I have to say, I’m used to diet sodas and expensive cars advertising themselves as for being for Real Men Only, but the priesthood advertising itself as being for Real Men Only is somewhat new. I’m now imagining the associated TV spots involving priests with bulging muscles fighting off CGI demons while Eye of the Tiger played in the background.
At first blush, this seems less problematic than a lot of forms of Real Man advertisement. I disapprove of anything that says that some men are somehow fake men. You are a real man whether you wear pink or not, just like you’re a real man whether you refrain from crying or not. However, since the priesthood generally involves nurturing and caretaking (positive traits gendered female), this ad could serve to expand the behaviors that fall under the Real Man umbrella.
However, upon closer examination, this ad is actually sexist and gender-policing. The ad describes the priesthood as “tough” (which it is) which is why they need Real Men to do it (after all, all those namby-pamby fake men can’t handle the stress). The priesthood falls into standard male gender roles: the priest is a protector of his flock, a provider of God’s grace, and a leader in bringing people to God. The archetype of “priest” is another one of those “men have power over other people and never feel weakness” archetypes– except that this time it’s spiritual power.
Obviously, men should be priests if they want to. However, by depicting the priesthood as something Real Men do, the Catholic Church is reinforcing problematic gender roles that suggest that it’s men’s job to be the protector, provider and leader– regardless of whether they want to or not.
The advertising is also inherently more problematic because literally only real men (well, a subset of real men) can be priests. Only cis men are allowed to be ordained; no matter how good she’d be at taking care of her parishioners, a woman cannot be ordained to the priesthood, and is instead left to the separate but unequal position of nun. Within this cultural context, the Real Man advertisement feels much ickier: it’s not just gender role enforcement, it’s taunting women and trans men who cannot join the priesthood even if they want to.
Also, I really think that if the Catholic Church were concerned about its recruiting problems, it should have thought of that before it covered up the systematic rape of children.