in so doing, fail to present themselves to eligible women as viable potential husbands and fathers.

I am as much an authority on the Theology of the Body as I am on the arcana of the skirts-vs.-pants debate, which is to say not at all.  But I wonder sometimes if TOB, like male obsession with female modesty, presents a sort of utopianism to orthodox Catholic men — an antidote to the dystopias of pornography, to be sure, but no more realistic.  We are all essentially wounded, and sex, whether contracted within a sacramental marriage or not, is not the cure.  The only hope we have for healing is in our capacity to love the unlovable, and to be able to love each other as who and where we are.   And who and where we are is, at bottom, broken and disabled by sin.  The ontological substance of masculinity is not the ability to oppose and negate, but the willingness to serve and protect, while the ontological substance of femininity is not the willingness to shun pants, but the ability to nurture goodness and to reveal beauty.  Most of us are, of course, wounded in these capacities, but when one of us acts out of this woundedness and does damage to others as a result, the entire Mystical Body of Christ suffers.  I hope and pray that priests and laypeople might work together to heal those who are wounded in their essential sexuality — i.e., our brothers and sisters and ourselves — which would go a long way, too, towards healing relations between Catholic men and women.

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  • digbydolben

    This is beautiful. Thank you for it.

  • digbydolben

    This is beautiful. Thank you for it.

  • Wow, this is really fantastic. I especially liked this: “I wonder sometimes if TOB, like male obsession with female modesty, presents a sort of utopianism to orthodox Catholic men — an antidote to the dystopias of pornography, to be sure, but no more realistic.”

    Thank you for this!

    Sam

    • Ronald King

      Sam, that one hit me also. Pentimento, this is really interesting to me. I think it reflects the damage of the repression of sexual drive as a result of the oppression experienced from outside forces who have been victim to the same influence. It reflects the fear of the strength of human passions which in essence develops into the fear of being passionately human. It seems to reflect the fear of loss of self within the isolated darkness of those passions. Without a proper understanding of human passion there is always the fear of them and an attempt to create them into something which is not fearful without a healthy resolution of what is initially feared. Through this process a false self develops which protects one from experiencing the fear of what is considered sinful within and hopefully prevents others from seeing how ugly one really is. From this perspective there cannot be a safe and loving connection with oneself and others. I agree that TOB is a fantasy of what never was created by someone who may have never experienced the vulnerability of what actually is the reality of the complexity of the desire and search for human love.

  • Wow, this is really fantastic. I especially liked this: “I wonder sometimes if TOB, like male obsession with female modesty, presents a sort of utopianism to orthodox Catholic men — an antidote to the dystopias of pornography, to be sure, but no more realistic.”

    Thank you for this!

    Sam

    • Ronald King

      Sam, that one hit me also. Pentimento, this is really interesting to me. I think it reflects the damage of the repression of sexual drive as a result of the oppression experienced from outside forces who have been victim to the same influence. It reflects the fear of the strength of human passions which in essence develops into the fear of being passionately human. It seems to reflect the fear of loss of self within the isolated darkness of those passions. Without a proper understanding of human passion there is always the fear of them and an attempt to create them into something which is not fearful without a healthy resolution of what is initially feared. Through this process a false self develops which protects one from experiencing the fear of what is considered sinful within and hopefully prevents others from seeing how ugly one really is. From this perspective there cannot be a safe and loving connection with oneself and others. I agree that TOB is a fantasy of what never was created by someone who may have never experienced the vulnerability of what actually is the reality of the complexity of the desire and search for human love.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I bet a lot of those in the subculture you encountered belonged to the Chesterton Society. Not the most immediately sexy thing I can conceive.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I bet a lot of those in the subculture you encountered belonged to the Chesterton Society. Not the most immediately sexy thing I can conceive.

  • brettsalkeld

    As someone who writes and speaks about questions of sexuality, I am sometimes approached by people with questions and concerns about dating and meeting members of the opposite sex. I can assure you that, like New York, Toronto has the same types of men that you are describing. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard from young Catholic women about these guys, but it scares me. And some of the stories aren’t just about guys on the dating scene, but guys who are now husbands. They become, for example, fanatical about what their wives wear, often giving the poor girls guilt complexes for being attractive. Creeps me right out.

