Marriage in a Cubicle

“So what if two men are allowed to marry?” we hear many a pew-warming Catholic say. “What effect can that have on marriage? I won’t love my wife any the less.”
True; perhaps the damage has already been done. If that sounds harsh, consider that married life in our world is a diminished thing. Husbands and wives are thought to be indistinguishable. There are no particularly paternal or maternal duties to fulfill. There is nothing left in sex to profane, fornication having sunk below the status of a sin of passion to a hobby or a part of a weekly exercise regimen. It requires an act of historical imagination — and, for us Catholics, obedient humility — to see the fullness of what marriage ought to be.
I recall reading in a magazine about a Coast Guard ship patrolling the stormy waters of Lake Superior. The male crew, five or six in all, were captained by a woman. “It makes no difference whether the captain is a woman,” she said. But how could she know that? She was in no position to see how the men were, to hear how they talked, and to note how they felt when she was not there. I wonder whether she really wanted to know. She needed to use her imagination, bolstered by the stories of old sailors, or by humble and close observation of men.
More to the point, she did not consider how much of that ancient male fellowship in peril, that blood-brotherhood, had already been compromised. If being a captain of a ship is but to give the most efficient commands, then perhaps a robot would do, too. But then, perhaps being a captain of men is far more than we remember, or more than we care to admit.
We are in that captain’s position. Yes, I love my wife. But the world I live in does not believe that it is renewed whenever members from those two warring parties, men and women, celebrate their differences and unite in marriage. It does not believe that marriage spans the generations, linking those who came before us to those who, if God pleases, will be the fruits of our love. It has constricted the affair to something private. It smiles upon the feelings of a John and Mary, and no more. It has no use for their love, socially.
John and Mary are not called upon to be a father and mother beyond the walls of their house. If they like, they may divorce, and that too is a private affair, unless it involves the annoying complication of children. In such a world it becomes conceivable that two men may claim the right to marry, because we have severed the sexes from nature (including human nature), and from their calling to be mothers and fathers of their own children, and exemplars of motherhood and fatherhood for their neighbors and countrymen. We are detached from the passage of the generations. We are, except as individuals, cordoned off from the duties of our villages and cities. All is a matter of personal choice, and therefore all is arbitrary, and alienated.
It is marriage confined to a cubicle. Now the cubicle may be well lit and ventilated, with plenty of fresh food and drink. But the full expression of our natural fatherhood and motherhood is truncated. If my wife and I lived in a concrete box, I would love her; yet it is hard to claim that the box would make no difference. It would curtail a thousand ordinary opportunities for love. I could not love her as a mother to the neighborhood. She could not love me as a father at the city gates. Imagine that the cubicle is limited temporally, too. We could then love one another for a time, but without any soul-expanding sense that we were carrying on a duty from generations past. The seed may be good, but the soil is thin. The painter may be skilled, but if he has only gray on the palette, great works in gray are the best we will get.
Imagine the converse. When the poet Edmund Spenser wrote his Epithalamion, he meant it not only as a wedding present to his bride, but as a joyful meditation upon what marriage, especially Christian marriage, is all about. In that poem he summons the whole world to be present at the great feast — the nymphs of the Irish forests, the rivers stocked with fish, the dashing young men of the village, the young maidens awaiting their own day to come, boys setting bonfires and running up and down the street, the sun and moon and stars and the very angels above and the communion of saints in heaven. And why not, since on that night, when he has dismissed all the partakers of the feast, and he and his bride are alone at last, they are not really alone either. They pray to God that their act of love, private as it is, will take its part too in the providential march of time, raising a large posterity to swell the number of the blessed saints.
That was good soil. That was a rich palette. No difference whether two men may marry? If you ask that, you have already reduced male and female from mysterious creations of God to insignificant varieties of the human body, that attract according to taste. And if you have done that, or if your culture has done that whether you like it or not, then no, you do not love your husband or your wife in the same way, and with the same robust fullness of expression, as you would have done otherwise. You cannot seize an opportunity that does not exist. Let us hope at least that you can draw near to your spouse within the four walls of your private feelings. The Lord who raised the dead can visit a cubicle, too. But that does not mean we ought to build them.

Anthony Esolen


Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • J. M. Walden

    I hear more and more that all things in creation are merely expressions of the individual’s personal choice. Sex, marriage, life’s very beginnings… it all seems relegated to the level of whimsy and urge. The unsatiated gluttonous individual is the model for what is sacred in our post-modern world. All things are relative to its undisciplined appetites and haphazard shadings of ineffectual conscience. It despises union and wallows in selfish indulgence. How did such an archetype ever become mainstream? How did we go from the Greatest Generation to hedonistic-nihilists?

    In a world where even the fundamental things are considered trivial and disposable, where even children are cheerfully expendable, is a the reduction and repudiation of marriage so shocking? But I do not think things are so far gone that a recovery is impossible.

    Thank you for your article Prof. Esolen. – J.M.Walden

  • R.S.Newark

    The killing taking place is the one of culture. The crime – sin – is in todays words Sociopahology.

  • Adriana

    The difference that said that men could control women’s property and give her no account to it?

    The difference that said that men could order women around and beat them if they were disobedient?

    The differnece that said that a man could “sow his wild oats” and then marry and be a solid citizen while a woman who slipped once was a slut and should be condemned to a life of shame?

    The difference where a rapist was given sympathy and his victim accused of “asking for it”?

    The difference where men were free to disparaage women as “stupid” and thus not to be listened to?

    Those differnces you celebrate have too much bad baggage, and until you admit that, and show that you are committed no to bring it back, please do not celebrate them in public.

  • Andy


    What? Is the alternative to an anything-goes sexual culture necessarily an oppressive one? I think there might be a false dilemma going on here…

  • Francesca

    They may not be logical alternatives, but, historically, the culture Adriana describes preceded the one Prof Esolin doesn’t like. Most women equate the idea of returning to the traditional family with the idea of returning to a culture in which women were 2nd class citizens.

  • Tony Esolen

    How I do enjoy it when people evaluate customs of the past according to current assumptions and even the current state of technology, without the slightest attempt of the imagination to ask some fairly simple questions, as, for instance, “What did people then have to do to stay alive?”, or “What did people have to do to ensure that their families lasted more than a generation?”, or “What did people have to do to keep violent young men at bay?”, and on, and on. I am always astonished at how many things the pampered modern takes for granted.

    We’re supposed to believe that every single society that has ever existed on the face of the earth, UNTIL our own, has gotten the relations between the sexes wrong. Gosh, what is the great evidence for this enlightenment? Our degraded popular culture? Our sex-free-for-all? Our children born out of wedlock? Our families that no longer have family trees but thickets of cross-marriages and blends and adoptions and abandonment? The fact that men and women these days hardly have a kind and grateful word to say to one another, except in the case of individuals here and there? The porn industry? I am not asking for a dreamland here. All I am asking for is a world in which men and women marry and stay married, and manage somehow, with all their many faults (and there are many) to do their duty by one another and their children. That is not utopia. We have seen such societies before. A few such are still in our midst.

    Are Mennonite women — there’s a paleoculture for you — really oppressed, beaten all the time, considered of little account? Or were the women in all the Indian tribes — all of them, no distinction — oppressed? And women themselves, they have no weapons with which to commit oppression of their own? There’s no way in which a bad woman can make the life of a man twice her size miserable? The only way to crush someone’s spirit is with a fist? What world have you been living in?

    And as for that violence — who, may I ask, has been getting in the way of all the programs that USED to train boys to become men who would never lift a hand in anger against a woman? Who, again I ask, has happily whisked the father out of the home as unnecessary, forcing boys to take for their masculine heroes the idiots and thugs on streetcorners? Who in this country is more likely to be the victim of violence, the woman who accepts the tenets of the sexual revolution, or the woman who doesn’t? You want violence? Go to the most egalitarianism-ridden neighborhoods of our cities, where the fathers have checked out entirely. You’ll get plenty of violence there.

    One last word: what I don’t like about this culture is that in fact it is not a culture at all. No culture is perfect; all are shot through with man’s sin. But what’s out there bears none of the characteristics of a culture. Culture has been gutted and filled up with the sawdust of mass entertainment, mass politics, etc. Something of the same has happened to marriage. I have a dream — that someday God would put it into the mind of every single man and woman on the earth to spend at least one day a year — just one! — meditating in gratitude on the excellences of the opposite sex, followed by just one day — one, in a whole year — meditating upon the peculiar sins of one’s own sex, especially the ways in which we make members of the other sex unhappy. Two days, out of the year. Just that much exercise of the moral imagination …

  • R.C.

    Modern culture — for want of a better word — is extremely flawed.

    So was the culture which preceded it. (They were/are occupied by fallen human beings, so: No great surprise, there.)

    Nearly any culture imaginable could become a paradise on earth if populated by unfallen beings. (For the structures which encouraged sin would simply be ignored, and those which caused sin would quickly be altered.)

    We know, then, that the surest way to a healthy society is for everyone to love God with all their heart, soul, mind, strength, and their neighbors as themselves. So let us all to prayers and evangelism, that “hearts and minds” be changed.

    Fine. But, having said all that…now what?

    Apart from prayers and evangelism, is there anything else to be done? Some duty we’re neglecting? If so, what?

    Esolen’s piece demonstrates insight into the noble bits of “the way things used to be” when they were at their best, just as Adriana’s post demonstrates (less insightfully, but only because it’s common knowledge) what was bad about “the way things used to be” when they were at their worst.

    But either way, “the way things used to be” is not directly retrievable, even should we wish to retrieve it. The better question is: “How do we encourage, in our current society, some of the benefits of the best parts of our former society, preferably without the drawbacks?” For only then do Esolen’s insights become worth our time and attention.

    So, now what?

    Is it a public-policy measure?

    Is it something missing in the homilies?

    Is it something missing from our actions as individuals?

    This discussion will be fruitful if and when someone proposes specific practical measures to be undertaken. For then we’d have something concrete to discuss.

    Otherwise, the discussion yields more heat than light.

  • meg

    “We’re supposed to believe that every single society that has ever existed on the face of the earth, UNTIL our own, has gotten the relations between the sexes wrong. Gosh, what is the great evidence for this enlightenment? Our degraded popular culture? Our sex-free-for-all? Our children born out of wedlock? Our families that no longer have family trees but thickets of cross-marriages and blends and adoptions and abandonment? The fact that men and women these days hardly have a kind and grateful word to say to one another, except in the case of individuals here and there? The porn industry?”


    It never ceases to fascinate me how many people think our current “culture” is any kind of historical high water mark.

