A beautiful young woman, 16 years old, showed up at our door yesterday. She was visibly shaken, crying as she asked, “Is Donny here?” She was looking for my son, a high school senior, because she needed a safe haven and a kind heart. As I poured her a class of ice water, she told me what had happened. Her boyfriend – quarterback on the football team, popular, and graduate of a mandated “anger management course” (which he evidently failed) had just humiliated her in front of the entire varsity team. “Instead of driving me home on his way to practice like he was supposed to do, he took me there with him ’cause he said he couldn’t be late. He was going to leave me in the car without a ride home or a phone. When I got out of the car and insisted he take me home, he turned to all his pals and said, ‘She just wouldn’t get out of the car at her house; she follows me everywhere like a bitch!’ and they all laughed. I was so humiliated.” She had walked the 2 miles to our house and was embarrassed and apologetic about coming for help. “He doesn’t hurt me; he’s just mean,” she said. “It looks like you’re hurting badly now,” I responded gently. I explained that what “Joe” had just done to her constitutes both emotional and verbal abuse. I gave her a card for the “Love is Respect” website. She gave me a hug. I then called my handsome, strong and kind son who let her use his phone, made her laugh, and played some video games with her while she waited for her ride. And as I write this post, I am thinking of the role play that moment at football practice could provide in classrooms and youth groups — what does the young girl do next? What is she feeling? Are you shocked that the team all laughed and that no one came forward to drive her home? Talk about it now with someone of your own gender. Then join with two others in this group, the other gender – and talk about it again. Talk about it.
Because this is the opening of the American football season, the media is especially focused on Ravens’ player Ray Rice and his criminal, violent mistreatment of his wife. It isn’t hard to picture the conversations going on in boys’ locker rooms on high school and college campuses about the decision to fire Ray Rice. The dominator Alpha males (the ones who are abusers in their own dating relationships) will vociferously defend such treatment of women — the ones who “piss you off” or “get all uppity” or “have it coming.” There will be those who have enough integrity to oppose them; but at the risk of having their own masculinity challenged. This is our culture, depicted brilliantly in the film Miss Representation.
Let’s seize this Teachable Moment. What can you do?
(1) Reach out in your community: Encourage teachers and professors, athletic coaches of both men and women’s teams, adults who lead in youth-serving organizations in which your children or grandchildren are involved, to teach about healthy masculinity, gender imbalances of strength and power, and the dark, stark facts about Sexual and Gender-Based Violence in the United States. Encourage them to call their local domestic violence agency or branch of the YWCA or women’s shelter and to invite a guest speaker. Ask them to suggest a qualified male guest speaker to address these issues.
(2) Why not ask your local high school, college or professional football team’s coach to take the SPEAK OUT pledge against domestic violence at the website and to encourage his players to do the same?
(3) Share this link to the “We Will Speak Out” campaign, a project of IMA World Health, a global public health program with the leaders of your faith community. More information and additional resources for faith leaders can be found at SAIV’s website.