Monday 2 February 2015

What Men Think/Why are Altar Girls Kryptonite?

Destroying vocations/church attendance?
I came across an interesting article after Googling "Why don't boys like girl stuff?" Before I link to it, however, I should give a language warning. Language and sexual themes.  The title is "33 Men Reveal the One Thing They Would Like Women to Stop Doing Immediately." Keep in mind my mantra, "You can find out what men think, but you won't always like it."

Because it is in the news and because I am the only super-obvious traditionalist writing in the Toronto CR, I am thinking about writing about the crazy controversy around a priest in San Francisco's decision not to invite girls to be altar servers, as is his right. Of course there are many altar girls in Toronto. There have been since LONG before John Paul II gave permission in 1994. Saying "Hey, scram, Petunia!" will not go down well in the T-Dot.

I first found out that the Roman Catholic Church could be divided on anything when as a child c. 1980 I noted that Saint X parish had altar girls and Saint Y did not. I asked my mother why this was and my mother, despite any private thoughts she might have had on the subject of women-in-the-Church very credibly told the unvarnished truth, which was that Saint X was disobedient whereas Saint Y was obedient.

At the time I thought Saint X was right to have altar girls and Saint Y was wrong not to have altar girls, so this word "disobedient" stumped me. (Had my mother gone to my theology school, she would have said it was "prophetic", but I digress.) That priests could disobey what the Church (whom even as a child I did not confuse with the pope, thanks again to my mother) decreed blew my tiny mind. I began to notice other differences between Saint X and Saint Y, which showed that I was not completely dim as, in fact, Saint X was and may still be the most "progressive" Catholic Church in Toronto.

As a little girl ill-suited to the company of the boys with whom I had to go to school, I was very sensitive to slights to little girls. I did not understand why girls should not be altar servers, or why women should not be priests, or why my brothers' cathedral choir school was only for boys.  I asked my Grade 3 teacher during Religion class why women couldn't be priests, and she perhaps flippantly told me I should ask the pope.  So I wrote a letter to the pope, which Miss W said was too badly written to send. That was very sad, for I am sure John Paul II would have given me a satisfactory explanation. Well, once my parents pored over it for hours and figured it out themselves, that is. (JP2's style is not what you would call pellucid.)

My mother's explanation for the all-male priesthood was so cynical she will deny having said it, but it was "Men would no longer take religion seriously if there were women priests."

Staggering, eh? But is it true? Well, I see that in 2012 23% of Church of England clergymen were women, and that an increasing number of Church of England clergymen are not paid by the C of E. The C of E--the state church of England and Wales--simply does not generate enough income to pay its own clergy, and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, considering how few Anglicans in England and Wales go to church and put money in the basket. More Muslims and Catholics go to weekly services than Anglicans although we are small minorities in England-and-Wales. And guess who we don't have presiding over them?

Still, how depressing to think that men flee religion because women-in-authority. I mean, this very well may be true, but one could easily construct an argument that goes "Men flee religion because women-in-authority because Fall." 

The argument put forward for no altar girls is as follows: Altar service fosters priestly vocations in boys. Boys, however, are put off by presence of altar girls. Fewer altar boys = fewer priests. Therefore, we must not have altar girls.

And, if this is in fact true, fair enough. If the purpose of altar service is, unbeknownst to the boys, to foster their vocations to the priesthood, then naturally only boys should be altar servers.

But   why is it that the presence of altar girls puts boys off in the first place? Why do boys dislike "girl stuff" so much? And why do so many girls think "boy stuff" must be so much more valuable than "girl stuff?" Why do women who would never consider joining a women's religious order pine to become Catholic priests?

What do you all think? Men can answer too. But I don't want to hear about "Church is the bride, and therefore priest should be bridegroom." I know all that. I am also capable of reading the New Testament, and I note with everyone else of orthodox faith that Mary, a woman, is the greatest of all human (and solely human) beings and yet is not a priest. What I want to read is why/why not it is good (and natural) for boys and men to reject altar service, ministry and public worship simply because girls and women are involved up front.

Altar girls=cooties, women-with-religious-authority=ugh. God's way of making boys into men, or a symptom of the Fall from Grace?


  1. Interestingly, our church maintains separate girls and boys choirs, as our (wise) choirmaster discovered that if you had a mixed choir, it very quickly became an all-girls choir. Make of that what you will. Like it or not, I think men/boys need the space, for whatever reason.

  2. I think so too, but what is the reason? And why do girls and women want to follow them around so much?

  3. Dear Auntie Seraphic:

    Regarding the disdain of altar boys for altar girls: this is an easy one. Here’s some of the answer (a full answer would take a book):

    1) The ages in question (10-15) are particularly vulnerable for young men, in a way that they are not for young women. Young women get lots of biological and social cues about their roles as women, whereas young men receive substantially fewer cues – except for constant reminders that, as men, they are grossly inadequate: no job, no money, small stature, no gravitas, little experience, etc. Accordingly, young men have a special need for same-sex social arrangements in which to define themselves, and to establish personal value despite their handicaps. Take that away, and young men will try to get that need filled elsewhere (sports, friends, nerdy hobbies, etc.).

    2) At the ages in question, young women are more mature, more focused, and more intelligent – particularly in the verbal skills. (These are generalities, and the situation changes in high school, but still). By introducing young women into the mix, you ensure that many if not most young men will have yet another venue in which to come in second. Put another way: when Hermione Granger becomes an altar server, Ron Weasley will find other things to do. (Although the later Ron Weasley would stay for the wrong reasons!)

    3) Many men - young and otherwise - find the entire phenomenon of Catholicism and religion generally to be intolerably feminized. Being quiet for a whole hour? Talking and talking and talking about your sins? Every song is about looooove? So girly, say the many disgruntled men. Altar girls are another drop in that bucket.

