Five and a Half Reasons Not to Send your Son to College

Emily Reimer-Barry, over at Catholic Moral Theology, has posted an admirable response to “a Catholic father’s explanation of 6 (+2) Reasons NOT to Send Your Daughter to College.” It is admirable both for its stance of charitable dialogue, and for its explanations of Catholic teaching with regard to gender essentialism, sex roles, and marriage. It’s well worth reading.

I noticed something more trivial, though: at least five, and maybe six, of the eight reasons she engages would seem to apply just as well to sons as to daughters, even within the very traditional, man-as-provider, woman-as-homemaker approach to marriage.

So, paraphrased and genderflipped from Riemer-Barry’s response, here are six (or maybe five) reasons not to send your son to college:

– He will be in a near occasion of sin, due to the hook-up culture at college. (#2)

– He will not learn to be a husband and father, subjects which are not taught at college. (#3)

– The cost of a degree is becoming more difficult to recoup. (#4)

– You don’t have to prove anything to the world: just because society expects you to send your son to college, doesn’t mean you should. (#5)

– It could be a near occasion of sin for you as parents, tempted to use birth control because you fear being unable to pay for each child to go to college. (#6)

– It could interfere with a religious vocation, because substantial student loan debt could make him unable to join a religious order. (#8)

Even within the gender-essentialist, traditionalist view of marriage, only reasons #1 (she will attract lazy men who want their wives to support them) and #7 (she will regret buying into the lie of the dual-career family) are actually reasons not to send your daughter to college.

[Updated to add: And looking at the two of these, it strikes me that they combine to suggest an additional reason not to send your son to college: He will attract career women who have bought into the lie of the dual-career family.]

Five of the six reasons I’ve listed above have to do with occasions of sin and the cost of college, neither of which are gender-specific.

There’s room for debate over whether learning to be a husband and father, but not a wife and mother, can be accomplished at college. If these roles are conceived simply in terms of the skills of breadwinning for men and homemaking for women, then this is arguably true; but even the most traditional interpretation of Catholic teaching does not reduce the roles of husband and wife to breadwinning and homemaking skills. So, call this half a reason, since it could be argued either way.

This is a trivial analysis — Reimer-Barry’s is much better. But sometimes even a trivial analysis is illuminating.

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5 Responses to Five and a Half Reasons Not to Send your Son to College

  1. You’re absolutely right! So many of those are not gender specific at all. (Especially the part about the cost of college. The sad thing is he’s not wrong to bring that up.) But she’s going to attract the wrong kind of man? Really? Would he rather she got a job at McDonald’s?

    You know, I never really considered myself a feminist until I started reading the writings of conservative Catholic men. I mean, I had leanings, but for the most part I was pushed away from the feminist movement by some of the sillier things that they said. But reading posts like these makes me want to borrow The Feminine Mystique from the library.

    • When I was in college, I didn’t identify as a feminist either – it seemed too extreme. But that’s because a) I was taking my generation’s ability to make choices for granted, and b) I didn’t realize how much sexism and misogyny were still operative in the world.

      I’ll respond to your other points all together.

  2. It’s also worth pointing out that many men who go to college also delay marriage and child raising. A man who goes to college may not marry until his mid-twenties. Is he rejecting his masculinity? If not, why is masculinity able to be expressed in areas other than procreation, and femininity is only expressible in procreation?

  3. Sorry, one last question. If a man becomes a chef, is he rejecting his masculinity?

  4. Thanks for your comments, Emma! You raise a number of good points.

    The cost of college is really a systemic point: college has become prohibitively expensive (for more Americans – it’s always been prohibitively expensive for some Americans). Faced with that reality, and in the absence of progressive political action to address that systemic problem, I can understand some parents feeling that they can’t afford to send all their children to college.

    But reasoning that it’s important to send boys to college but not girls, because girls will get married and they don’t need a college education to do that — I don’t expect to hear that reasoning outside the covers of a historical novel. Especially because when I was growing up, the cultural expectation was that college was for smart people, smart in the academic sense, because those were the people who would do well and benefit from a college education. What if your daughter got straight As and your son struggled to get Cs? Wouldn’t it make more sense to send the bright girl to college, where she could do more of what she was good at, and arrange for your son to get training in a non-academic field that he was good at?

    As to working at McDonald’s, I don’t think this father expects his daughter to work at all: I think he expects that fathers should provide for their daughters until they are married and their husbands can provide for them. This, of course, ignores the possibilities of a husband who dies, is disabled, or abandons his wife. And this level of economic dependency creates an occasion of sin for daughters, who might agree to marry for purely economic reasons, rather than for the unitive love towards which a sacramental marriage is ordered.

    On masculinity and femininity, I think the focus on procreation is only part of this traditionalist understanding of femininity. The paradigm behind traditionalist marriage is not just gender essentialism, but homosocial spheres: men in the public economic sphere, women in the private domestic sphere. A man who delays marriage and children is not rejecting his masculinity as long as he’s out there in the world, working or training for work. A man who works as a chef is not rejecting his masculinity as long as he’s working for economic gain and supporting (or saving up to support) a family.

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