  • brettsalkeld

    As someone who writes and speaks about questions of sexuality, I am sometimes approached by people with questions and concerns about dating and meeting members of the opposite sex. I can assure you that, like New York, Toronto has the same types of men that you are describing. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard from young Catholic women about these guys, but it scares me. And some of the stories aren’t just about guys on the dating scene, but guys who are now husbands. They become, for example, fanatical about what their wives wear, often giving the poor girls guilt complexes for being attractive. Creeps me right out.

    • Julian Barkin

      I can second Brett on that one. First, I found out from my youth ministry friend Wed night that there are families even in my parish, despite its administration’s relatively “open” way of doing things (at least from my point of view) , that there are traditional families of this mindset and my friend had the pleasure of teaching these families’ children in lifeguarding. Point being: the attitdues and ideals expressed by their kids is a reflection of this type of “traddie” mindset. It was a shock to me considering I thought I was the most “traddie” person in my ministry, that I’m piddly winks compared to these people. Furthermore, we have a SSPX community here around Old Mill area in Etobicoke. This discussion is not about SSPX so I won’t go no further but to say ” ’nuff said.”

      However, Brett, what about guys who react this way because they have been either scarred by, or have seen and waken up in disgust of the scantily clad and superficial women in their Univerisity/College bar or nightclub culture, who think of little more than guys, booze, and well … not a lot that is substantial?

      • brettsalkeld

        Yes, they certainly are reactionaries.

  • Yeah, this post describes some married Catholic men I know. What interests me are the women who put up with it. I think there is a whole subculture amongst women who believe this is how it should be in the “ideal” society. To me it is just strange.

    • Melody

      There seems to be a few of those types around here, too. Glad I’m not married to one. Seems like they all end up with about 10 kids, I think they feel that even NFP is bad.

  • Yeah, this post describes some married Catholic men I know. What interests me are the women who put up with it. I think there is a whole subculture amongst women who believe this is how it should be in the “ideal” society. To me it is just strange.

    • Melody

      There seems to be a few of those types around here, too. Glad I’m not married to one. Seems like they all end up with about 10 kids, I think they feel that even NFP is bad.

  • Nice entry. Especially the bit about TOB. It seems to me that some of the literature, especially that intended for a broader audience, does at times go over the top in its guarantees of a redeemed sexuality that will allow couples to enjoy sexual intimacy without any reminders of our fallen nature. It reminds me of some of the Protestant books on sex for married couples (“Intended For Pleasure” being one of the the most popular) that suggest that “Hey, we Christians can also get wild in the bedroom, but because we’re playing by the rules established by God, we’re gonna have even more fun.” A great thought, perhaps, but whatever became of the ineradicable push & pull of original sin? I don’t want to rehearse the debates concerning the work of Christopher West on TOB, but you nicely evoke some of the more pertinent points. I’ll draw attention to what Flannery O’Connor said about sentimentality, which I think also applies here. Here’s a quote from her essay “The Church & the Fiction Writer”:

    “If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be something of a Manichean. By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment, usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence; and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite.

    We lost our innocence in the fall of our first parents, and our return to it is through the redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite” (“Mystery & Manners,” pp. 147-48).

    I wonder if the utopianism you mention isn’t similar to what O’Connor is talking about here, mutatis mutandis. The sentimentality O’Connor addresses bypasses our woundedness, & suggests that we redeemed, especially those of us who read good Protestant sex guides or learn about the Trinitarian dimensions of sexual intimacy, are whisked away from our fallenness. Ironically, as O’Connor, such an attitude plunges us into the same Manichean worldview we are supposed to be denying.

    • That is a very astute analogy, Anthony, and also, I think, quite accurate. Thank you for making it.

  • Nice entry. Especially the bit about TOB. It seems to me that some of the literature, especially that intended for a broader audience, does at times go over the top in its guarantees of a redeemed sexuality that will allow couples to enjoy sexual intimacy without any reminders of our fallen nature. It reminds me of some of the Protestant books on sex for married couples (“Intended For Pleasure” being one of the the most popular) that suggest that “Hey, we Christians can also get wild in the bedroom, but because we’re playing by the rules established by God, we’re gonna have even more fun.” A great thought, perhaps, but whatever became of the ineradicable push & pull of original sin? I don’t want to rehearse the debates concerning the work of Christopher West on TOB, but you nicely evoke some of the more pertinent points. I’ll draw attention to what Flannery O’Connor said about sentimentality, which I think also applies here. Here’s a quote from her essay “The Church & the Fiction Writer”:

