By Mark Judge
The Catholic schools of Washington should hire me — because I’m a man.
When I started substitute teaching at St. Mary’s, a Catholic school in Maryland, two years ago, I noticed something that has become so common that it goes unnoticed. The Catholic grammar schools – like public elementary schools – are mostly run by women. In some of them there is not a single male teacher. In the archdiocese as a whole, the ratio is about 10-1, and it is similar in the rest of the country. This imbalance is terrible for a Church that is still stumbling through a sex abuse crisis and fighting a secular culture that grows increasingly misogynistic. Kids need male role models, and it’s time for some affirmative action in Catholic schools.
This is not the usual conservative argument that too many women in positions of authority are bad for boys. I am the product of a family full of tough, smart, independent Catholic women, from my mother who was a nurse in Korea to my sister the single mother to my sister-in-law the pediatrician. I know better than to make the argument that women are lacking in any way intellectually or morally or physically (my sister’s Catholic Youth League basketball team could run circles around us boys when I was a kid). Women who run Catholic schools produce brilliant, achieving women. That is not the issue.
The damage done by the abusive priests and the bishops who moved them from parish to parish has given the impression that the men who are leaders in the Catholic Church are duplicitous at best and iniquitous at worst. In order to get over this, the Church not only needs penance – she needs men in the schools who show children a model of male moral strength. Catholic kids need to see men who would go to their own death rather than see harm come to a child.
A priest friend of mine agrees who runs a well-known parish in DC agrees. I went to see him a couple weeks ago, to ask him why I kept getting turned down for teaching jobs, and why they always seemed to go to women. He told me he himself was frustrated about it, and that I should write to the bishop. The priest and I had a man-to-man talk, as it were, which points to the other, perhaps more abstract, problem that the man shortage reveals: woman and men have a different rapport with children. Children instinctively talk and act differently around them, and it is important that they have access to both sexes throughout the course of the day. This has nothing to do with the so-called “feminization of Christianity,” an argument that holds that the “masculine traits” have been scrubbed from Christianity due to women controlling parish offices and schools. If the masculine traits are bravery, toughness, strength and discipline, then many of the female teachers at St. Mary’s have them more than I do. In fact, my first few times subbing their it was the women who helped me out with effective techniques to discipline kids, how to run the audio-visual equipment, and how to control the chaos at recess.
The argument is not about putting Sylvester Stallone into eighth grade to make men outta the boys; it’s having men in the schools who can reinforce a Catholic feminism. This is the feminism found in the example of the Virgin Mary. It is a feminism that is tough enough to travel miles through the dessert on a donkey, and at a desperate hours bluntly ask God face to face to do something, as the Blessed Mother did at the wedding at Cana. It is the feminism that had the courage to stand at the foot of the cross when the men had fled.
Ironically, this is the kind of feminism that can sometimes be best delivered by a man. This year girls basketball team at St. Mary’s won the league championship. As a reward the girls on the team got to come to school out of uniform, wearing whatever ever t-shirts they wanted to. The boys, whose team had not done as well, were sulking around school, bristling whenever the girls would brag. I noticed they were whispering to each other, “Yeah, but girls basketball is not a sport.” They would never say in front of any teachers, 90 percent of whom are women. But then the sixth grade came into my classroom in the afternoon and, the boys saw me standing in the front and they let themselves go. “It’s not a sport!” they cried. They called out, men to man, for validation – “Mr. Judge, girls basketball is not a sport! Right?”
I was surprised. I grew up in the 1970s, and even in those dark ages we would never have claimed that women’s basketball was not a sport. Had thing moved that far backwards? Actually, I answered, not only is it a sport, it’s a lot more interesting than men’s basketball. Men’s basketball has become a lot of dunking. In women’s basketball there is strategy, jump-shots, thinking.
The boys looked at me suspiciously for a few seconds. But then they seemed to take it in.
I submit that to young boys, this message is different coming from a man. I was an athlete when I was younger, am an orthodox Catholic, love women and sports, and am unaffected by 1960s style rage feminism. Kids, who any teacher will tell you are the greatest BS detectors in the world, can tell when they are being propagandized and when someone is speaking from the heart. And if it is a man to boys, the message will take more often than not. It sound terrible, it may run me out of polite society, but I think that when boys spend all day every day listening to women, they do what girls do when boys go on and on about cars or sports. They stop listening.
Note from the author to readers: After this article was published I realized that it may give the false impression that I was passed over at St. Mary’s in favor of female teachers; I should have made it more clear that I was describing the application process in the larger archdiocese, not at one school. It’s imporant to note that some places like St. Mary’s have such dedicated and strong teachers that there is little to no turnover – and that it’s often hard to find qalitified male applicants, as they tend to prefer high school or higher paying jobs.
Mark Judge is the author of “A Tremor of Bliss: Sex, Catholicism, and Rock ‘n’ Roll.”