Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Not All Men Are Creepers

The Rest on the Flight to Egypt by Gerard David, 1510.
By Mary C. Tillotson

Today, in the Catholic Church, we celebrate the feast of St. Joseph, one of the more important feasts on our calendar. We honor St. Joseph as the spouse of Mary and foster father of Jesus; as such, he’s a model for husbands and fathers everywhere. He’s a patron of families and workers and all sorts of other things.

This is one of my favorite paintings of St. Joseph. The Holy Family is on its way to Egypt, and St. Joseph is in the background, cutting firewood or harvesting food – doing what he can to make things a little more comfortable for Mary and baby Jesus.

St. Joseph is a good reminder that not all men are creepers – something even virtue-minded people too easily forget.

Remember those modesty debates we used to get into, especially in college when we didn’t have anything more important to talk about? My women friends and I would trek back to our dorms afterward and wonder the same thing aloud: do men exist who aren’t creepy and gross? Here are all these church-going, door-opening, chivalry-endorsing young men who claim they are involuntarily fixated on our private parts unless we’re wearing long skirts and turtlenecks, or whatever their particular standard was (it varied). Let’s all find a convent – quick.

Many of us end up marrying anyway, and then we start hearing advice from all the “marriage experts.” It usually goes like this: You know, your husbands have a right to sex, and you owe them. If they don’t get what they need, they’re going to start looking elsewhere.

What a horrible thing to say! God designed spousal intimacy to be spousal intimacy – as a renewal of wedding vows, as an expression of total self-donation reflecting Trinitarian love and the marriage of Christ and his Church, as a chance to participate with God in the act of creation. It was never intended as a manipulative tool in a power play, a justification for selfish demands, or a leash to keep a wayward spouse from cheating. That view of marriage has no room for love. Men who are ready to walk out the door if their wives don’t meet their sexual standards are too selfish to be good husbands. They don’t deserve the kind of trust a marriage requires.

But not all men are like that. Most men I know aren’t. Sure, men and women typically have different temptations and different struggles, and men are more likely to struggle with a greater-than-healthy desire for sex. But I don’t think women’s temptations and struggles are any less poisonous to love, and I don’t think it’s okay to unnecessarily terrify engaged and newly married women.

It’s true that lust – a disordered and selfish desire for sex, as opposed to a good and healthy desire for sex – is an enemy of love. But so is unnecessary distrust. If we conclude that men, in the aggregate, are actually pretty creepy, we’re tacitly giving them permission to indulge their disordered desires a little more, instead of challenging them to a higher standard of love. On top of that, we’re making women more suspicious and more creeped out, which makes it harder for them to love.

My advice? This goes to men and women. Dress and behave in a way that shows a healthy self-respect and respect for others. Be unselfish, especially with your spouse if you’re married. Be trustworthy, and don’t withhold trust from someone who’s earned it. Foster generosity. Nurture relationships. Acknowledge human dignity. Don’t assume you know what others are thinking.

A lot of what goes on in life, in men’s minds, and in marriage is about as sexy as folding socks – or cutting firewood.

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