The irremediable problem that patriarchy has with Joseph is that it is difficult to recognize in him any form of power in the dominant sense of the term. He does not rule over his wife, he does not rule over his son, unlike Mary he does not induce Jesus to perform a single miracle, and for the whole history of Christianity he will be marked by that terrible adjective - putative - which in the common sense has never meant anything but fake. Yet it is thanks to him that Mary was not killed because of a pregnancy that was difficult to explain to an entire country, to those who already had stones in their hands. It is because of him that Jesus and his mother survived the wrath of the Tetrarch of Judea and his henchmen. It is thanks to him that the Son of God had such a serene childhood and adolescence that he did not offer, in that banal village happiness, even half a narrative foothold to the evangelists.
The sore point is that Joseph is male in a way that has nothing to do with male chauvinism (and therefore with male chauvinists), because in him the “why” and the “for whom” coincide exactly. He is not Ulysses who dreams of elsewhere. He is not Aeneas who flees, losing, from Troy in flames, but only to found another city. It is not Arthur who unites with his sword the contradictions of Britannia. Nor is he, to remain with Acts, a more spiritual Paul of Tarsus, so eloquent as to convert the pagans to the faith most distant of all from theirs. Josephus does not have to convince anyone and perhaps would not even know how to do it; in fact, he never opens his mouth. He is the true custodian of the holy silence, not Mary, who instead in the gospels, contrary to the preaching vulgate, speaks more than once.
For the carpenter of Nazareth there are no special missions worthy of the cantatas of the bards, because the purpose of Joseph’s life is not a what, but a who: his feat, his epic and his victory are two defenseless and precious people who have no other protection than his own. The masculinity of the present and the future could find ample inspiration in a figure so difficult to place in the categories of dominance and possession, one who within the logic of the herd structured by patriarchy would be born an outcast to be and remain a beta male.
There is something robustly liberating in the fact that the fragility of the incarnate Son of God was protected not by a hero with a profile already ready to become legendary, but by a gentle and reliable man, who, in order to save his loved ones, did not find even exile humiliating. In order to recognize the value of a man capable of acting so outside the schemes of the normative system of genders, it is not possible to disregard a renewed specularity of roles, and therefore it is essential that there are women willing to break those already exhausted, first of all for themselves. For this reason, perhaps it is not useless to recall in this discourse that, in the end, it was not God who chose Joseph, in spite of the apocryphal accounts. It was Mary.
by Michela Murgia
From Non un cosa, ma un chi [Not a What, but a Who] by Michela Murgia in Maschilità in questione. Sguardi sulla figura di san Giuseppe [Masculinity in Question. Ways of viewing the Figure of Saint Joseph], edited by Antonio Autiero and Marinella Perroni, published by Queriniana.