    4) Men of all ages tend to be competitive and brash; women, somewhat less so. When women are introduced into a previously all-male social milieu, that milieu inevitably becomes less competitive and less brash. Many men don’t like that.

    5) Similarly, when you put young men and young women together, hormones…happen. That can be disruptive and uncomfortable. Some young men want a break from it. Introduce women, and that break goes away. Shy young men with limited social skills don’t need yet another reminder of their shortcomings and insecurities, so they quit.

    Much more to be said, but this is a start. Incidentally, all of these facts were well-known to teachers back in the bad old sex-segregated education days, but we chose to disregard those insights because Modernity.

    1. Leo, that is VERY helpful! Thank you. And it certainly gives me a lot to think about for my column. If I manage to convince girls that they currently have an ADVANTAGE over boys their age, maybe I can convince them that they should stand back in this field and let boys shine a bit.

    2. Great insights, Leo. I teach 14 and 15 year olds, and while I could not articulate the reasons as you have, I have definitely seen these points played out in the dynamics of my (co-ed) classroom.

  4. Boys need a space where they can be manly without fear of girls competing to be more manly than they are. They need to gain acceptance and approval from other boys and men in order to feel secure in their identities and confident in their abilities (hence the key role of a father in their lives). Competing with girls does not provide the same benefits, and the potential humiliation factor increases exponentially... so it makes sense for boys to either leave or act like "class clowns", just to escape the pressure.

    1. Thank you! That certainly makes sense to me. Could it be that the epitome of feminine confidence is standing back and letting boys and men "do their thing"?

  5. That first article you posted to -- I think the author is spot-on, even though he chose to make his points by using colourful language.

    I'd say Leo and C'est la Vie have this question covered, so I don't have anything to add about how boys and men perceive these things, but I'd like to mention that, as a woman, the idea of a Catholic priestess makes me squirm for reasons in addition to it being impossible and heretical. When I think of female clergy, I think of C of E female vicars and the like -- and that makes me think of Nosy Do-Gooder Church Ladies (come on, we all know what I'm talking about, and they can be Liberal or Trad.) I don't listen to Nosy Do-Gooder Church Ladies as it is, but at least I don't have to. I would be extremely annoyed if they could become priestesses and I had to listen to them. I don't know why -- I can't explain it -- but assuming that priestesses were possible, I'd still attend parishes that didn't have them. I don't want to listen to a priestess.

    As for girls valuing "boys' stuff" over "girls' stuff"? I think I know what you're talking about, but I had to laugh when, unprompted, my 4 year old girl cousin informed me in very clear terms that boys are "gross" (or whatever) and she doesn't like them. I asked her if she thinks her father is gross. She said no, because "he's not a boy!" Which, since he's 24, is technically true.

  6. Julia, I have to agree that aside from theological stuff, it's just annoying when other women push in and make a lot of fuss ;-) Annoying and embarrassing!

  7. Not sure why girls value 'boy stuff' more at one point, but little kids don't really want to mix with the opposite sex. I see it with my little ones, 4 and 3 years old. He (4) wants boy stuff and to make sure she doesn't do it. She (3) still doesn't care about boy stuff, but is happy with her girl things. (I make sure I praise his boyishness because western liberals will want to destroy it at one point.) So I basically support this boy-girl division at home because it just seems like a natural thing. I wonder if this desire to be different and separate from the opposite sex carries on into teenage years and beyond, while society is forcing us to be the same and do everything together. Maybe young girls follow this ideological trend and desire 'boy stuff' just because they are taught to value it more since they are born.

  8. I used to be very much against altar girls, having grown up going to the Latin Mass. But then I had a revelation: Wasn't it mainly women who accompanied Christ onto the altar of Calvary when all his male friends left? So isn't it a bit of a slap in the face to His Mother and Mary Magdalen and all the other holy women who fearlessly stayed with Him through His Passion to say that women should be barred from accompanying Him on the altar today?

    Naturally, I don't think this extends to the Priesthood. If Christ had wanted to set a precedent for women priests, He could have, and He didn't, and that's good enough for me. But I no longer feel like the question of whether or not boys are comfortable on the altar with girls is very important. If it IS that they simply don't want to do "girly" things with girls, (and to be honest, I am not entirely sure it is. Little boys today seem more egalitarian than that, and if they aren't, it is likely because they were not taught to be) then maybe we need to work on changing that attitude rather than saying women, who were with Christ to the last, cannot assist at the altar.

  9. Well, not all. Saint John stuck around. Meanwhile, everyone at Mass is accompanying him; the altar girl is not accompanying him more than her mother in her pew.

    As far as the N.O. goes, I am not even sure what "assisting at the altar" is FOR. Meanwhile, I have a vague feeling--not entirely fleshed out in my thoughts yet--that female altar servers, as well as any post-1965 innovations about lay help at Mass, weakens the priesthood itself. Altar service used to be a solely clerical responsibility. A shortage of clerics led to men and boys standing in for clerics (as they do for the footwashing). Girls can't stand in for clerics without obscuring in some dramatic way what it is to be a cleric. And there you go.

    Wherever there is or was a connection between a liturgical function and the clerical state, I think we all need to step back and think "Hmm, what is this saying about the priesthood?" when it comes to laypeople, especially women, stepping in to take over those functions.

    Never as a girl did it ever occur to me that women were somehow "too impure" to be around the altar. It was never about femaleness--only about the uniqueness of the priestly state.

  10. By the way, this should never be about female worth! I know this is what little girls immediately worry about--since I worried about that myself--but the fact that women cannot be clerics is not to say women are somehow unworthy or unclean. It is just that the priestly function is a male function, just as a Mother Abbess has to be a woman, obviously!


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