vendredi, octobre 24, 2014

Whose life is it anyway?

It's time, I thought as I trod up and down on the Stairmaster.  Time to talk to the superintendent, or the headmaster.

But that's crazy, another voice said. Nothing like mass murder by a depressed or an enraged student would ever happen at my son's high school.

I'm pretty sure that the teachers, the administrators, the kids at Marysville-Pilchuck High School never thought that their homecoming prince would stride into the cafeteria, kill a fellow student, wound four other students, and turn the gun on himself.

We don't know where he got the gun.  Given that he was probably not more than 15, he might have taken it out of his father's closet, or known where dad (or mom) kept the key. 

I have neighbors who have guns for target-shooting and hunting.   I suspect that other people in our quiet exurban community have them. But I also know that the percentage of people who own these lethal weapons continues to decline.  

Yet, paradoxically, we live in a country where it has become easier and easier to carry guns in public, to take them into grocery stores and national parks, to buy as many as we can stuff into our closet - to let nine year old girls onto target ranges.

And there are enough people who believe that President Obama (timorous about the gun lobby) and the Democrats (many of whom are huge gun-rights advocates wholly owned by the NRA) want to take their guns away (abject stupidity) so that, massacre after massacre, nothing seems to change.

But it's not just guns. Guns are a symptom of a much larger problem. From video games to movies to the abuse that goes on behind closed doors, we marinate in violence.  In colleges, hazing rituals can kill. .

Some call it freedom.  But is a nine-year old who accidentally kills her instructor on a rifle range free?  Are the students of Marysville free? Is my family free when we have to game the odds that the irate driver behind us or the guy in the movie theater arguing with the usher might have a handgun holstered under his shirt?

Perhaps we need to rethink our definitions of freedom.

I'll tell you one thing.

I'm darned tired of seeing weeping children on a playground, clutching the hands of their parents. The pain in their faces sears my soul, as it perhaps does yours, too. 

Sick of hearing about policemen and sheriff's deputies mowed down by madmen (good men with guns who never had a chance). 

What's perhaps most frightening is what it says about us - sheepish and angry, defiant or ashamed, divided between those who want to be the biggest bully on the block and those who are sick of being bullied.

I don't want our kids to think we have to live like this. 

Or that they might, just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, have the terrible misfortune to die that way. 

mardi, septembre 30, 2014

Time to stop failing our girls

Charlottesville, Virginia.

The very name conjures up gentility, history, marble columns, and educational ideals that can be traced back to one of the nation's founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.

When you think about Charlottesville, you don't imagine young women barely out of high school being abducted, assaulted and disappearing.

But that what seems to have happened to as many as five women, including one Virginia Tech student, Morgan Harrington, whose remains were found in a farm field in 2009 several months after she had disappeared while leaving a Metallica concert.

Now police apparently have found forensic evidence that connects Jesse Matthew, a suspect in the disappearance of UVA student Hannah Graham, with Morgan Harrington. 

Five young adults disappear, possibly all victims of one pathological killer, and no one thinks to connect the dots until now?  No wonder, as a commentator said on CNN this evening, that the people of Charlottesville are outraged.

Why isn't anyone educating young women that it's not safe to go wandering around town at night? Why isn't there more aggressive education about the dangers of too much alcohol (though it's not clear that Hannah Graham had been drinking, she did appear "disoriented") and enforcement of underage drinking laws?

God knows, I'm not blaming her desperate parents.  It seems to me that underneath this latest string of tragedies lies a cold truth - as a society, we are still lousy at protecting our girls.

One in five girls is the victim of sexual abuse.  Sexual coercion is probably under-reported for many reasons, from shame to the fear that if they tell someone in authority what happened, they may not be believed.

We tell a  young girl that she can be whatever she wants to be - as long as she  follows a path that doesn't get in the way of the aspirations of the man she may marry.

On the other hand, our young men often grow up in households in which it is tacitly assumed that because mom does the laundry and cooks dinner, that's the way it should be.  If they don't have a male role model demonstrates that it's just as manly to change a diaper as it is to coach Little League,  that gentleness can also be strength, that women are just as valuable as men, then they may take the easy way out when it is offered - wouldn't you?

Instead of teaching flexibility, compromise, complexity, and the ability to think on their feet, we buy into, or rebel against, outmoded gender roles that don't give our girls the tools they need to navigate a society in which violence against females is still shockingly common.

Meanwhile, we feud over so much that really doesn't matter, bask in the achievements of our children, or, conversely, compare ourselves to other parents and constantly find ourselves wanting.

And behind our anxieties, the ceaseless thrum of middle-class concern over grades and daycare, breastfeeding and lunches, soccer and math grades, is the constant background of violence, both specific and random.

As a culture, we are sending out our babies, the girls we want to be confident and strong, vulnerable and kind, compassionate and brilliant, into a world in which, too often, they are at risk.

Talk about a war on women.

Until, as a society, we can figure out how to support each other and stand up against the insidious voices that still dictate how girls and women should behave, until we raise them to be as strong (mentally if not always physically), as their brothers, until we create a society in which there are no excuses for rape and abuse, then there will be more heartbroken families, more disappearances and more tears.

In a society in which young girls were truly valued someone would have been around to help 18-year-old Hannah Graham get home safely that night - or better yet, not have ventured out there at all.

The work of raising our daughter has only just begun. God help us if we become complacent.