    “If the average Catholic reader could be tracked down through the swamps of letters-to-the-editor and other places where he momentarily reveals himself, he would be found to be something of a Manichean. By separating nature and grace as much as possible, he has reduced his conception of the supernatural to pious cliche and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene. He would seem to prefer the former, while being more of an authority on the latter, but the similarity between the two generally escapes him. He forgets that sentimentality is an excess, a distortion of sentiment, usually in the direction of an overemphasis on innocence; and that innocence, whenever it is overemphasized in the ordinary human condition, tends by some natural law to become its opposite.

    We lost our innocence in the fall of our first parents, and our return to it is through the redemption which was brought about by Christ’s death and by our slow participation in it. Sentimentality is a skipping of this process in its concrete reality and an early arrival at a mock state of innocence, which strongly suggests its opposite” (“Mystery & Manners,” pp. 147-48).

    I wonder if the utopianism you mention isn’t similar to what O’Connor is talking about here, mutatis mutandis. The sentimentality O’Connor addresses bypasses our woundedness, & suggests that we redeemed, especially those of us who read good Protestant sex guides or learn about the Trinitarian dimensions of sexual intimacy, are whisked away from our fallenness. Ironically, as O’Connor, such an attitude plunges us into the same Manichean worldview we are supposed to be denying.

    • That is a very astute analogy, Anthony, and also, I think, quite accurate. Thank you for making it.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful reflection. Some thoughts:

    By the same principle used to call TOB unrealistic, all of Catholic Moral Teaching can be called “utopian” and unrealistic. The “TOB is unrealistic” comment is tantamount to saying that sanctity is unrealistic. And we cannot do this.

    It’s true that “sex is not the cure” for our woundedness, but this is not something theology of the body teaches. But are there men who make an idol out of theology of the body? Sure. This does not mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    More generally, I do agree that there is an inadequate understanding of the effects of sin in all of our affairs.

    • I disagree with your analogy that saying TOB is unrealistic is tantamount to saying sanctity is unrealistic.

      As I said, I’m no expert on TOB. My impression, nonetheless, has been that its promoters in the US have turned it into some sort of spiritual sex guide, and that it’s practically gained the status of tantra yoga for Catholics. My point was that sex is not redemptive, and if Catholics suggest that it is, they are simply putting a spiritual gloss on one of the most destructive fallacies abroad today.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful reflection. Some thoughts:

    By the same principle used to call TOB unrealistic, all of Catholic Moral Teaching can be called “utopian” and unrealistic. The “TOB is unrealistic” comment is tantamount to saying that sanctity is unrealistic. And we cannot do this.

    It’s true that “sex is not the cure” for our woundedness, but this is not something theology of the body teaches. But are there men who make an idol out of theology of the body? Sure. This does not mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    More generally, I do agree that there is an inadequate understanding of the effects of sin in all of our affairs.

    • I disagree with your analogy that saying TOB is unrealistic is tantamount to saying sanctity is unrealistic.

      As I said, I’m no expert on TOB. My impression, nonetheless, has been that its promoters in the US have turned it into some sort of spiritual sex guide, and that it’s practically gained the status of tantra yoga for Catholics. My point was that sex is not redemptive, and if Catholics suggest that it is, they are simply putting a spiritual gloss on one of the most destructive fallacies abroad today.

  • Thales

    Pentimento,

    I agree with your post entirely. It’s great!

    But like Zach, a word of caution to the commenters: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think Ronald, in particular, is misunderstanding the TOB, when he says “I agree that TOB is a fantasy of what never was created by someone who may have never experienced the vulnerability of what actually is the reality of the complexity of the desire and search for human love.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The TOB is not meant to be a fantasy about Edenic, utopian sexuality (though I realize that some people improperly think it is this, or inappropriately idealize or obsess over the sexuality aspect of TOB — it’s not a spiritual sex guide, and those who think it is are wrong). The TOB is primarily a reflection about the human person, human vulnerability, human love and relationship with God (with sexuality being a related, but not central, issue).

  • Thales

    Pentimento,

    I agree with your post entirely. It’s great!

    But like Zach, a word of caution to the commenters: Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think Ronald, in particular, is misunderstanding the TOB, when he says “I agree that TOB is a fantasy of what never was created by someone who may have never experienced the vulnerability of what actually is the reality of the complexity of the desire and search for human love.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The TOB is not meant to be a fantasy about Edenic, utopian sexuality (though I realize that some people improperly think it is this, or inappropriately idealize or obsess over the sexuality aspect of TOB — it’s not a spiritual sex guide, and those who think it is are wrong). The TOB is primarily a reflection about the human person, human vulnerability, human love and relationship with God (with sexuality being a related, but not central, issue).

    • Ronald King

      Thales, you are correct I was wrong to make that statement. I would need to go through the entire document to address what I disagree with rather than make a stupid statement as you quoted above.

  • Brian Killian

    We should be more precise in what wer’re talking about here regarding TOB. There is the theology of the body as it exists in biblical revelation, and then there is the body of work from JPII which is a reflection on the biblical revelation, and then there is the body of work from Christopher West and other popularizers which is a reflection on JPII’s reflections on the biblical revelation. I think Pentimento is talking about the West school of TOB.

    I can see how the Westian TOB can become something pathological.

    • Yes, I should have been more specific that I meant the commentators and promoters of TOB in the US.

  • Brian Killian

    We should be more precise in what wer’re talking about here regarding TOB. There is the theology of the body as it exists in biblical revelation, and then there is the body of work from JPII which is a reflection on the biblical revelation, and then there is the body of work from Christopher West and other popularizers which is a reflection on JPII’s reflections on the biblical revelation. I think Pentimento is talking about the West school of TOB.

    I can see how the Westian TOB can become something pathological.

    • Yes, I should have been more specific that I meant the commentators and promoters of TOB in the US.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    What I like best about this blog is exactly these sorts of observations about the cultural phenomena of Catholicism. And this one, which I have been thinking about, is sooooo interesting to me because this type was NOT around very much when I was involved with Catholic cultures. It really seems to be a phenomenon of the last 25 years, am I correct in that surmise?? I can limn the probable personality type by their very prolix contributions online. But of course it is quite another thing to know them personally.

    One of the good things about many Catholics I knew, and especially priests, was they often had rather wicked senses of humor. This is something you had to experience personally, and does not come across very well in cultural descriptions. (A great shame because it would humanize a lot of the weirder aspects which often do make it into historical descriptions). Anyways, am I correct in reading these types by contrast, especially the young ones, as uniquely humorless and personally flat in the joking department??? Of course, it almost goes without saying that such types, as controlled and self-monitored as they are, often would have a little repertoire of humorous sidelights which they trot out to PROVE to everyone that there rigid worldview does not result inexorably in weirdo humorlessness! And their personal lodestar has given them the example that in addition a quirky and noisome musical instrument like the banjo might help mollify critics of their emotional flat earth society as well.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    What I like best about this blog is exactly these sorts of observations about the cultural phenomena of Catholicism. And this one, which I have been thinking about, is sooooo interesting to me because this type was NOT around very much when I was involved with Catholic cultures. It really seems to be a phenomenon of the last 25 years, am I correct in that surmise?? I can limn the probable personality type by their very prolix contributions online. But of course it is quite another thing to know them personally.

    One of the good things about many Catholics I knew, and especially priests, was they often had rather wicked senses of humor. This is something you had to experience personally, and does not come across very well in cultural descriptions. (A great shame because it would humanize a lot of the weirder aspects which often do make it into historical descriptions). Anyways, am I correct in reading these types by contrast, especially the young ones, as uniquely humorless and personally flat in the joking department??? Of course, it almost goes without saying that such types, as controlled and self-monitored as they are, often would have a little repertoire of humorous sidelights which they trot out to PROVE to everyone that there rigid worldview does not result inexorably in weirdo humorlessness! And their personal lodestar has given them the example that in addition a quirky and noisome musical instrument like the banjo might help mollify critics of their emotional flat earth society as well.

    • brettsalkeld
      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Brett,

        If this man is, in his professional life, a scholar authoring books like “The Hidden Beauty of Natural Law” and popularizing articles like “You Make Yourself Totalitarian by Using Contraception” — then that would be just perfect. He is really precious, at any rate, and embodies the arch-fuddy-duddy annoyingness of such onslaughts of entertainment. Me, I’ll stick with the last song in Die Winterrreise of Schubert.

