March 17 is a time to watch, yet again, John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man, an overly idealized view of 1920s Ireland. The 1952 movie, nominated for a Best Picture, is according to Martin Scorsese, one of the greatest movies of all time. It was a signal that anti-Irish prejudice in the USA was a thing of the past.
The story of the Irish-American Sean Thornton, a former boxer haunted by his past in the ring, portrays a real man, one who only fights when forced to do so. But he dominates a fiery red-headed Irish woman. At one point, as Thornton drags Mary Kate Danaher across the meadow, an elderly woman offers him a long branch. She says, “Here’s a lovely stick with which to beat the lovely lady.” Prejudice against the Irish was waning, but sexism had yet to be noticed, decoded, and dismantled.
Our reading for March 19 presents a distinctly different image of manhood offered by St. Joseph. He ignores conventional mores and marries the pregnant Mary. He never says a word in the Gospels. He simply prayerfully follows the mysterious promptings of the Holy Spirit revealed to him in dreams. He risks his life and acts to protect Mary and the baby Jesus.
Dare we dream of a new day for manhood? Can we hear the cry of Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq?
Real men of all colors and ethnic groups must learn that real manhood is relational. Many of our racial differences and prejudices are rooted in distorted and destructive ideas about what it is to be a real man.
Racism, sexism and classism are the unholy trinity of our times.
- What does it mean to be a man? View the provocative documentary The Mask You Live In. Boys are taught that masculinity is defined by power, athletic prowess, and the ability to mask, or ignore, emotions. Confusion and destructive myths about what constitutes true masculinity have reached crisis proportions among our boys and young men. Young males are much more likely to act out in ways self-destructive to communally destructive. Boys are much more likely to be in trouble in school and with the police, more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, and much more likely to complete suicide.
- What does it mean to be a father? Joseph was Jesus’ foster dad. We need real men to step up and assume responsibilities for parenting children and supporting mothers. We need real men to create and maintain with women relations of mutuality, equality and respect.
Fr. Rick Malloy, S.J., is the author of “A Faith that Frees: Catholic Matters for the 21st Century “ and “Being on Fire: Top Ten Essentials of Catholic Faith.” He is the University Chaplain at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter at @FrMalloy .