    In public high school in the 70’s, it was easy to imbed the “sexual revolution” and secular ideas about marriage and family into my friends and I (all from large Catholic families). Our unsuspecting parents, having never faced such a thing themselves, basically released us into the world unprotected, with some very sad results. My friends and I had our ideas about marriage and family altered by the prevailing culture during our high school and college years, in some cases permanently. I can look back and see the groundwork being laid. Today you see the results. They truly threw the baby out with the bath water, along with the deep, sustaining dignity of marriage and its place in our culture.

  • John Jakubczyk

    First – an excellent piece.
    Second – I just finished the book, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery) and it is excellent.

    Third – R.C. asks a good question. Here are some practical responses both in the general and the specific.

    In addition to prayer which must gird all our actions, each of us must live with the real sense that we are being watched at all times and therefore must be an example of what the Christian ideal demands. Not an easy task and one that should keep us all very humble, but it is something that we can then call others to embrace. They will be attracted to it because they will sense our deeply felt joy in living and it (being the grace of God glowing in our lives) will want to know more. Of course there will also be those who will attack you for your obvious example.

    We must as men resume our responsibility to initiate young boys into manhood. They must learn what it is to be a Christian gentleman. This involves all of the traditional activities that only fathers and other men can teach boys. This is not to dismiss the mother’s essential role in teaching boys how to respect women. Still the best way for a boy to learn how to respect women is to watch his father love and respect the women in his life.

    Service to the community is another means of showing boys that they must think outside of their own cocoon. Asking young men to be a part of something greater than themselves is critical to helping them to develop commitment. In larger families this is a given but with the loss of those opportunities for young men to help in the family setting, there must be avenues for them to give outside of the home.

    In stressing the need to form men, I am not ignoring young women. However it has been my observation that whereas girls may be confused in their sense of purpose and role due to societal pressures, there is an intuitive sense that deep down they do or can understand and appreciate that unique calling each may have. With boys it is a little different.

    Teaching our children to think rationally and not to accept every “politically correct” idea that expresses itself on TV on on the internet, forcing them to read certain classical books, perhaps eliminating of at least reducing the influence of TV and video games, having them engage in physical activities, and listening to them when they ask about the current problems of the day.

    Those are specific thing one can do in one’s own sphere of influence.

    As for the big picture, elect pro-life pro-family candidates and then holds them to account.

    Pray for and encourage our religious leaders to boldly preach the gospel.

    Support only those schools and institutions that respect our Catholic values.

    I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Have a great day.

  • Arturo Vasquez

    Why do I feel so uncomfortable when reading these essays on the crisis of masculinity and gender roles? Maybe because it feels like I am reading a whiny protest in an imaginary victim’s tale? “Men can no longer be men!”, people lament. I guess I can detect this strongly only in the white middle class American society of the 21st century. In most of the rest of the world, men are still the abusive, lazy slobs who take advantage of women that they have always been. It just feels a lot of times like a reverse affirmative action mentality. Women aren’t saints, but they are still abused. Talking about gender roles and chivalry thus makes me profoundly uncomfortable.

  • Adriana

    Tony, you may feel nostalgic about the old ways.

    The woman who, when the police came because her husband was beating her up, and before they left she heard one of the cops telling her husband how to hit her and leave no marks, and was subsequently brutalized for years with the approval of the authorities has a very good reason not to feel nostalgic.

    The one who, after severe beatings tried to separate only to be old by her priest that she would go to Hell if she did, and that she had to submit herself meekly to her husband’s discipline has a good reason not to feel nostalgic.

    It is easy to feel nostalgic when your were the one with the power. The ones at the bottom remember better.

    You do not like today’s world? You helped make it. You should have done a better job to make sure that the traditional roles did not degenerate into brutal tyranny and license to torture.

    You did not. You have made your bed. You must now lie in it.

  • OhPlease

    It is easy to feel nostalgic when your were the one with the power. The ones at the bottom remember better.

    You do not like today’s world? You helped make it. You should have done a better job to make sure that the traditional roles did not degenerate into brutal tyranny and license to torture.

    You did not. You have made your bed. You must now lie in it.


    I really don’t understand where this kind of bitterness against men comes from–and then to lay the blame for all of the ills you or women in general have suffered either now or in the past at the feet of Prof Esolen (or maybe men in general) is a bit harsh and unrealistic.

    I don’t think that society in general in the “good old days” was filled with the types of problems you describe–I can assume that either you have had a very bad experience or you have watched way too many movies on Lifetime. Having grown up during that era, I watched how men treated women and, by the way, how women treated men. There was a mutual respect for each other. That isn’t to say that there weren’t arguments, there were, but those didn’t come to blows and violence was not the norm. That holds true for the friends I had and their families as well.

    Certainly, as we grew older and the 60’s and 70’s brought with it “enlightenment” there was a blurring of roles. Women wanted and felt a sense of entitlement to assume roles that had previously been that of men. Fair enough, but God made us different for a reason, our temperament is different, the way we think is different and because of those differences, we should be able to accept those and move on. Tony makes a really good point in his response–

    who, may I ask, has been getting in the way of all the programs that USED to train boys to become men who would never lift a hand in anger against a woman? Who, again I ask, has happily whisked the father out of the home as unnecessary, forcing boys to take for their masculine heroes the idiots and thugs on streetcorners?

    –the answer is very obvious. I’m certainly not advocating for women to “shut up and color”, but I’m asking that if you want to be treated like women, you also need men to be able to act as RESPONSIBLE men. Men certainly need to be held accountable for their actions, especially those in the very small minority who feel it is their right to treat women as objects rather than human. It all comes down to that one very Catholic premise that we should be adhering to–respect for human life at all stages, which, it seems to this very poor layman, to include respect for both genders and respect for their differences as well as their complimentary nature

  • Zoe Romanowsky

    It seems to me we can never get it quite right… If we acknowledge men and women are different, we must be saying that one is better or less than. (And often, this is what gets played out.) So to escape the repercussions of that, we pretend there are no differences at all.

    This, of course, is silly, because we know men and women are not the same and can’t be substituted one for the other. The problem comes when assumptions are made about what this means for individual men and women.

    Men or women should never be reduced to roles. Maleness or femaleness may lend itself better to one role or another, but roles do not define people. Womanhood and maternity, like manhood and paternity, can express itself in many ways. This requires us to look more deeply at what it means to be a woman or a man, and to refuse definitions that are false or shallow.

  • Adriana

    Oh Please:

    I do not know how prevalent it was in the past but I know that if something is treated as normal, people will not count it. If it is assumed that a beaten woman was “asking for it” then she would never appear in the police ledger. So, I do not trust past figures. If something is not called a crime, of course, then it will never show up in crime statistics.

    Then, the point is that when it happened, there was very little interest in making it stop. People pretended that everything was fine, and went on.

    If we have battered women shelters, and we started treating rape victims as victims, not criminals, it was not thanks to the proponents of traditional roles. It was those awful feminists that made enough of a stink about it to convince people that there was something wrong in their society. Then, and only then when people started calling it wrong, then we could start getting accurate figures (how many rape victims refused to press charges because the feared how they would be raped again in court?)

    In any case, whatever progress was made owes little to proponents of traditional roles. So, if you want women to consider the beuaties of tradition, you should start trying to regain their trust.

    (Thik of it this way. After the merchant rescued by the Good Samaritan heals, he gets friendly with Samaritans and helps them. Then the High Priest tries to reconvene with him for his unseemly behavior and he answers “One of them was there for me, when you were not. I trust them. I do not trust you.” That’s where you are.)

  • Karen

    I realize it’s just anecdote, but my mother-in-law’s experience supports Adriana. My father-in-law was a mean, abusive drunk, but the very conservative Pre Vat II priests in their home town told Tess it was her job to keep the family together regardless. It would have been so much better for everyone if she’d ditched the b@$t@2d and raised her sons alone. At least they wouldn’t have memories of beatings, seeing their father so drunk he passed out and soiled himself. If the old ways were so bleeding great, we wouldn’t have changed.

    And yes, Mr. Esolen, all previous cultures DID get the relations between the sexes wrong by our standards. They also got government wrong, slavery wrong, and the need to bathe every day wrong. We don’t have their economies, their governments, their short life expectencies and their terrible hygiene, so why should we mimic their marriages?

  • Lynn

    …it feels like I am reading a whiny protest in an imaginary victim’s tale?

    Oh, God, how true…

    First it was the evil, uppity blacks, then the evil, shrill feminists, and now the evil, shameless gays…

    Boy, whenever somebody dares to infringe on what white men perceive to be their rightful domain, do they ever turn into a pack of whiners.

    Adriana’s right, too. White men can whinge and whine all they want about how the big bad blackfeministgaywhatever person took away what they felt they were [i}entitled to merely because they were white and male, but the reality is white men have had most of the power most of the time and haven’t handled it very honorably.

    Anyway, things change. Deal with it. If two gay guys getting married sends your marriage into a tailspin, then your marriage wasn’t built on anything strong or real or true to begin with.

  • Donna

    IMHO, it seems to be Mr. Esolen himself who is putting marriage into a cubicle, or rather, a pair of cubicles – one nice neat box labeled “Husband” and another labeled “Wife” and don’t you dare suggest that the boxes aren’t essential ! [smiley=tongue]

  • John Jakubczyk

    Well, it seems that this article has ripped open some serious wounds from the past and in recalling the failures of those who caused harm to those who have suffered, we have fallen pray to the old canard and thus are willing to throw away all that is good in the illusive hope that it will eliminate that which was bad.

    Some givens which I think we all can acknowledge – there is such a thing as sin. We human beings – from the dawn of time have committed sins and these sins are what hurt people, debase people, destroy people and property and environments – all of which is contrary to the will of Our Creator, Our Father God, who made us to love and reflect His divine love in our world.

    So all of the failures of the past, the drunken wife beating husband, the timid parson, the scurilous knave, the slavers, the power hungry princes, etc, are contrary to the Gospel message.

    I think Professor Esolen knows that. I think anyone who has studied history honestly and without a preconceived bias knows that.

    But I hate to disappoint those who think that the violence toward women has somehow abated. And one does a grave injustice to the generations of men and women who lived before us, who sacrificed and struggled to make a better world for their children when one recalls the realities of sin and paints the past as so evil, as if we now live in a fairy tale of ease and peace and comfort.

    50 million unborn children have been killed in this country alone since 1973. Half of them women, a almost a third of them minorities; these children would disagree with you that all is Nirvana. Feminism has not improved the lives of all women. The propaganda may claim otherwise, but just to cite one example, for many women the decision to work is not one of choice but of necessity.

    Granted we have some great opportunites these days and as an optimistic person, I believe we will restore protection to our unborn children in law and continue to show by example the compelling truth that is the Gospel. But Esolen’s arguments about marriage are on point. There is a concerted effort to undermine the whole notion of marriage and as such it is an attack on the dignity of men and women and who they are as they reflect the image of the living God. Just look at who attacks the teachings of the Church and it could not be more clear.

    This is not about living in the past. It is about protecting those traditions that respect and dignfy the human person, allowing him (or her) to be truly free to discern who God calls them to be.

    So please separate the relity that people have done bad things in the past with the proper role and purpose of marriage and family in being the foundation of a well ordered society.

    And take the imte to read Esolen’s book on Western Civilization.
    There is much in it to recommend it.

  • Lynn

    No one is saying or has ever said that all is Nirvana or that violence and brutality no longer exist. Of course they do, and they always will. We don’t live in a perfect world.

    The point is that this traditional “norm” Esolen is speaking of gave rise to a particular set of brutalities against particular groups of people. In that light, you can hardly expect those of us who are members of the groups of people brutalized as a result of the power imbalances stemming from this traditional model to long lovingly for the past in the same way he does.

    So, while we don’t live in a perfect world, we recognize inequities and we fix them once we’ve evolved past the prejudices and bigotries and ignorances that created them.

    That some white dude who never had the cajones to leave school and make his way in the real world is now struggling to define himself as a man is not even remotely interesting anymore. No one cares. One expects him to live his life according to his beliefs and to allow others to do the same. If the fact a woman can pursue a career while her husband minds the kids or a gay couple can marry makes him feel bad, that’s his problem. Who cares what a whiny white guy who makes his living taking obscene amounts of money from hard working men and women all while he criticizes them behind their backs thinks, anyway?

  • RK

    But I hate to disappoint those who think that the violence toward women has somehow abated. And one does a grave injustice to the generations of men and women who lived before us, who sacrificed and struggled to make a better world for their children when one recalls the realities of sin and paints the past as so evil, as if we now live in a fairy tale of ease and peace and comfort.

    This is a key point. To assume that the “nirvana” of today is so much better than dreariness of yesterday is a kind of delusional solipsism. Not only does the horror of violence within families continue it is possibly more prevalent.

    Radical feminism, for all of its purported success, has diminished a critical role that women play in the relations between genders. Good men have always deferred to women as a sort of moral compass for their lives. We’ve often relied on women to give our lives purpose and inspiration (I humbly submit that men can serve a similar role for women). The advent of “sexual liberation”, sex-without-consequence, contraception, abortion, divorce, etc. has compromised women’s integrity (as well as men’s). By becoming less mutually dependent and more “equal” we’ve reduced ourselves and one another.

    Moreover, as women have relentlessly become more autonomous, families have become casualties. While roles ought not define people, they become a de facto reality as children become the focal point in a marriage. When children come, men and women necessarily become dependent upon one another. Much of the confusion and chaos in marriages seems to result from pride and an unwillingness to sacrifice one’s will for something greater than mere self fulfillment.

  • R.C.


    I don’t know about white, and I don’t know about guys, but whatever their gender or skin color, you seem to be under some fantastical illusions about the folks who’re against gay marriage and the belief that gender doesn’t exist.

    You assert that:

    (a.) Their expression of their opinions is “whining”;
    (b.) They make their money by stealing;
    (c.) They think their own marriages are imperiled by gay couples;
    (d.) They think women should be barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen.

    Either you’ve never encountered any of the persons in question, or the ones you encountered were very unusual examples of the species, or you brought so many preconceptions and resentments to the meeting that you saw a lot of stuff that wasn’t there. You can judge which, for yourself.

    (a.) Is false. I am sure there a whiners (male and female, white and black) in such a large group. But such a broad swath of Christians aren’t all prone to whining.

    A more factual description of what they’re saying is that it’s a combination between “fair warning” and a “just complaint on behalf of the innocent.”

    The fair warning is of the social costs of the degeneration of society in sexual matters: It does not come for free, and results in a lot of injured relationships and injured psyches. The attendant social costs include increased poverty, lack of education, and incarceration.

    The “just complaint on behalf of the innocent” is this: It is an abuse against children that, in pursuit of our own libertinism, we force upon them a world in which they cannot drive down the street without seeing billboards for strip clubs and gay bars, and they cannot attend school with other children from their neighborhood without being instructed in techniques of buggery in middle-school.

    (b.) Is false. Even if we artificially confine the group to white men only, it is false. The only sense in which it is “theft” for most white men to earn their salaries is that 60- and 70-hour work weeks detract from time they ought to spend with their families, and reflect out-of-balance priorities.

    (c.) Is false. They don’t think their marriages are imperiled. They think that the institution of marriage is imperiled on the margins for future generations, through the undermining of the ethos of monogamy. And this is correct.

    (d.) Is false. Most men in the group you described would be happy — ecstatic, even — to be married to “a Proverbs 31 woman.” She “works with eager hands,” she “considers a field and buys it…out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.” Now there’s a Biblical, Traditional Wife!

    But you don’t find many women like that amongst Womyn’s Studies majors, do you? No: That type are too inculcated with anti-male resentments. They’re too busy whining. It’s a shame really: A waste of some otherwise perfectly attractive-looking women.