        • brettsalkeld

          I don’t even know if he’s Catholic.

    • brettsalkeld

      In my experience, there are also lots of jokes about how stupid people who disagree with (a specific brand of) Catholicism are.

  • R.

    “The ontological substance of masculinity is … the willingness to serve and protect, while the ontological substance of femininity is … the ability to nurture goodness and to reveal beauty. ”

    Where does this come from? It is better than the Chris West/TOTB “self-donation”/”receptivity” formulation, but it still bothers me.

    What if I feel that serving and nurturing goodness are who I am, and protecting and revealing beauty are who my husband is? Are we freaks? Are we ontologically messed up? What if I don’t think I’m sexually wounded?

    For the record, I liked this entry overall, and I hope those gentlemen find an appropriate way to be men in the 21st century, for their own sake and those of the women and children around them.

  • R.

    “The ontological substance of masculinity is … the willingness to serve and protect, while the ontological substance of femininity is … the ability to nurture goodness and to reveal beauty. ”

    Where does this come from? It is better than the Chris West/TOTB “self-donation”/”receptivity” formulation, but it still bothers me.

    What if I feel that serving and nurturing goodness are who I am, and protecting and revealing beauty are who my husband is? Are we freaks? Are we ontologically messed up? What if I don’t think I’m sexually wounded?

    For the record, I liked this entry overall, and I hope those gentlemen find an appropriate way to be men in the 21st century, for their own sake and those of the women and children around them.

    • Liam

      You are right to be concerned. There is a long tradition of conflating descriptive and prescriptive Catholic anthropology, and it comes more from the Greek philosophical tradition than Christian theology properly understood.

    • The formulation is my own. I don’t consider it better than C. West’s, and it’is not meant to be prescriptive.

      • R.

        Thank you for clarifying that you did not mean it prescriptively. I understand that your main point was not dependent on it, anyway. Thanks again for such an interesting post.

    • J

      R. good point! And I speak from a male perspective.
      “Beauty will save the world” said Dostoevsky (a man), and poets, artists, caregivers in homes for the poor, stay-at-home fathers and missionaries, just to mention a few, have both revealed beauty and nurture goodness in people, within humanity. Sure, they have served and protected as well what is most human.

      I have always found that “men are this way,” and “women that way” a bit disturbing. While recognizing what may generally be different, I still haven’t found a good answer to the dilemma in Catholic anthropology. Or maybe I did: I am a piece in the puzzle of manhood, you are a piece in the puzzle of womanhood – the way we live our gender is unique, and at the end of history we will be able to realize what the whole puzzle was. Most fundamentally, though, as JP if I am not mistaken once said, first of all we are alike before being different.

      • R.

        J.,

        I can sense your authentic masculinity by your first sentence!

        😉 Thank you for your comment, and I agree with your take on these issues. I like your puzzle analogy, but then I’m more comfortable with mystery than with assigned gender roles, and more comfortable emphasizing similarities than differences.

        R.

  • Anne

    Oh, where to start. My own daughters who are in their mid to late 20s have talked to me about this very issue. Young orthodox Catholic men seem downright odd to them. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say they either anger them or creep them out. Only one has found a man to marry, and he’s an ex-Hindu Indian-American with cultural issues of his own.

    As a cradle Catholic who was brought up in the 50s and came of age in the 60s, I find so much of what I hear coming from the males you mention downright alien.The obsession over female dress and “male headship” (a phrase that still sounds suspiciously Protestant in a cultish kind of way to my preconciliar ears) goes against not only the modern, feminist grain, but Catholic culture itself, or at least the Romanish culture Catholics took pride in back when it was OK to be proud of being Catholic. Believe it or not, I can remember when Catholics were about the only Americans who could be considered both religious and sexy. That’s back when Hollywood actresses ran off to become nuns, and young Italian-American rock ‘n ‘roll singers out of Philly were fond of telling movie magazine writers how much they loved their mothers and wanted to settle down with a nice Catholic girl who never missed Sunday Mass…and then did so. The Kennedys may have been male chauvinist pigs in real life, but they never talked about it publicly, and they more or less epitomized Catholic maleness to America at large. Of course, that was back when American Catholics were mostly Democrats, but that’s a whole other issue.

    The more serious Catholic males of my generation may have worried about purity (i.e., masturbation and temptations along those lines), but that’s a minor problem compared with the odd vibe Catholic women are picking up from ortho Catholic males today. Back then, confessors called the problem what it was, scruples (or as we’d say today, OCD), and let it go. Nobody founded a theology on it. It was a personal issue, not a way of life. JPII’s theology of the body doesn’t seem that out of whack with the Catholicism of those days, but how it’s being interpreted must be what’s wrong. Something certainly is. Thank you so much for bringing it up.

    • Melody

      I didn’t start hearing about the “male headship” thing in a Catholic context until, maybe, 10 years ago. I heard about it a long time before that, coming from fundamentalist Protestants.
      In a way it has been imported from that culture; and it’s not a very helpful concept, It assumes that two mature adults can’t come to an agreement on a decision which need to be made (actually it assumes that only one of them is a mature adult).

    • Julian Barkin

      Anne, what specifically do the “orthodox” catholic men that your daughters have met has creeped them out or made them angry?

  • brettsalkeld

    As much as some people do weird stuff with TOB, the arch-conservatives that hate TOB (see Kellmeyer, Steve) are much worse. A lot of these conservative Catholic men will have nothing to do with John Paul the heretic.

  • Kimberley

    What is the moral of this tale? That an obsession with sex even if it is oriented toward “modesty” is wrong? I would agree that someone constantly thinking about sex even in the context of modesty is not healthy. But in reality what kind of numbers are we talking about here in this post? .01% of Catholic men? As oppposed to the 60% of Catholic men who view pornography on a regular basis? Or the 50% who think abortion should be legal? Or the 90% who think contraception is OK?

    I’m not part of the skirt and veil crowd and from what you describe it is not healthy. But my experience dating Catholic men in college is that they were no different the typical fraternity boy which to me is the bigger problem. So fretting about this tiny subculture may be typical of this blog but you seem to be ignoring the problems of the much larger Catholic segment that accepts the evils of modern society such as pornography, contraception, homosexuality and sex before marriage.

    • Kimberly,

      You seem to be criticizing Pentimento for writing about her own personal experiences rather than writing about what you feel is wrong with Catholic men in general. It is the nature of blogs posts that the poster gets to pick his or her own topics. What makes Vox Nova so interesting is the often atypical choice of topics by its contributors. Please allow them to be themselves.

    • Kimberley, there are many eloquent voices on the web and elsewhere who are speaking about and against the trends you mention, which I agree are destructive and alarming. My blog post, however, is not meant to be a manifesto, but rather, as David Nickol suggests, simply an observation based on my own experiences, which have led me to believe that there is sexual woundedness and sexual wounding going on throughout the Church, irrespective of skirts, veils, orthodoxy or heterodoxy.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Kimberly,

      Two things: First, on a practical level, the problems Pentimento describes prevent the Church from responding adequately to the problems you describe. Even if this is a small group, they cast a large shadow and call Church teaching on human sexuality and relationships into doubt and derision: no one is going to take us seriously if they think part of being Catholic is requiring women to act like some cross between Grace Kelly and the Blessed Mother. (This comparison is stolen from somewhere.)

      On a more fundamental level, I think these things are related. As Pentimento pointed out, this warped vision of masculinity and sexuality is driven by a negation of what the world believes. It is not shaped by a positive Catholic vision. So in both cases we need to share a deeper understanding of both our own woundedness and of our healing in Christ.

  • So, first Sam Rocha posts about the sexual dysfunctions and perversions of certain people involved with Franciscan University, EWTN, “and all the affiliated conferences and literature”. A mere eight days later, Pentimento writes of her experiences of sexually dysfunctional conservative/traddies in NYC.

    When do we get to hear about the sexual dysfunctions of liberals? ; )

    • brettsalkeld

      We don’t know them because none of us hang out with liberals.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Speak for yourself Brett. Some of my best friends are liberals.

        • brettsalkeld

          😉

    • Agellius: FUS and EWTN are extremely liberal.

