A significant number of American values failures came together to create the tragedy in Stuebenville, where two teenage High School football stars, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, were found guilty of raping a 16-year-old girl.
Foremost among them is the American tragedy of sexualizing teen girls at an age where they are not yet women. Madonna sexualized herself in her mid twenties. Brittney Spears brought the age down to about eighteen. Not young enough for you? Miley Cyrus reduced it further to sixteen. One wonders when our culture will feel that even sixteen is not a young enough age to sexually exploit girls.
Then there is the issue of sports as an emerging religion where those gifted to be athletes feel a sense of entitlement that often has them crossing lines to their own detriment. The idea that two High School football stars would think it acceptable to post pictures of a nude sixteen year old to their friends on social media shows how they thought the normal rules did not apply them. And this would be true even if there weren’t the far more serious conviction on rape. How sad that two young men have ruined their lives and done so much damage to a defenseless victim.
Next is the growing culture of alcohol abuse by minors. Alcohol played a central role in this unfolding tragedy with the essential argument on the part of the prosecution that the girl in question was so drunk there was no possible way she could give consent. One wonders why our youth are so inclined to heavy drink. Is it mere experimentation or is something deeper at work? Are they already, at so young an age, as unhappy as adults who have been battered by life and are therefore drinking negative emotions away? After all, no one in America really portrays the teen years as a bowl of cherries.
I passed my later teen years in an all-male environment in Yeshiva where the focus of my life was study. I certainly was a lot happier than the co-ed environment in which I was immersed in my early teen years where peer pressure, popularity among the girls, and a general self-consciousness made my life less enjoyable than it should have been.
Then there is the general tragedy of the absence of responsible parenting in America. The biggest question for me in this heartrending story was where were the parents? Where were they when the three teens left one party at 12:30 am to go to another? Where were they to monitor extreme drunkenness on the part of people not old enough to vote?
Many African-American young men are not raised with a father’s guiding hand. I was astonished, therefore, at the honesty displayed by Malik Richmond’s father, Nathaniel, when he said in a CNN interview that he had walked over to his son right after the guilty verdict and told him he loved him, essentially for the very first time. “I haven’t been involved in Malik’s life like I should have been at those early years. And I want to stress that parents should be more involved in their child’s life… be a parent and not a friend.”
No one is better qualified to address this issue than President Obama who also grew up without his father and is by all accounts a very loving and involved parent himself. The President has addressed the subject only lightly, but it’s time that he make this an all-out campaign.
But the greatest tragedy made manifest in Steubenville is the attitude of teenage men toward girls. Immanuel Kant wrote that the definition of immorality is treating a fellow human being as a means rather than an end. The abomination of American slavery was that a white child was taught to see a black child as a walking bale of cotton. Slavery trained a white man to see a black woman as lacking the same spark of the divine that lent him his humanity. When he looked upon the woman, she was stripped of her own dreams, her own opinions, her own aspirations. She was nothing but an extension of the white slave owner’s drives and ambitions. Like a third arm she existed to simply to do his chores.
Something analogous is happening with the growing sexualization of women wherein teen boys are being taught to see young women not as their equals but as the walking fulfillment of their sexual desires. This is an issue I addressed a few years ago in a full-length book called Hating Women, but it only gotten worse. I had a seventeen-year-old boy, from a leading prep school, tell me how angry he was at a sixteen-year-old girl he knew because she had gone out on a date with a friend of his and had not given him anything sexual. “Not even a hand job. Can you believe it? She’s just a ….tease.” He said this with righteous indignation. A girl like that, who refuses to play the roll accorded her by a secular society that uses women’s bodies to sell beer, cars, and everything in between, is often called a ‘b—h’ for not playing ball. Who does this uppity girl think she is anyway, not to give men their rightful due?
That this is attitude is becoming prevalent among teen boys is evident from how the two accused sent pictures of a drunken girl to all their friends, posting them on the internet, and there was no outrage. Just another guy feeling entitled to see a girl as some drunken ‘dead body’ who was there for his erotic enjoyment.
There was a time when men were raised to be gentleman. Society impressed upon them the need to nurture, protect, and take care of women. Yes, I know it all sounds pretty mushy today, and many a woman would dismiss such sentiments as patriarchal, patronizing, and hopelessly sexist. But is it really too much to ask that when a girl is drunk and helpless, a young man feels the obligation to get her safely home to her parents, enjoying their thanks and the feeling of being a gentleman as something far more pleasurable than whatever sexual thrills her drunkenness can provide?
We males combine within our person the carnal desires of the animal as well as the spiritual transcendence of the uniquely human. The struggle between the two is felt within us constantly. Employing our freedom to choose moral behavior over outrageous indulgence is a serious battle and one that should be helped by an overarching culture that trains boys from their earliest days to respect women as equals and to see in them a divine image rather than the breathing realization of an erotic urge.
About the Author: Shmuley Boteach, whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the founder of The World Values Network and the international bestselling author of 30 books, including “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging God in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.
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