  • Adriana


    No, it is not nirvana, and it has its share of problems that can be addressed.

    But I recall the way things used to be.

    The fact that I had to bear in silence sexual taunts each time I stepped out into the street.

    The fact that when I expressed an opinoin I was told “girls do not know these things” “You are a girl, what do you know?” “Girls cannot do this.” “Just be pretty and shut up.” That when I tried to engage in conversation or debate, it was turned into compliments about my figure, as if what I thought did not matter.

    I remember each and every insult I received from traditional males.

    I remember being told that it would be a catastrophe for me if I lost my virginty, while my seducer would be forgiven and even feted.

    You want to bring back the good stuff from the past, fine. But first give us an ironclad guarantee that you will not bring back the bad stuff too. And frankly, I do not trust you, so better being some storng collateral.

  • R.C.


    With Lynn, just a moment ago, I ended a post in an intentionally jocular mood, to (without malice) “get her goat.”

    With you, though, I’ll take an entirely different approach, because of how you’ve described your past. You say:

    …I had to bear in silence sexual taunts each time I stepped out into the street.

    Where were the traditional men when this was going on? A traditional man, as I understand the term, would have beat the living daylights out of anyone who taunted an innocent girl in that way. Were there no honorable men, within earshot? All crude little boys?

    …when I expressed an opinion I was told “girls do not know these things” … “Just be pretty and shut up.”

    Were your opinions correct and delivered in a clear, businesslike manner? If so, then they were entirely wrong. If not, then their error was to identify the problem with your gender, rather than with the opinion or its presentation.

    One character flaw in many men that you’ll have to be aware of (even if it’s not your fault) is that when someone (especially a woman) corrects them or prompts them during a conversation (especially in front of other men), they often feel (feel, more than think) that it’s a message of disrespect or an accusation of incompetence.

    Again, that’s not your fault. But recall that, for men, respect equals love; some even say they’d “rather be respected than loved.” Just as men sometimes aren’t aware that an insignificant comment on their part can make a woman feel unvalued; so too women sometimes aren’t aware that offering “help” to a man in figuring something out, while well-intended, can come across as implying, “You’re too stupid and slow to figure this out on your own, you helpless baby, …so here’s the answer your dim mind is groping for.”

    I have no way to know if that was part of the dynamic you describe with these rude and churlish men. But it’s worth considering.

    That when I tried to engage in conversation or debate, it was turned into compliments about my figure, as if what I thought did not matter.

    Again, crass and crude. Where were the knights? A mature man aspires to (or achieves) a sort of knighthood.

    I remember each and every insult I received from traditional males.

    Sounds to me like you never encountered any. You met a lot of backward cads, but no men.

    I remember being told that it would be a catastrophe for me if I lost my virginity, while my seducer would be forgiven and even feted.

    This, like rape and poverty and illiteracy, is a truism about a fallen world, but it is not one any real mature man would celebrate.

    Adriana, on behalf of my gender, I apologize.

    We do not do so good a job as we ought, at training our younger lads to be the men they should be. And we have not done so good a job as we ought, at clobbering and correcting those who escape youth without acquiring honor.

    When I encounter a “Womyn’s Studies” graduate, full of self-importance and shrill antagonism, I’m tempted to poke fun at them with self-conscious outrageous chauvinism. (See the end of my previous note to Lynn: That’s about as outrageous as I get, in that direction!)

    But in your case, your grievances are entirely justified. So, though I don’t know you and didn’t grow up in your neighborhood, I apologize. I’m no perfect gentleman; I can get grumpy and impatient. But I’d at least have not been as disrespectful to you as those numbskulls; nor would any other traditional man of my acquaintance. Far from being traditional, the dopes you describe had had too little tradition beaten into them.

    I’m sorry that those of us responsible for their education fell down on the job.



  • RK

    You want to bring back the good stuff from the past, fine. But first give us an ironclad guarantee that you will not bring back the bad stuff too. And frankly, I do not trust you, so better being some storng collateral.

    I have to echo R.C.’s sentiments and express remorse for the how you were made to feel so badly. Males can behave awfully and immaturely. Sometimes they’re jerks and sometimes they may just be ignorant. As Christ requested of His Father while on the cross, “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” we can take our own pains and sufferings and create some spiritual good out of them. Easy for me to say, I guess.

    There can’t be a guarantee that men (or women) won’t act badly. It’s part of our fallen nature. It doesn’t mean we should accept abuse, but it’ll never just disappear. While past pains can form our imaginations in constructive ways, I think we ought to be careful to purge the negative effects of those pains. Not all men are rotten. I had a bad experience with some people from Germany a few years ago. It’s tempting for me to dislike all Germans, when it’s really just some individuals I had the bad experience with. Now, with Canadians it’s a different story–we should feel good about disliking all of them[smiley=wink]

    The fact is, that women sometimes treat men terribly. It’s as sickening to see that as when men mistreat women. Just like men shouldn’t get away with their transgressions, women need to also be held accountable for their flaws. In an era where Christian virtue becomes more and more trivialized, is it any wonder that men and women resort to reacting to one another viscerally rather than with the self-sacrificing love of Christ on the cross?

