Monday, January 26, 2009

Sweet men

This is my column today.

It was a good thing my friend was not the designated driver last week when we met up or she would have been prone to road rage, which seems to be the latest phenomenon to hit our country. My friend, who is female and who happens to work in the academe, was fuming mad— very, very mad—over what she felt were highly bigoted pronouncements made by a cardinal from the Vatican during an academic affair at the University of Santo Tomas.

She did give us a sampling of the pronouncements made by Cardinal Paul Josef Cordes. Of course I wasn’t amused with the cardinal’s macho posturing as relayed to us, but having been exposed to the narrow-mindedness that characterize many men of the cloth, I wasn’t as livid as my friend was. Besides, there was the very real possibility that my friend’s reaction was exaggerated.

But the cardinal’s pronouncements found its way to the Internet and to some newspapers over the weekend. One news report, which was written by Lito Zulueta and published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Saturday, illustrated in greater detail the extent of the cardinal’s bigotry and misogyny. I read the news stories with increasing dread and agitation. No wonder my friend was incensed. I would have been too if I was there at the event and listening to the cardinal spew reckless and sweeping generalizations about how the so-called “erosion of manhood” and “crisis in fatherhood” in the world is being caused by what he called “radical feminism” and “gender mainstreaming.” These are really gobbledygook for efforts to establish more gender equality in the world.

What is ironic is that German Cardinal is at the helm of the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum” which is responsible for the Vatican’s projects for charity, aid and relief. The least you would expect from a man of the church, and one vested with such a humanitarian mandate would be fairness and compassion. His address last week was anything but fair and compassionate. Actually, they weren’t humanitarian at all.

Citing biased statistics, the cardinal asserted, among other things, that the supposed crisis in fatherhood in the world, the loss of manhood, and diminished masculinity to what he referred to as efforts to “make men more like women.” He also cited statistics that purportedly showed the negative consequences that happen to boys who grow up without a strong father figure. In so many words, the cardinal expressed alarm for, vigorous objection to, and denounced what he called efforts to “make men sweeter.”

As a child who grew up with a nurturing grandmother and therefore without a central father figure, I am aghast at the cardinal’s insinuations that the absence of father figures result in boys growing up dysfunctional.

But what aghasts me even further is the fact that the cardinal was quick to blame women, gay men, and other sectors perceived as liberal for his highly politicized and biased thesis of “erosion of manhood” without taking into account the whole gamut of harm—from physical, to psychological, to social, to cultural —that many (not all, of course) men cause to their wives, children and the world in general. Nowhere in his diatribe did he bring up the possibility that men are also part of the problem, to begin with.

I can understand the rationale for the Church’s vehement objections toward the promotion of gender equality in society. The Catholic hierarchy is extremely patriarchal. An important aspect of Christianity is anchored on the concept of God The Father. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, God is masculine. Therefore, any perceived “softening” on the concept of manhood and fatherhood is a threat to the Church.

But what exactly is wrong with men who are “sweeter?”

To simplify things, let’s assume that the definition of “sweet” has not been changed and that the usual connotations remain the same. I did a quick Thesaurus check on the word using the word processing program that I am using to write this column and six general classifications of words—synonyms, really—came up.

Okay. I must admit that the first group of words that came up sounded a little funny but that’s really because I was making the assumption that “sweeter” is always an adjective used to describe people. For a moment, I forgot that the word sweet is first of all an adjective to describe taste, thus, the words sugary, syrupy, and saccharine. I understand that these words are also used to describe people and that when used in that particular context there is negative connotation.

But then again, it really depends on the kind of relationship one has with the person. I know a lot of people who equate “sweetness” with being a wimp. But I also know a lot of people who definitely will kill to be at the receiving end of that kind of attention. I know a number of people who storm the heavens regularly to make their man more expressive of their emotions and more demonstrative of their affection.

The rest of the groups of synonyms included lovable, kind, pleasant, agreeable, satisfying. Each general classification had a list of words such as attractive, delightful, engaging, thoughtful, caring, gentle, etc. What is wrong with these descriptions? Of course these conceptualizations are not absolute and there’s a whole lot of grey areas and ambiguities around these concepts.

I know that these descriptions do not conform to the typical—and many, including myself, consider outmoded— conceptualizations of what a man is supposed to be. By typical I mean being emotionally deaf, distant, and generally averse to showing any signs of being nurturing which they consider a major weakness.

I know that there are people out there who continue to insist on gender roles that were developed under a completely different social milieu. Women are the weaker sex. Men are the dominant specie—the alpha. Men do not take care of children. Women are supposed to serve their men hand and foot. Men are entitled to certain dysfunctional behaviors such as physical aggression. Women are supposed to cry and suffer in silence.

There are a lot of things that are wrong with these conceptualizations. I don’t need to cite them here because as usual I am running out of column space and more importantly because I am sure that most people are aware of just how the world has changed in the last 20 years when women have come into their own. Many countries, global organizations, business firms, communities are already being led by women who have proven that they are just as capable, in many cases, even more capable than men.

Gender equality is not necessarily the evil that the Church sees it. I know a number of men who do didn’t see gender equality as a threat to their masculinity, or an affront to their status in society.

But this I know for a fact: This world will be much better when more people, regardless of whether they are men or women, become “sweeter.”

2 comments:

Antonio Pe Yang III said...

The fact that the said Cardinal is speaking as a member of a LARGELY PATRIARCHAL institution does much to damage his statement's credibility.

What is worse is that the Cardinal has inavertedly attacked members of his own organization - there are many well-known gay priests within the Catholic Church who, despite their sexual preference, have proven to be instrumental in uplifting the quality of life within their communities.

Read up on Mychal F. Judge, OFM - He was a Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, and was among the first casualties of the 9/11 attacks. He was also known to be gay. I fear the Cardinal's statement has become a literal slap in the face of heroes like Fr. Judge.

It this sort of blind hypocrisy that convinced me that my spirituality will not grow within the gilded cage of Catholicism.

That said, what is about men becoming all the more sensitive and understanding of their surroundings? If anything, we can learn by being more in touch with how we feel, and learning to express them in a creative form.

Bong C. Austero said...

Anton,

Rina Jimenez-David also wrote about the issue in her column at the Inquirer today. She raised a point that I meant to highlight, but forgot about in my rush to send my column: Why is it that many men think gender equality takes something away from them? It's as if there's a quota of masculinity and femininity in this world and we all need to stick to our original rations.

Will check out Mychal F. Judge. Thanks for the hat tip.

Bong