Grow up, Man up, Be Gentlemen

Grow up, Man up, Be Gentlemen

CNN screen capture by roniweb on Flickr
CNN screen capture by roniweb on Flickr

I’ve been following the disturbing case in Steubenville, Ohio, in which two high school football players were on trial for and found guilty of raping a teen girl, because I once lived there as a student at Franciscan University. But the case has also grabbed national headlines perhaps because it encapsulates all we fear about the generation of youth being raised up now.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach writes about the case and the lessons to gleaned from it. First is that we have surpassed the mere sexualization and objectification of women and are now on the verging of sexualizing and objectifing girls as young as pre-teens. What he doesn’t mention is the role of easy access to pornography in the objectification of women by young men, such they now have an entitlement mentality about using them for their own gratification.

Second is the glorification of teen sports stars. This isn’t to say that young men haven’t been the heroes of the gridiron in the past, but in most cases there used to be a ceiling imposed upon the heights to which they could ascend, primarily by the father-figures in their lives, whether their own fathers or their coaches. But as the rabbi points out, too many young men today have no father at home and even those that do often have fathers (and coaches) more interested in living vicariously through their exploits and in coddling their bad behavior than in guiding and shaping them.

He also noted the epidemic of alcohol abuse among young people, especially teens. Now, I’m not going to be a hypocrite and deny that I drank beer with my friends in high school, but the data shows that the epidemic is much worse today and the behavior that results is more extreme, egged on perhaps by the dubious infamy of YouTube videos and Instagram photos. My impression is that boys drink for bravado and as a way of fitting in and being part of the crowd. Melanie tells me that she thinks young women drink to drown their self-pity and the pathos they feel about their lives.

We both agreed that part of the problem we see in cases like this and in the bad behavior related to it is the infantilization of young people, especially with the creation of the artificial period called adolescence.

I’ve written before (1, 2, 3, 4) about the modern creation of adolescence, a period of time between childhood and adulthood where the body is ready for parenting, but the emotional maturity is not. In the past, when a man and woman reach 15 or 16, they were ready to be married off, to start their trade, and to start having children. But today, we keep them as children and they often stay that way well into their twenties, living at home, playing childish games, bearing no real responsibility, especially sexual responsibility. After all, we’re constantly sending them the message that they cannot control themselves, especially their sexual urges, and so that when– not if– they have sex, they should “protect” themselves, as if a condom or a birth control pill protected them from becoming objects to be used for the gratification of another.

Part of the reason for adolescence is that we have warehoused young people, forcing them to sit in schools with which they are utterly bored, telling them that they cannot be adults yet, cannot fulfill their identities. Instead, we have government-funded industrialized babysitting services masquerading as schools and in their utter boredom and despair, young people seek meaning and excitement in drinking, drugs, sex, and dangerous behavior.

What we need is to stop raising children. We need start raising adults. Stop coddling them. Stop pretending they cannot be adults. Hold them to standards. Give them meaningful work. Otherwise, this slide into Sodom and Gomorrah will continue and continue.

I will add that I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this shameful tragedy happened in the city of Steubenville, Ohio, home to one of the most well-known and dynamically orthodox Catholic universities, Franciscan University of Steubenville. Perhaps it’s a sign that the University itself can be part of the solution. Perhaps it means that the University should bridge the Town/Gown divide and find ways to provide the mentoring and formation that so many of the young men and women of the city need, providing the values that too many so obviously lack.

Ultimately, what they need, especially the boys, is as Rabbi Boteach says, is to learn to be gentlemen:

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.

On this feast of St. Joseph, we could have no greater role model in gentlemanly behavior than the most chaste spouse of Mary. He was a strong, silent provider, open to the will of God, concerned for the well-being and virtue of Mary, and protector of Mary and Jesus to whatever extent required of him, at whatever personal cost. Would that we could all be half the man that Joseph was.