  • Donna

    Maybe if they stop writing articles that sound like an over-educated version of Spanky from the He-Man Girl-Haters Club (“Awwww, girls ! I don’t wanna play with girls ! They’ll ruin it all !”) perhaps people could take Mr. Esolen, et. al. more seriously. Little boys and little girls act that way. Adults who do the same produce a strong urge to tell them to go off and play and not bother the grown-ups who are dealing with the real world.

  • Lynn
  • Margaret Cabaniss

    Obviously there are a lot of strong opinions on this one, but please remember to keep disagreements civil. Argument over the issues is fine, but personal attacks will not be tolerated.

    Lets focus on the discussion at hand. Thanks.

  • Adriana

    I am not bitter about the past, but I cannot forget it, either – and I do not like it praised by someone who I have no guarantee that he would refrain from the same bad behavior if he could get away with it.

    About the street harassment, I was born in a Latin country, where the reasoning was that while he women of you family were on a pedestal, all the other ones were fair game. You did not have to respect them.

    Which is a failing of societies that center on the family to the extent that they fail to develop a culture of the common good. The attitude is “keep your house inmaculately clean and throw your trash into the street”. Civic culture suffers, and therefore nepotism and corruption are endemic, both being seen as a proper way to provide for your own family.

    Yes, there were features in the past worth rescuing. But the unequal balance of power was not one of them. That should be gone.

    I can accept that I may have been tactless in the past, but the answer “that’s because you are a girl, and therefore stupid” was much worse. A rebuke for tactlesness, an awareness that I had hurt someone’s feelings was appropriate, an attack on my personal failings would be.

    An attack on what I was, what I was born, a blanket assumption because I was not born male I was not worth listening to was not. And that attitude was too prevalent.

    And because women were by nature foolish, they had to be guided, and told what to do, and even ask permission to do certain things (how long ago was when they could not get credit cards on their own?) But of course, the could influence men, by such means as flattery.

    Flattery was seen a proper behavior. Which meant was telling men what they wanted to hear, and praise them for virtues they did not have in order to get their way.

    They were expected to lie to men with lies men found pleasant. That was proper female behavior, and anyone who tried to tell the truth was dismissed as “unfeminine”

    Then they turned around and complained that women were not truthful.

    Mr. Esalen, what do you miss about the good old days? The flattery? Would you to be told by women what you want to hear?

  • Donna

    but since everything that I have read by Mr. Esolen has been marred by a childish misogynistic streak, it’s kind of hard not to not to think that he is a childish misogynist. The old saying “If it walks like a duck” comes to mind.

  • Rob G

    Christian morality has a standard of sexual behavior for both men and women. As philosopher Roger Scruton puts it, “The problem comes only when you uphold half the morality — the half that is binding on women — and leave men to escape the duties that are theirs. These problems surely arise because we seek to base a new morality on free choice alone — and then we build on sand. Of course, without God, maybe there is only sand.”

    The key here, then, is not to lower the standards for women (that has hurt everyone, women especially) but to demand that men maintain the standards for them that are already there. When the New England Patriots were accused of cheating, no one that I know of suggested that everyone else in the NFL should be allowed to do the same, so as to level the playing field. Yet that is precisely what we have done in the sexual arena, and no one is happier about it than the predatory male.

  • R.C.

    Oh, well heck, that explains a lot!

    I was under the assumption you’d been raised in the United States. So, naturally, I was racking my brain to think of a place in the U.S. where the kind of neighborhood behavior you described would have been tolerated. I assumed that it must have been in some slum area or something.

    I imagine Mr. Esolen, like me, is familiar with American middle-class suburban neighborhood attitudes. Which, I can tell you, are nothing like the attitudes in a packed-in rush-hour commuter train in Mexico City (where women are casually groped without a second thought).

    I don’t know about Donna. She’s reading something into Mr. Esolen’s words that I don’t detect in the slightest. Donna, do you also have a story to share like Adriana’s, to explain your radically different perspective?

    Regardless, it’s likely enough that we’re all getting our wires crossed because each of us is trying to correct the problems they’ve experienced, assuming them to be indemic to the world at large…when in reality, each of us has experiences which differ radically from the others.

    In the U.S., there’s a whole generation of men amongst whom nothing was discouraged more ardently by the powers-that-be than signs of masculinity. Risk-taking, competitiveness, aggressiveness, full-contact sports, short attention-spans were all dialed out by a wash of Ritalin and zero-tolerance and child-rearing by Dr. Benjamin Spock, in various decades. These suburban, gently-raised white boys aren’t catcalling after young girls; they wouldn’t know how. Frankly, many of them wouldn’t know what to do about it if a young girl catcalled after them. (You should see the complaints of women in some urban areas: they say that all the single men either lack ambition, or are gay.)

    Sound anything like that Latin culture where you were raised, Adriana? Probably not!

    But Adriana, it’s probably that emasculated character, in its lesser forms throughout American society, to which Mr. Esolen is reacting. If the U.S. were remotely like the Latin country in which you were raised, Mr. Esolen’s reaction would have been radically different — would, in fact, have been like mine was, when I assumed you’d grown up in America: surprise, outrage, and a desire to cave in some young punk’s jaw with an uppercut.

    Once we’ve walked a mile in one another’s moccasins, we’ll likely appreciate why we each have radically different “diagnoses” of what “the problem between the genders” really is.

  • Adriana

    Yes. RC the way we are raised has a lot to do with what we judge to be wrong.

