Are you back? Okay.
Reading her words brought back a memory of something very disturbing which occurred in my classroom back when I was teaching. Usually, on the day before a vacation, if I could come up with a movie for my students to watch which related to the topic we had been discussing, and I would use it to reinforce the lesson as a way of keeping the kids on task, when their thoughts were on the upcoming holiday.
The students had been learning about the labor movement, and the effect of labor unions on business management, so I decided Norma Rae, the story of a small town factory worker who becomes a union activist was appropriate. Watching a film was always a welcome change of pace for the class, and they were usuallly attentive because they knew they would be required to relate it to what they had learned from their textbook.
Here’s what I found disturbing: There is a scene in the movie where Sally Fields (Norma) decides to end a self-destructive relationship she has been having with a married man. I can’t remember if they were in her apartment or a motel when she announced that she was through; she realized there was no future for her in this affair and did not want to see him anymore. The man (I can’t even remember who the actor was or his character’s name) angry at her rejection, slams her against the wall. To my shock and amazement, a cheer came up from my students at this action!
At the end of the movie, still stunned by what had occurred, I asked the class why they had cheered this act of violence. “She was asking for it!” “She deserved it.” “She was getting too pushy!” were some of the responses. I was totally floored. I took the opportunity to let them know that such physical abuse is NEVER acceptable, but I’m not sure that my words had any impact on them.
A few months later, I noticed one of the girls in my class had a ton of foundation on her face; she customarily wore makeup, but never to that extent. Upon examination from a closer angle, I realized the heavy makeup was an attempt to hide black and blue marks on her face. I heard that her boyfriend had beaten her, and her father was pressing charges against him. “Can you believe it?” one girl said to a friend. “She scratched his chest with her fingernails; he HAD to do SOMETHING!”
Those words were spoken by a female 17-year-old high school junior in total seriousness. Obviously the behavior which I considered repulsive was standard procedure in their world, even acceptable. This was about 13 years ago. I can only hope that some attitudes have changed by now, but given the instances of domestic violence still showing up in newspapers and newscasts, we have a long way to go.
The words of an old, old song from come to mind:
“Slap her down again, Pa, slap her down again—
Make her tell us more, Pa, tell us where she’s been.
We don’t want our neighbors talking about our kin—
Slap her down again, Pa; slap her down again!”
The ugly truth is that’s the message that many grew up singing and seeing and living. We need a kinder, gentler world, where physical or mental abuse of any woman, man, or child is neither accepted or tolerated..