Thursday, March 21, 2013

Football, Rape, Respect, and the Church: Part II

I thought I was done commenting on this story until I read an editorial by Rachel Simmons this morning titled: In Steubenville, why didn't other girls help? 

Simmons asks some probing questions:

On the night in question, girls watched the victim (Jane Doe) become so drunk she could hardly walk. Why didn't any of them help her? Why, after Jane Doe endured the agonizing experience of a trial in which she viewed widely circulated photos of herself naked and unconscious, did one of the arrested girls tweet: "you ripped my family apart, you made my cousin cry, so when I see you xxxxx, it's gone be a homicide." Why were two lifelong friends sitting on the other side of the courtroom?

She begins answering with these words:

The accusation of rape disrupts the intricate social ecosystem of a high school, one in which girls often believe that they must preserve both their own reputations and relationships with boys above all else. This is a process that begins for girls long before their freshman year and can have violent consequences.

From the earliest age, girls are flooded with conflicting messages about their sexuality. They are socialized to be "good girls" above all: kind, polite and selfless. Yet they are also told -- via media images, the clothing that's marketed to them and the messages conveyed by some adults -- that they will be valued, given attention and loved for being sexy. The result is a near-constant anxiety about not being feminine or sexy enough.

I will not dispute her words as I think they are spot on.  But I wonder if her answers to the problems suffice?

Girls must understand not only their moral obligation but their power to be allies to each other at parties and other potentially unsafe spaces for girls. If boys knew that girls banded together to support each other, they would be less inclined to share on social media, much less commit, these horrific acts of sexual violence.

Well, there are girls who run in packs for such support.  Guys do as well.  We used to call them cliques.  Who knows what kind of jargon is used today?  But the jargon isn't important.  What is important is the dynamics of how folks interact.

Humans are social animals as well as animals who need their individuality.  We crave independence.  We crave being attached to a group.  Ideally, these two arenas are kept in balance.  Bowen Family Systems Theory says that a person must be differentiated (understand one's self and know be self-defined) while being connected to others.  It's a fluid process. 

Just as faith is a fluid process.  Individually, we can garner insight and knowledge about God through prayer and study, yet we still need attachment to other fellow Christians to 1) insure we are not creating our own image of God to suit our given needs, 2) to remember we are part of something larger than ourselves and that we are not the be all and end all as individuals, and 3) for mutual support and consolation.  Yet, we must also maintain our individuality and refuse to allow group-think to define us as groups are easily manipulated by sin.  The process should ideally balance out.

What I believe is missing from the puzzle is how we are called to interact with those who are not part of the clique.  Simmons misses this point.  Why didn't the other girls speak up for their friend?

Take this scenario:

You are at a park one day.  You are watching your children play when you notice something happening in another part of the park.  A boy who is obviously mentally challenged is interacting with other kids.  He does not have appropriate social skills.  He even urinates on the sidewalk instead of going to the restroom.  Before long, a couple of the other kids start picking on him.  One even goes so far as to physically slap him.

Do you intervene?

Most folks today do not.  Most folks today are taught to stay out of it.  Stay out of trouble.  Don't get involved.  You might face the wrath of parents or others because of getting involved.   And so, many folks don't. 

This scene played out in front of me one day when I took my kids to the park, but I wasn't going to let this pass.  I looked at the kids who were bullying the mentally challenged kid and said, "Do you like being a bully?"

The kid looked at me and said, "I do this all the time at home."

To which I responded, "Does that make it right?"

The kid mumbled, but he didn't mess with the other kid the rest of the time I was there.

Could I have gotten in trouble?  Sure.  Could I have been confronted by an irate parent?  Sure.  Would it have changed my actions?  No. 

My definition of a clique is a little bigger than most.  While some feel it is inappropriate to correct other people's children in public, I don't.  When kids are picking on someone who is obviously defenseless, I'm going to speak up and stop the behavior.  Someone needs to help teach what is appropriate and what is inappropriate.

Simmons is correct that other girls should have stood up for this girl.  Heck, anyone around should have stood up and addressed the inappropriate behavior.  But the fear of crossing over such boundaries is strong.  The lack of strong sexual, ethical boundaries adds to the problem.  Permissive attitudes toward underage drinking and lack of parental supervision compounds the problem even more.  And an unwillingness on the part of some to draw clear distinctions between what is right and what is wrong exacerbates things even more. 

Many pundits have proclaimed that we live in a time called post-modernism.  Truth is something that is relative in this movement of philosophy.  "You can't impose your culture or your perspective on me" is a by-product of this movement.  But the movement is inherently flawed.  It leads to clique morality.  My group dictates what is right and what is wrong; but what if the group is wrong as it obviously was?  Few have the courage to say stop in this day and age.  Few have the courage to put themselves out there and open themselves up to criticism and the berating by those who refuse to set boundaries.

My children are beginning to get old enough to experience the cliquishness of school.  It is my hope that I can instill in them the ability to have the strength to do what is right; to call out the wrongs committed by others whether the folks are a part of their clique or not; and to think independently enough that they do not just go along with the group. 

Not only is this a challenge in parenting, but I would submit that it is a challenge for living.

No comments: