Anthony Esolen has recently published a hard-hitting piece on the Catholic priest scandal and its relation to America's growing "boy problem." Esolen argues that American Christians, including Catholics, are too committed already to the feminist agenda to face the urgent need for new, distinctive institutions that cater to boys and that promote healthy male bonding for boys and young men.
Esolen is surely right that there are many Christians who are indifferent to the need for old-fashioned boys' schools and clubs that promote a healthy masculine culture.
But there is an additional question that his article raises: Just how difficult, not only culturally but also financially and even legally, would it be to do what he suggests? More: How difficult is it now to be allowed to do anything effective to help males in America?
Let's face a couple of things that the schools and clubs Esolen suggests would have to do. To begin with, they would have to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. And I do not merely mean sexual practice. I mean orientation per se. And a "don't ask, don't tell" policy would not serve the purpose. I think Esolen's entire article makes it clear that this is so and why it is so. The purpose of such institutions would be the creation of a distinctively male culture free of sexual implications. The idea is that when the young men shower together or engage in physical contact sports, they can do this without any thought or worries about male-male sexual attraction, and they can bond to their leaders without there being any worries or concerns about sexual attraction from the leaders to the young men. Now, this is simply not possible where the leaders are themselves of a homosexual orientation, even if the leaders are honorable men, committed to Church teaching on sexuality, and firmly resolved on celibacy. After all, one can imagine women leaders who were also honorable, committed to Church teaching on sexuality, and firmly resolved on celibacy. But young men shouldn't be showering with them. The whole point of an all-male school with all-male teachers is to get sexual thoughts and feelings (never mind actions) between the people in the school out of the picture so they can concentrate on other, more important things.
How many Catholics would be willing to contribute to a school that was known to discriminate in this way? How many would regard it as unfair, unkind, and unChristian?
Then there is the legal question. Plenty of municipalities and some states make it illegal to discriminate in this way. I know of one local ordinance currently under consideration in my own town that exempts religious institutions only if they are non-profit. Would such a school be non-profit? I suppose so, but that might make its financial woes even greater. And do all states and cities have such exemption clauses? Will they in the future?
An additional financial point concerns government funding. As the Virginia Military Institute case shows, if you accept Caesar's coin, you accept Caesar's conditions, and these include having boys and girls together. It seems beyond question that such a school or club would have to be formed without the slightest dependency on any public monies or benefits, period, even in order to be all-male. And I hate to say this: In my experience, Protestant (specifically, fundamentalist) institutions are better at this than Catholic ones. Catholic institution-formers seem always to be harking back to a day when the state helped out the Church and to be trying to find some way to have the public funding without (they hope, they hope) compromising their principles. In 2009 and later, it would be the sheerest folly to found any religious, conservative school or organization ab initio on such a hope. So the finances would have to be wholly private, making money all the tighter.
Esolen mentions the fact that more girls than boys now go to college and asks if anyone cares. Well, as the mother of three highly intelligent daughters who will, hopefully, be able to be at-home mothers one day, I care a great deal. I have three hypothetical future sons-in-law to think about. I have friends with ten children, eight of whom are daughters. I think they have a reason to care about the "guy shortage" in higher education.
What that guy shortage means is an exacerbation of the problem already in place, wherein a wife finds it easier to get a job than her husband. The situation is humiliating to a man and highly discouraging. It is no wonder that plenty of young men just assume that they will be part of a two-income family and even become at least soft feminists to justify it. Plenty would say outright that they don't like the idea of having the financial responsibility for supporting a family. And who would, especially in today's economy and especially given on-going affirmative action for women? When there are few jobs to be had, it becomes all the more discouraging to remember that one is not a member of a favored group and therefore is at the end of the line as far as getting one of the jobs. There is, and will be increasingly, a vicious cycle whereby young men who want to support their families find that they cannot and, so as not to feel unmanly all their lives, come to conclude that it isn't important at all and that their wives owe it to the family to work ad infinitum, perhaps should even feel privileged to have the opportunity to do so. This in turn increases the assumption that women support the family or that, at least, the job is always halved, and feminism becomes stronger still in society, making it harder and harder for men to find jobs.
And if fewer men than women have college educations, this will make it all the less likely that men will be able to get jobs, especially in competition with college-educated young women.
So, yes, I'm concerned about the fact that there are fewer guys in college. So what do we do about it? We're certainly not going to be able to get the colleges to aim recruitment efforts specifically at boys. They would probably think it illegal, even though they can do the same vis a vis girls while the government smiles benignly.
What about the job problem? Well, I've often thought in recent years that conservatives should have job-finding services. And if there are such already, we should have more. And traditional conservatives and social conservatives should have sub-niches within these. And to make it better still, such job services should be specifically aimed at helping conservative males find jobs.
Oops. No can do. I assume that any such arrangement, if made formal, would run afoul of federal and state non-discrimination laws in a heartbeat, would it not? If e-Harmony can be pistol-whipped by threat of lawsuit into offering dating services for homosexuals, when there isn't even any federal law against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, I'm sure no job service would be able to be aimed in any specific way at helping men. There is a federal law against discrimination on the basis of sex.
All of which sounds very depressing. It seems to me that we conservatives have not perhaps quite heard the sounds of doors slamming behind us these past forty-odd years. Something needs to be done about the boy problem, but there is a whole legal and social labyrinth to be traversed already if anything practical and effective is to be done, and the labyrinth will become only more complicated, I predict, as the years go on, especially with a Democrat-controlled Congress and an Democrat administration.
I therefore suggest a coalition of rich conservatives and conservative lawyers to start brain-storming and drafting plans immediately for institutions, services, and organizations to help boys and men. There is no time to be lost.