To All the Boys I’ve…

It is a truth universally acknowledged (by women) that a dichotomy of qualities in men is quite attractive. You need only recall the well-loved fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast” to see proof of this: a strong and ferocious beast who becomes gentle, loving, and protective. It isn’t when Belle sees the Beast’s strength or firmness of command that she finds herself loving him. She begins loving him when she sees that his strength is not foreign to reverent gentleness, and his command does not exclude compassion. There is nothing quite as attractive as a man stooping to gently greet a child at his feet, a man listening compassionately, or a man soothing an injured person. There is a goodness in women’s ability to see the need for both strength and gentleness, both command and compassion. Without the “both-and”, women intuitively know that there is a lack of integration in men. 

It is a good thing! A beautiful thing for us to recognize this need for integration! Yet, I am writing today to challenge the women of our community to consider this question: do we favor these “gentler” qualities of men at the expense of the “stronger” masculine qualities? 

Think about the ways we speak about men we particularly admire: we often stress how sweet they are, how empathetic, and then there is the oft-repeated phrase “he’s so cute”. While these praises are not problems in themselves, they become an issue when they are the qualities for which we look by default, and possibly even the only ones for which we look. 

Men should be driven; men should be passionate about their interests; men should take a stand for what they believe; men should be leaders; men should be strong mentally, volitionally, and physically. So why do we object when they delve into their interests in conversation? Why do we push them to simply “get along”?  Why do we roll our eyes when they take charge or even mock the way they lead? Why do we bemoan the lack of real men while in the same breath setting down the masculine qualities which make up real men? 

Let me be clear: I am not saying that men have no room to change. All men do, but that doesn’t mean we are given free reign to say whatever we will. We can admire their gentler qualities, but I would argue that we need to consciously make an effort to understand virtues as they belong in the masculine ethos. The gentler qualities we easily admire are certainly needed in men, for without them they cannot be the caliber of leaders and fathers which they should be. However, if they are without the stronger qualities, they cannot be leaders or fathers. We need to learn to see their assertiveness, their confidence, their independence, and even their competitiveness as healthy masculine qualities. 

I am praying for the guidance of St. Joseph to help each of us women learn to love, admire, and understand our brothers as we should. We can look to him as our model in how we should see our brothers. St. Joseph is often thought of as a gentle, nurturing man, yet his litany describes him as “Zealous Defender”, “Head”, “Just”, “Courageous”, “Guardian”, “Pillar”, “Protector”, and, my personal favorite, “Terror of Demons”. St. Joseph may be a gentle, nurturing man, but he is not the lamb in his life’s story. Rather, he is the lion who lies down with the lamb. The lion does not lose his strength and ability for ferocity because he is gentle with the lamb. In the same way, men should not lose their strength and zeal in learning gentleness and compassion. It is in the very fact that a man is strong and wild* that his gentleness is so soothing and his compassion so striking. 

Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, “To a great extent the level of any civilization is the level of its womanhood. When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her.” (Life is Worth Living) As women, we have the ability to spur men to greater heights of virtue. We have the opportunity to influence them to be the men they should be. Let us make sure that the level we hold them to is not one which asks them to be less masculine, but rather calls them to be fully integrated in their masculinity with both strength and gentleness. 

*The term “wild” can make you think “reckless” and even “brutish”. Here, think of “wild” as you would think of the vast beauties of nature being wild: resilient and independent. The wildness of man resides not in recklessness or immaturity, but in his desire for challenge, his courage and conviction in responding to the challenge, and his strength in driving towards triumph over the challenge.