When St. Paul’s text about the roles of husbands and wives came up in the lectionary late this summer, the priest offering Mass turned things around in his homily. He juxtaposed news of the first two women to graduate from Army Ranger School with a court case concerning the alleged rape of a young teen at St. Paul’s preparatory school in New Hampshire, where some say deflowering young girls is a senior tradition. The message of the homily was that women can do anything men can do and are deserving of respect.
That’s not exactly a radical message, these days. In fact, we’re several generations into the repeated narrative that men are the boorish sources of division and violence in the world. Methods of education have arguably switched from favoring the learning style of boys to favoring that of girls, with the proliferation of behavior-altering drugs like Ritalin to bring the boys in line.
It would be fair to wonder whether things have gone too far. In Ephesians, St. Paul instructs husbands to “love their wives as their own bodies.” He continues, “No one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it.” But what if boys and men stop loving their own bodies? It’s one thing to insist that men should respect women to the point of sacrificing themselves because they are the head of the body, as Paul puts it. It’s quite another thing to demand such respect when the overriding sense that men get from their community is that they have no excuse for respecting themselves.