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.  

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