      Sam

      • I guess we’re forced to comply with the VN-preferred conceptions of “conservative” and “liberal” here, lest people pretend not to know what we’re talking about. Is that a power issue, I wonder? ; )

  • This is beautifully argued. I have to say that I was raised in a “Catholic covenant community” where the women and girls were expected to wear skirts as an expression of their femininity, where women had limited voice and no power. We did ridiculous things in skirts, and you can’t tell me the men were served in learning who woman is by watching us ice skate and go camping in skirts. And while the dress code has been modified in recent years in that particular group, leadership is still all male, and many, many of those men have issues with pornography, homosexuality, and other sexual woundedness, and have no support to get help.
    We all have sexual wounds in some way, I suppose.
    I married a man from the same community, though we had both made choices as adults to embrace our Catholic faith in more “mainstream” ways. Since then we discovered the Theology of the Body, and so here I must disagree with you. While I think you are right – that some traditional types are using this teaching to defend a black and white version of mascullinty and femininity, a version that, as you say, looks more like the culture of the Gilded Age, these types have used Any available teaching to confirm their need to not face the truth… that as men and women there is an integrated masculinity and femininity within us.
    The TOB explains how in the beginning, God put adam to sleep, and he awoke as two people. And it honors woman as “a challenge to man”, that in her otherness he would better understand who he is. It is a reflection on the ways in which the relationship images the Trinity, not as “head of household” and “handmaid”, but rather as equally created, as helpmates toward a loving image of the Creator.
    If we continue to judge holiness on cultural, or counter-cultural norms, we will never reach the truth. Culture as it has existed should be a living thing which we can change to greater reflect the love of God, rather than a beast that consumes our identities as we image God. And if we continue, as traditionalists or charismatics or progressives, to judge at all… then we will have a very hard time putting away these labels and being who we are called to be, which is Catholics.

    • This is very insightful, Christine. Thank you.

  • Mike McG…

    I must admit I know less than nothing about ‘orthodox dating’ but I have found this post very moving for its open treatment of woundedness. It is so much easier to bandy words back and forth than to acknowledge woundedness in ourselves and others. I see it as the invisible subtext to so many conversations in blogdom. Thank you, Pentimento, for going there.

  • Brett writes, “We don’t know them because none of us hang out with liberals.”

    “I’m inclined to accept what Alasdair MacIntyre says — and I quote it often — that most of the public debates today are among different strains of liberalism: conservative liberalism, liberal liberalism, and radical liberalism.”

    http://underachindolea.blogspot.com/2009/07/liberalism.html

  • This is a quite silly reasoning.

    The Historical record is completely missing! Up until the 50’s the majority of women wore dresses! It is mandated in the Bible that women shall not wear men’s clothing and men are NOT to wear women’s clothing. That is a biblical teaching. Nowhere does the OP mention this.

    Second, the history of Christendom is that women always wore dresses! St. Joan of Arc was burned by the English Catholics because she wore pants! She was against the grain so much so from Tradition is that she was burned at the stake as a heretic.

    The Law of nature is Righteousness. A corallary to this is “distinction of rank”. Everything in nature has a distinction of rank. Male birds have distinctive coloring different from female birds. Male lions have a mane. Male goats have a beard. These and all sort of things is a “distinction of rank”. In the male and female physiology, they are very DISTINCT. Women have enlarged breasts and a smooth pelvic area. By nature there is a Distinction of rank. As the body is, the clothes shall be. Women are to wear dresses. That is the Tradition and Custom of the whole world until liberalism erupted!

    So to sit there and claim that these traditional Catholic men are “wounded sexually” because they demand that the law be kept is absolutely ludicrious. Is the Word of God sexually wounded? Is two thousand years of Christian custom and obedience sexually wounded? NO.

    The reason and logic behind this OP is non-existent. There is no reason, there is no logic. There is no historical record. Women are NOT to be wearing men’s clothing and it has nothing to do with being “sexually wounded”. Is that women have been masculinized. We have entered into the Marxist Unisex culture! Unisex culture is Catholic? Christian? Normal?

    Divine Revelation and the Laws of Nature (produced by the Logos) teach the same thing and agree. To have women in trousers is UNrighteousness. And the OP is outrageous psychobabble.

    • I think you may have mistakenly posted your comment to the wrong post. The OP is not about women in pants. Nor does it assert, in your phrase, “that these traditional Catholic men are ‘wounded sexually’ because they demand that the law be kept.” It does suggest, however, that some of them may be “wounded sexually” because they consciously distance themselves from culturally-normative male behaviors and because they look at porn.

    • brettsalkeld

      I’m sorry, but it’s begging to be said:

      Did you mean to put a colon after your first sentence?

