Survey of Catholic Men Highlights ‘Courage’ as Most Desirable Character Trait

Introduction

The survey aimed to discover whether there was any uncertainty among Catholic men about what it means to be a man, whether there was any consensus on what it means to be a man and if there were any barriers to becoming an authentic man. The hope was that the answers would inform the work of Catholic Man UK in supporting men in their growth and development.

The survey was not carried out with the intention of discovering or collating a concrete definition of authentic masculinity. Indeed, the author was working from a position of masculinity as defined by biblical and Church teaching, with the anticipation of seeing how close responses came to the definition.

This definition is based around authentic masculinity finding its expression in fatherhood and, in particular, in being an earthly icon of God the Father. It includes men recognising and living out their divinely appointed responsibilities of primacy, procreation, provision and protection. It is also concerned with the duties of building the biological family and the family of God, and includes seeing these tasks as most straightforwardly carried out within a framework of fraternal support.

The Survey

The survey was created and shared using Survey Monkey. It comprised ten questions, including three that asked for age, relationship status and contact details. It was promoted to Catholic men via the Catholic Man UK facebook pages and the Catholic Man UK email newsletter. It ran for approximately ten days and took an average of 5 minutes to complete.

The survey attracted 68 responses, around 11% of audience it reached. Ages were across the spectrum from 18 to 65+, although 54% of respondents were between 25-44 years old. 72% of respondents were married; 25% were single. One priest responded to the survey and one respondent listing their relationship status as ‘other’.

The survey results come with a couple of caveats. Firstly the author is no professional survey writer or analyst. Some of the questions could have been better formulated and undoubtedly better analysed. Secondly, the survey was restricted to ten questions by the free version of Survey Monkey, so was limited in scope.


  1. Are you confident that you understand for yourself what it means to be a man today?
  2. Is there a universal definition, identity or benchmark of masculinity that all men should be able to understand and follow?
  3. What does it mean to be a man today (according to your own view and/or the definition alluded to above)?
  4. How far do you come up to your own expectations of what it means to be a man?
  5. What, if anything, is – or has been – your single biggest barrier to achieving what you believe to be mature or authentic manhood?
  6. What is the #1 characteristic or trait you would like to have or improve in order to be or feel more masculine?
  7. Does being a Catholic add anything more to what it means to be a man?
  8. How old are you?
  9. What is your relationship status?
  10. If you are happy for Catholic Man UK  to contact you for more information regarding your answers, please leave your details.

Having analysed the survey, two further questions should have been asked: How do you try to overcome the main barrier you face in achieving mature masculinity? And in what ways could CMUK specifically help you in overcoming this barrier? Otherwise, it was left to inference of the given answers to conclude how CMUK could give specific support.

Questions 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9 were closed questions and allowed for numerical analysis. Questions 3, 5 and 6 were open questions and the answers were collated and themed for analysis. Question 4 was offered as a sliding scale in an attempt to statistically gauge men’s confidence in their sense of masculinity. In hindsight was too close to Question 1 for much statistical benefit and the options to filter and compare the answers were very limited. Question 7 was written as a closed question but was actually meant as an open question. Most respondents realised this and developed their answers accordingly.


Analysis

Question 1

82% of respondents felt confident that they understood for themselves what it means to be a man today, and this was reflected across most age groups. As one might expect there was uncertainty in the 18 year old bracket and increasing certainty going up the age brackets, with 45-54 year olds and 65+ particularly confident in their understanding.

Question 2

There was greater uncertainty regarding a universal definition of masculinity, with agreement from only 54% of respondents.

Additionally, only 54% of men who, in Q1, felt confident in their own sense of masculinity agreed that there was a universal definition; conversely, 45% of men who didn’t feel confident in their own sense of masculinity agreed there was a universal definition.

Question 3

This was an open question and responses varied widely. However, it was possible to categorise them under the headings in the figure above.

Some of the headings appear to overlap, such as ‘Responsibility (to family)’ and ‘Fatherhood’ but they were identified by key words used in a respondent’s answer. E.g. ‘To lead your family’ or ‘To be the head of your family’ as opposed to ‘Becoming a father in some respect’ or ‘To aspire to fatherhood’. The separate headings reflected the action and the concept of being a father.

Interestingly, only married men connected fatherhood or being responsible for the family to what it means to be a man.

Regarding the heading, ‘Example of virtue/Christ’, responses generally included phrases such as being an example or a role model, or living by codes or standards, and then would reference a virtue like humility, honour, patience or courage. Some of the responses were more vague, such as, ‘To be a real gentleman’; others were more explicit, such as, ‘To be like Christ’.

Two core concepts of masculinity according to the survey’s definition feature heavily in the responses: being an icon of God in some way, and taking responsibility for the family. However, these were not always clearly defined or formulated as such in individual responses.

Question 4

How far do you come up to your own expectations of what it means to be a man?

This question was offered on a sliding scale of 0-100 with 0 being not at all confident and 100 being very confident. As might be expected, answers were made across the spectrum and left very little room for patterns or trends. The platform used for analysis made it difficult to correlate answers by age or to develop a scatter graph, although these may not have shed much light on the data.

Simply put, only five respondents were very confident they met their own expectations of what it means to be a man, placing themselves between 95-100 on the scale of confidence. 22 respondents placed themselves below 50 on the scale and 41 respondents placed themselves between 50 and 94. The average level of confidence was 54.

Question 5

Many respondents referenced sin, temptation, vice, imperfection and weakness in their replies, though it was interesting that only a very small number specifically mentioned issues of chastity around pornography. Having said that, the three sins most definitively named and qualified were selfishness, laziness and lack of chastity. One respondent spoke of, “A desire to be comfortable and not have to deal with sensitive or difficult issues” and another talked about, “An inability to get beyond my own wants and needs”.

