Staying in your lane is the easy way out

For the last several days, my social media feeds have been wall-to-wall responses to Harrison Butker—maybe about 60/40 jeers and adulation, respectively. I saw such a varied response because I make a deliberate effort to stay in touch with people with all kinds of opinions. I know how easy it is to slip into a bubble, and I don’t want to do that.

If you have somehow blessedly evaded this news story, Harrison Butker is a Catholic football star who gave the commencement speech at little Benedictine College, and even though it was kind of dumb and fairly boring, we can’t seem to stop talking about it.

To address the most odious parts of Harrison Butker’s notorious commencement speech—the blithe dismissal of women toward a life of keeping house and the antisemitic dog whistles—I would direct you to Emily Stimpson Chapman, who has written a clear-eyed and charitable response, as well as a series of essays explaining how men like Butker ended up where they are.

But I’ve been mulling over his recurring theme of “staying in your lane,” and I think he’s actually put his finger on something more apt than he realises.

I fully believe that this is a sincere man who thinks he has arrived at indisputable, bedrock principles of how to live a good, Catholic life, and he wants to share them with the audience because he thinks they need to hear encouragement to do what he does. That’s good, as far as it goes, and he’s definitely right about quite a few things.

One thing was apparently invisible to him, and to much of his approving audience, though: The incredibly thick walls of the bubble he lives in. His speech wasn’t primarily a Catholic speech. It was a bubble speech.

One example…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly

Image by Theonewhoknowsnothingatall, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

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6 thoughts on “Staying in your lane is the easy way out”

  1. This is great, Simcha. I also appreciated reading Emily’s thoughts and how we got to this moment. I agree that this was a bubble speech; in this era of increased polarization in so many areas of life, he chose to focus on things that trigger tribal responses in people, from both the right and the left, so that it’s hard to have an actual conversation and listen to other people’s points of view, much less be open to those viewpoints. And it’s frustrating to see that play out in the Church and among Catholics as well as in secular society.

    This tribal response is so frustrating because it makes it that much harder to engage with his actual points. I’ve had a hard time with Catholics who want to give him a pass entirely because he’s “one of us” and did the best he could at expressing himself. And I’ve had a hard time with secular coverage (and other Catholics) who are blowing some of his other points out of proportion as well. So I appreciate your advice at the end, Simcha.

    One of my big takeaways from all this is also that 28 year olds should probably not be giving commencement addresses. He just sounded very young and inexperienced to me in some ways (and I’m 40, not that much older than him).

  2. I make it a habit to avoid the outrage du jour, so I haven’t read the speech, but my 20 something daughter (who is the token Catholic in her extremely successful friend group) needed to answer for the controversial Catholic guy in the news and brought up some decent points, I think.

    Here’s a guy speaking in front of a bunch of people who likely have massive student loans, some of them surely in the six figures. He gives the women very specific advice. And then he just tells the men to be “manly.” My daughter pointed out that in this guy’s worldview being manly by default means making a boatload of money to pay back double the student loans. But apparently he felt that the men could figure that out for themselves, but the women needed a detailed explanation.

    1. Your daughter is awesome! That is the issue: that women are supposed to follow an extremely narrow script for being ‘family-oriented,’ but men get to write their own lines. His mother is a medical school professoe. I’ll bet she thought her work was very much in the service of families, since what she taught kept people alive. He plays a game for a living. Which one is more useful?

  3. Thank you. I appreciated that you both gave him the benefit of the doubt, treated him with respect, but also pointed out where his speech is dangerous and not appropriate.

  4. After I got home from work to my SAHD husband and kids, my husband and I talked about it and here is our combined take:

    1) The speech is not nearly as bad as most of the detractors seem to think it is. He did not tell women to “stay in the kitchen” or anything vile like that.
    2) We agree that if you are called to marriage and family life, that should be the highest priority (for women AND MEN equally)
    3) How exactly you live out those priorities and balance being able to feed, house, and clothe your family is a tradeoff that BOTH spouses navigate together
    4) So if he wanted to give a speech about marriage and family life, he needed to address BOTH men and women and talk about these things
    5) I think next year I should give the same speech but flip the genders, since that’s what reflects my family for the last 15 years. I’m 100% sure that all those people who think what he said to women is just fine and dandy will be totally fine with men being reminded that marriage and being a SAHD to their children are their highest calling and that they will find their highest fulfillment in supporting their working wives in being the best working mothers they can be.

  5. Excellent article.

    I wish someone would ask his mother, the Emory medical school professor, what she thinks. He decided on the day before Mother’s Day to imply that she wasted her life. He plays a game for stupid money while she teaches how to save lives.

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