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    wlindsaywheeler writes:

    “It is mandated in the Bible that women shall not wear men’s clothing and men are NOT to wear women’s clothing. That is a biblical teaching.”

    Well, this is problematic on a couple levels. First, why is this one commandment for Torah kept, when others purity laws are not? Second, “male clothing” and “female clothing” is contextual and culturally mediated. In Korea, Pakistan and parts of India, women wear pants. In Egypt and other parts of Africa, men wear long flowing robes that look like dresses. And of course, Scottish men wear kilts. So given this, what is wrong with the cultural milieu changing and pants becoming “women’s clothes”?

    “Everything in nature has a distinction of rank. Male birds have distinctive coloring different from female birds.”

    In biology this is referred to as sexual dimorphism, and a cursory review of any field manual will show that some species have it and some do not. Yes, human men and women show a certain degree of difference, but with the exception of the different hip structure that women have, these differences are minor. (I have a hairy lower back; my wife does not. So what?)
    This will have an impact on clothes, but only in limited ways: my wife wears a bra (sometimes); I should wear a jock to work out.

    “Is that women have been masculinized. We have entered into the Marxist Unisex culture! Unisex culture is Catholic?”

    This is simply wrong. I find it hard to imagine, looking around at our hyper-sexualized modern culture, and see how you can conclude we are in a unisex culture in which women are masculinized by wearing pants. And to blame this on Marxism is simply to treat Marxism as a convenient whipping boy. There may be, somewhere, a quote by a (vulgar) Marxist that can be used to support this argument, but I think I am on firm scholarly ground when I say that there is no such thing as a “Marxist unisex culture”.

    I had never heard of this issue until Pentimento made this post, and I think her ideas on sexual woundedness are insightful and worth exploring. But as I went around the web and read more about this question, I was really appalled by the arguments I found in defense of “sola skirtura”. I think my wife, who joined me in this, said it best: “This is not about pants, its about power.” And power, domination and subordination (except to Christ) have no place in Christian relationships.

    • brettsalkeld

      Well done.

    • Cerberos

      “Second, “male clothing” and “female clothing” is contextual and culturally mediated. In Korea, Pakistan and parts of India, women wear pants. In Egypt and other parts of Africa, men wear long flowing robes that look like dresses. And of course, Scottish men wear kilts”

      ## In short (in shorts ?) trousers (what in the US are called “pants”) are trousers if they are treated as trousers; & skirtitude is defined by whether skirts are treated as skirts, or as something else. In the words of the limerick:

      There was a young lady of Wilts.,
      Who walked to the Highlands on stilts;
      When they said, “Oh, how shocking
      To show so much stocking”,
      She answered: “Then what about kilts?”

      A skirt is a longer variant of the shirt anyway – women who desire to be unmasculine, as per Deuteronomy, may need to don that most feminine of habiliments, the trousers. Real men wear skirts, and have for 3,000 years. The “long-haired Achaeans” in the Iliad: not a trouser in sight. Trousers are unmanly – or so the Romans thought, when they first encountered the breech-wearing Gauls.

  • David: that’s a great response! I liked your comment “my wife, who joined me in this, said it best: “This is not about pants, its about power.” And power, domination and subordination (except to Christ) have no place in Christian relationships.” Having lived as a child on the wrong side of this issue… I know first hand the damage.
    And I am so grateful that you articulately added the conditions about culture and clothing, which I myself wanted to address but felt almost too frustrated to. For instance, several times a year, my husband wears his kilt, and I find it to be a truly attractive, very masculine garment on him. Culture isn’t bad. What we do with it may be.
    Yes, you are right. This is about power. And power is in the hand of the One who made us.

  • As far as power goes, I believe it is anxiety about true, essential masculinity that makes certain Traditionalist men prone to authoritarianism about things like pants. This authoritarianism is (as I said in my post in another context) a sign of taking affect for essence. In other words, they see women in pants as the problem, while, if they were healed and whole in their sexuality, they would not see women in pants as a problem; nor would they feel they had to wield authority over trivial matters like women wearing pants. They choose form over substance in their style of worship, as well as in their understanding of women’s clothing.

  • Winifred Holloway

    oh, my. I thought wlindsaywheeler’s post was meant to be satirical. I must be living on a different earth.

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