This was followed by a combination of answers regarding societal pressures and expectations, a current lack of male role models and support, and issues of self-confidence. It’s possible to suggest that the three go hand in hand.

Many of the replies spoke about self-doubt, a lack of courage, and uncertainty about what steps to take in life.

Others referred to a lack of authentic role models in their childhood, but also a sense of isolation from other men in their adult life, with one respondent saying he, “Missed hearing it straight from his own kind”. Other respondents clearly articulated a need to be with a group of Catholic men “of like minds” and “all trying to live out their manhood”.

There was disquiet around the attack on traditional gender roles and the disparagement of male leadership, while also acknowledging the effeminisation of men and men’s own low standards.

A few men felt that a busy working life made them too tired for anything else, or distracted them from peace and prayer – and, although thankfully scarce, a couple of answers sadly referred to an inhibiting or unhappy upbringing.

Question 6

This question encouraged one-word answers, but it was striking how many of them referenced a single virtue.

Perhaps in line with some of the barriers faced in Q5, many men stated that courage was a preferred character trait. Two respondents attempted to qualify this, with one stating, “Courage to speak out” and another relating courage to “facing challenges (mental or physical)”.

Other virtues ranged from patience and humility to faith and spirituality, with one respondent simply stating, “The pursuit of virtue. This encapsulates a lot of masculine traits.”

Most respondents referencing self-discipline tended not to qualify it further, although two wrote of mastering impulses or passions, and one related it to, “Freedom from distractions… so as to be free to truly and joyfully lead, guide and contribute my strength for the well-being of others”.

A handful of respondents didn’t feel the need to be more masculine, and this corresponded with responses to Q1 and Q4.

Question 7

Overwhelmingly, respondents were positive that being a Catholic added something to what it means to be a man. Those who qualified their answers generally suggested one of three reasons for this: being a Catholic gave them a sense of direction or a moral framework; it provided meaning and purpose and it gave inner strength.

With regard to direction, many spoke of having Christ and the saints as supreme models of masculinity; others talked about the assistance of moral codes of behaviour and the support of being among others who adhere to those codes. This quote sums up the prevailing responses: “[Catholicism] gives divine purpose to your masculinity and more role models to imitate”.

Many also spoke about the meaning and context to masculinity that came from being a Catholic. One respondent wrote, “Lead, protect and provide has a particular meaning when it comes to trying to ensure my children and wife come to God” and another respondent said, “It [provides] a conclusion to what are otherwise just ideas, subject to change. Man is the same today as he was yesterday”.

A few respondents wrote about the inner strength they received, particularly from the Sacraments, and especially in order to carry out their masculine role: “Only through the ministry of the church can a man truly discharge his duties”.

Two respondents who said that being a Catholic didn’t add anything to masculinity clarified this by saying that being a man is the same for all men, and that the gift and purpose of being a man comes from God but even those who do not believe in Him have the same responsibilities as all men.


Conclusions

Q1

  • On the whole, Catholic men feel they know for themselves what it means to be a man. In their answers to the subsequent questions, most men emphasise many of the facets of authentic masculinity defined at the beginning of this report.

Q2

  • Some men consider there is a universal definition of masculinity and believe they are achieving it. Others consider there is a universal definition of masculinity and believe they aren’t achieving it
  • Some men consider there isn’t a universal definition of masculinity but are happy with their own version of it. Do they have their own version or are they subconsciously tapping into a universal version?
  • Some men are uncertain about a universal definition and this might inform their personal uncertainty about their own sense of masculinity.

Q3

  • Respondents generally didn’t have a codified response that showed a broad, concrete and unequivocal definition of what it means to be an authentic man. Isolated expressions of a definition were evident but, in the light of Q1 and Q2, it would be useful to create and disseminate a clear definition, roles and duties of what a Catholic man is meant to be and do.

Q4

  • Most Catholic men feel that they fall short of their own (perhaps vague) expectations of what it means to be a man.
  • How far are they falling short because they don’t know what the benchmark for authentic masculinity is, and have no target? Or how far because they are hampered by internal and external pressures, or a lack of support?

Q5

  • Contrary to what one is led to expect from men, there was a respectable amount of self-reflection and identification of personal issues. Respondents only spent around 5 minutes answering the survey, but maybe these issues feature prominently enough in their minds to commit them so quickly to paper. Attaining an authentic sense of masculinity is important to men.
  • The desire for fraternity or for the influence and affirmation of other men featured more prominently in answers.
  • Respondents express a lack of direction (or distraction from the task of being a man) caused by a range of internal and external pressures and some inadequacy in dealing with them.
  • A question that should have been asked is, what steps do you take to deal with these issues? How can Catholic Man UK give practical support?
  • A clear picture of an alternative, authentic masculinity needs to be presented to men, to help alleviate the pressures from external messages they receive about masculinity.

Q6

  • Further exploration is required into the choice of ‘courage’ as a preferred character trait – why do men feel it’s so important? Why might they be lacking it, and what do they feel they could do better once they have it?
  • How can CMUK help support men in virtues like courage and self-discipline? Is a programme like Exodus90 useful here? And, although only one man specifically mentioned fraternity, is this still something that needs to be highlighted, as in the quote, ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another’?

Q7

  • Regular, open, shared practice of the faith is important to men in terms of upholding their sense of masculinity
  • Faith provides direction and a reason to continue heading in that direction.
  • Practice of the Faith needs to be emphasised as a manly activity.
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