I was doing some spring-cleaning last week, when I found this 11 year-old “A Day” video. It’s a spoof of the then popular TV show, “The Apprentice.”
When the boys in college film created this back in 2005, I never ever thought that somehow, someday, someway, the object of their satire would be a leading contender for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Life can surprise you that way. More on this in a minute.
First, though, I want to begin this morning by admitting that I thoroughly enjoy working at a boys school. I attended one myself, so I’m biased, and I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in two terrific boys schools for the past 23 years. I enjoy the games, the plays, the concerts, and shows. I enjoy assemblies, even when the Friday morning games don’t quite work as well as we’d planned, or even on those cold Monday mornings, when 700 high school boys try to warble through “Morning Has Broken” in a way Cat Stevens might not recognize.
I like to tell prospective parents, especially those who are worried about sending their sons to an all boys school, that we are like a” Big and Tall” store. If you are 6 foot 6, you might find a suit at Harry Rosen (if you can afford it!), but you are much more likely to find one that fits at a “Big and Tall” store because that’s what they specialize in. I believe the same holds true for a place like UCC. The people who choose to work at a school with almost 1200 boys tend to really get boys. As our school hymn regularly reminds us, the folks who work here are or at least aspire to be “slow to chide and swift to bless.” And God bless them for that!
A few years ago, I happened to be at a Prep assembly, when they were celebrating the grade 7 soccer team’s championship, and the team captain, instead of simply offering a speech, he sang a song he had written especially for the occasion as a tribute to his team, a song based on the melody of Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive.” I remember thinking, as I sat there in the back of Weston Hall, that song would be a lot harder to sing if there were even one adolescent girl in the audience. So part of the charm of this place is just the joy of boys themselves, boys who aren’t burdened with the kind of posturing that can sometimes affect the culture of a coed school.
As much as I enjoy boys schools in general and UCC in particular, though, I don’t need to tell you that life is a co-ed experience, and somehow or other, part of our job here is to prepare you for that world. This is becoming increasingly important in a culture where there is a growing concern about how men treat women.
If there is a silver lining in after-wave shocks of the headlines surrounding Ray Rice, Jameis Winston, and Bill Cosby, it is that we have had important conversations about violence and football, and about how celebrities are treated by the judicial system, and about why victims sometimes keep returning to their perpetrators.
I confess that it is not easy to talk about these issues in a manner that won’t seem way too preachy or in a way that suggests men are intrinsically evil. It seems off kilter to do this, especially at a school that so public touts its belief in boys. A belief we all stand by.
So while I don’t want to stand on a soapbox this morning, given where we are today, we all have to admit that our society has a long way to go before men and women are treated equally and ethically.
This may sound a bit remote for some of the younger boys in Laidlaw Hall this morning, but for the older students, especially those of you in IB2, these issues will become very real to you, especially within the next six months. My hunch is that almost everyone in grade 12 will have a meeting early next fall with some university official, where someone on your campus will talk about campus rules regarding sexual activity and sexual assault. No good school can ignore these issues any more than they can avoid drug and alcohol use and how all of these issues tie in to student behavior. But the facts are the facts and the latest research says that as many as 1 in 4 women is a victim of abuse.
My friend Rick Melvoin, the long-serving head at Belmont Hill Academy, a boys school very much like UCC, recently talked to his boys about all of this, and he tied his comments into Peggy Macintosh’s ground breaking research. Thirty years ago she wrote that some people in our society have unconscious advantages over others. Her research suggested that white people have this over blacks; that men have it over women, and that in terms of gender, men carry with them, something she called “an invisible knapsack” in which we all hold, unconsciously, all sorts of male privilege.
I confess that have not always been aware of this knapsack.
Macintosh, though, points out that men move with ease through society in ways that women can’t imagine. Men earn more money, are stronger physically, dominate corporate CEO and board positions, and populate the halls of government, and we do this while leaving the bulk of child care to spouses. Again, this privilege, Macintosh believes, is unconscious. It is simply our life. Welcome to our world.
What does this all mean for you? Let me suggest that there are parts of our culture that reinforce this distortion. Which takes me back to Donald Trump. One small part of this off-kiltered world-view has to do with something called “the objectification of women.”
I don’t need to tell you how deplorable the Republican nomination process has been with the kind of name-calling and sexual innuendo that seems like it was taken right out of the pro wrestling circuit. But last week, I was reminded of an old “Seinfeld” episode, one where Elaine tells Jerry, “Sometimes when I think you’re the shallowest man I’ve ever met, you manage to drain a little more out of the pool.”
Last week, the political pool ran bone dry when candidates started using social media to display pictures of the candidates’ spouses, as a way of promoting their campaigns. Melania Trump, Donald’s wife, is a former model –or as he might say, “a big model” — and the Trump campaign sent out an unflattering photo of Heidi Cruz next to a glossy shot of Melania. It was a not at all subtle way of saying, “Vote for me because my spouse is more attractive than his is.”
I mention this to you now, just to point out that you are coming of age in an age riddled with contradictions. It’s a time when –even though you will hear a lot about the push for equal opportunity for everyone, regardless of gender, orientation, or race – you will still see today’s politicians try to portray their spouses as eye candy. It’s also a time when indigenous women are missing or murdered, and shows like “Dateline” have very little if any interest in covering their plight. It’s a time when countries like Germany, for example, are rolling out “women only” train cars as a way to minimize the threat of assaults.
And while all of this is happening, you’ll soon be heading off to universities where some of your future classmates may assume you have misogynistic tendencies because, after all, you did attend an elite boys school. How do you get yourself ready for all of this?
I don’t have an easy answer for you, but I suggest that, even as we are bombarded by media messages, messages suggesting that women are defined by their physical appearances, and messages that imply that men always will be in charge, we need to start by examining our own attitudes and behaviours.
David Brooks points out that, “Wisdom isn’t a body of information. It’s the moral quality of knowing what you don’t know and figuring out a way to handle your ignorance, uncertainty, and limitation.”
Let me confess my own ignorance: I didn’t always buy Peggy Macintosh’s argument, but I now understand that it’s impossible to see and understand what’s inside that “invisible knapsack” until you first believe that it is actually there.