    I can understand that Mr. Esalen wants to bring back the family togetherness of old times, but I wish he could say more about not brining back the awful behavior that such togetherness masked.

    The attitutue “the women of my family are sacred, other women are whores to be used” is not only prevalent in too many places, but it can explain why such places have such a deplorable track record when it comes to democracy and peaceful governmnet.

    Because the same attitude about women is applied to all other things, as I said, keep your house immaculate and throw your trash into the street. BE honest in dealing with members of your family, but rob strangers blind. Put the interests of your family above all, and do not care for the rights of strangers.

    This is not the stuff on which you can build a civic culture that can maintian a democracy. After all, a democracy depends on the ability of people to put the welfare of the country above the interests of their particular group. When this does not happen, democracy degenerates into anarchy, and before you know it, dictatorship is the only possible way to govern.

    Which is why when I hear the strenght of families in the Thirld World, comparing them with ours, I wonder if they realize their drawbacks, and to what point those close knit families contribute to their inability to govern themselves (we already know what a danger tribalism is – and excessive family attachment is the same on a smaller scale).

    Which might have something to do with what you see with the urge to “demasculinise” men, or at least to tone down their aggresiveness, risk taking, and competitiveness.

    Competitiveness has one downside, that no one notices: it produces a lot of losers. Only one can win the prize, the others are to be counted as failures. In the wild a winning male gets the females and the rewards of winning – the loser has to slink away and be forgotten. We have softened it, made it possible for losing males to stay around, and live within the herd, even to the point of being allowe to mate and breed. Except that we keep telling them tht they should win, should keep trying for the gold. This is a potential source of conflict, as well as constructive activity, and there so much conflict that a democracy can take before it starts going south.

    Then, there was the revolution of Taylorism. Industry conducted on the princlipe that hundreds of men would do exactly as told, performing the same task over and over. There was only one way to make them amenable to that kind of crazy setup, and that was to train them from early on to be meek and obliging. They had to, or they would be unemployable, and unable to share into the growing bounty.

    So, we have the results now.

  • Sean Ollech

    Thank you for the delightful article. I had not thought of the union being a link in a very long chain, one generation linked to the other. That was something new for me. It is true, and that is just one reason why marriage must only work between men and women alone.

    In reading the bible, I see what Christ says about husband and wives. He says that the husband must love the wife as he does his own flesh, and that to harm the wife would be the same as him hurting himself.

    The whole concept of individuality is foreign to a Christian marriage. Does not Christ say that there are no longer two, but one? That the union in marriage is not merely a physical union, but also in spirit and mind? This unity is shattered in divorce, leaving broken spirits divided and suffering.

    I do not believe self-fulfillment is possible outside of marriage. The whole concept is flawed. We are not made whole to start with and nor can we make ourselves whole no matter how we wish. We are each only part and can only find fulfillment in the other, and in union with the other for all time.

    Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic with an antiquated perception of the world, and perhaps I will not find such love in this world, but that is how I understand marriage, and why it is important that the men be men and the women be women. For our strengths are complementary, the union of strength with strength will not work. Mens weakness to women’s strengths and mens strengths to women’s weakness.

  • Chrissy G

    I did not grow up in a macho woman-smothering society like that described by Adriana, nor in a neighborly network of motherly women and fatherly men like that described by RC. I grew up in the nineties, basically. At 21, perhaps some of you would say I haven’t grown up yet at all. But it does seem that everyone who is discussing “the culture today” is discussing the culture their children/grandchildren are growing up in. I’d like to offer my perspective as someone who is growing up in the post-sexual-revolution US as a Catholic.

    This is the view from my little corner of American Catholic society, as a coed at a Jesuit university:
    -a few predatory males take advantage of (or assault outright) a disproportionate number of females. The statistic our Women’s Center posts is that 1 in 4 female college students will be the target of attempted sexual assault during their four years, nationwide.

    -a few members of either sex are truly interested in the Catholic vision of gender, sexuality, and marriage. A great, visible example of this is the new Knights of Columbus chapter a good friend of mine started on campus. They’re Catholic men trying to be just that in a time when (even on Catholic campuses) it is popular neither to be a true Catholic nor to be a true man.

    -the vast majority range in between. The most common outlook on sex is that you should be dating the person (or at least open to dating them); on marriage, that it’s a good idea to settle down eventually; on children, that having one or two would be good and wouldn’t interfere with either parent’s career; and on gender, that men and women have different tastes and attitudes and maybe personalities, but that’s about it.

    I don’t think the damage done by the sexual revolution is irreversible, but I don’t think flipping the clocks back to 1950 is the solution. I don’t know how to translate what answers we Catholics may have to the greater culture (other than by demonstrating them by our scrupulous example), but I do think that as Catholics we have some answers at hand. Theology of the Body, that series of John Paul II’s lectures that discusses the nature of the human person, gender, sex, marriage, and celibacy, is the most relevant and beautiful theology I’ve ever studied. It’s a treatise on Trinitarian love and our place in it as persons created, male and female, in the Divine Image. It’s a careful study that explains how men and women can be so radically different while being alike in dignity and in beauty. I don’t want the past that devalued women; I don’t want the present that devalues gender and sexuality; I want a new future altogether, that respects sex AND both the sexes. I think Theology of the Body is the best way to get that.

    …sorry to take the conversation on such a turn, but i do feel it’s relevant and the current back-and-forth didn’t seem to have any forward motion left…