Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest who writes books which are somewhere between theology and pop psychology. In Adam's Return, he writes about masculinity. He argues that most cultures have initiation rites that they make their boys go through before they can be men - you know, guy stuff like killing wolves, getting tattoos, having your teeth knocked out. He thinks that men are finding life hard these days, and that it's partly because we don't initiate them properly into manhood any more. According to Rohr, there are five lessons that male initiation teaches:
1) Life is hard
2) You are not important.
3) Your life is not about you.
4) You are not in control.
5) You are going to die.
Rohr's idea is that men need initiation and women don't because women's bodies do the initiating for them: menstruation and childbirth teach women the things that men learn from initiation rites. Interesting, this mirrors what the anthropologist Margaret Mead says in her book Male and Female which studies models of gender in different South Sea island tribes and compares them to 1950s America. She argues that girls just become women naturally: it's something that happens to them naturally, and isn't something they have to earn any more than they have to earn their wombs, whereas boys need to earn their masculinity, and men need to have a special thing that only men can have in order to be able to feel manly.
I'm kind of skeptical about the one-genderedness of Rohr's ideas, not least because motherhood is hardly a universal experience for adolescent women, and I for one don't fancy waiting till I pop a sprog to qualify as an adult female. In a society which doesn't mark or even really want to talk about menstruation, I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that it marks the transition to womanhood in any significant way. But I really like his five lessons of initiation, and I like the idea that theology has space for those hard truths as well as the fluffy ones. Jesus might be your boyfriend, but maybe he's also going to make you go out and kill a wolf.
Photo credit: David and Emma on Flickr