I recently participated in a discussion with Catholic young adults about masculinity and femininity. What are masculine and feminine traits? Are there such things? How do masculinity and femininity complement each other? How do they affect one another? Does the culture’s response to masculinity and femininity affect dating culture, including and especially Catholic dating culture? Here are some of my takeaways from the discussion:
1. Masculinity and femininity are real. Paragraph 372 of the Catechism (the only paragraph mentioning “masculinity” and “femininity”) says:
“Man and woman were made ‘for each other’ – not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be ‘helpmate’ to the other, for they are equal as persons (‘bone of my bones. . .’) and complementary as masculine and feminine.”
2. It’s hard to know what exactly masculinity and femininity are, or what they consist of. Whenever we tried to define or delineate the contours of masculinity and femininity, we always fell into stereotypes that had endless exceptions and nuances (people identify masculinity with strength, but women should be strong too; femininity is associated with nurturing, although men should be nurturing as well…). We couldn’t identify any distinct inherent characteristics or traits of masculinity or femininity, only what we commonly see among men and women.
3. We couldn’t discuss femininity and masculinity apart from each other. Conversations about one always circled around the other, in a kind of swirling yin and yang movement.
4. Women expect men to cultivate masculinity in one another, while men expect women to cultivate masculinity in men. Oddly, the men tended to expect the women to be the protectors of both their own femininity and of men’s masculinity. Men expected women to be responsible for preserving both their own virtue and the virtue of men, by being strong women in themselves and “calling out” men to be stronger men. I don’t know the source of the disjunction.
5. The single people had the strongest views on dating and relationships, and the single men had the strongest views on women’s roles.
I’m still processing some of these observations. They likely don’t hold across the entire culture, but they were interesting to observe for an evening.
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