FROM CASTIGATING THEM TO LOOKING AT OURSELVES
I confess. I too decried those activities of those university students. How could they even think it was okay, asking freshmen to re-enact a rape, using a simulated climax as a forfeit? What was wrong with them?
That was last week. Over the week end, an uncomfortable realization has been sneaking up on me. The students who planned these events are our children, the children of our education system, our society. Children don’t ever do what we say. They do what we do. And so, I’ve begun to ask a different set of questions, uncomfortable questions.
What have we done, as parents, as teachers, as members of society that this has happened in our universities?
What values have we imparted for our children to see rape as a joke, incest as okay, sexual climax as a public display?
What examples have we given to our sons and daughters that they feel they must comply, to fit in regardless of how uncomfortable they feel?
What have we implicitly condoned by refusing to discuss sexual mores, by looking away when we catch a glimpse of pornography on our children’s computer screens, by refusing to acknowledge what they might be doing in clubs, in cars, out on the beach?
I STAND AT FAULT
I think about the times I’ve told my children that the old religious books are two-thousand year old constructs, reflecting long-dead morality; when I told them to follow their consciences. And yet, did we ever have a serious discussion about how a conscience can be listened to?
I confess, I too easily said, “Do what feels right to you.” But, aside from muttering platitudes about “Don’t do what you don’t want done to you,” and “‘Follow the rules”, and “Remember the consequences,” I never initiated a sit-down, or even a talk-around, about what might be patently right or patently wrong, or how to navigate the grey areas in between.
I confess, I never had a proper conversation about consensual sex. I was too ashamed. We talked about the birds, the bees, the need not be premature and unready parents. But I veered away from the rest of that BGR stuff.
My children saw me tell white lies to get out of appointments. They heard me change the way I spoke, from Singlish, to standard English, to a North American drawl, so I could fit in.
When my children told me they weren’t comfortable with doing this or that, I pushed them anyway. “Lean into the pain,” I said to them. “Develop thick skin.” And when they came home complaining that x or y or z had said something hurtful, impolitic, positively misogynistic or misanthropic, I’d bite my lips and shrug. They needed to get along to get ahead.
OUR CHILDREN DIDN’T SEE US PROTESTING
Our children never saw us protesting when they stopped teaching ethics and literature in schools. We were too concerned about which subjects they might take to score.
Our children didn’t see us fussing when we heard about condoms being packed into NS men kits when they went abroad for exercises, and (it was assumed) they’d be engaging in paid sex. Boys would be boys we probably thought. It was only natural.
Our children didn’t read our facebook protests about that NS song about men, guns and sexual equipment. Why? Most of us didn’t write any.
Our children saw us turn our faces and hurry past that flat, where that father was molesting his step-daughter, that mother was over-disciplining her child. It couldn’t be wrong then, could it?
Our children are obedient as we are. For their own good, they know to stay within the OB markers.
Our educational institutions have set guidelines.
But what happens when there are no OB markers, no guidelines.
Have we shown our children how to guide themselves?
IS IT ANY WONDER?
When the news hit, I kept asking myself how this could have happened.
Upon reflection, I guess I’m not in the least surprised.
We, as a society, have allowed this to happen. We are to blame. All of us.
The Minister of Education wrote an excellent post about why rape and incest are not a joke, why there should be appropriate sexual boundaries. All orientation activities were cancelled. The NUSS has apologized. A blogger I know is already predicting that we’ll be moving on. It’s becoming old news.
We’ve shut things down without really considering the roots of the problems. Is putting a lid on the matter too simplistic?
The issue calls for a dialogue. A dialogue that is not about rules and guidelines, but one that explores the type of ethics we need as a nation, as parents, as individuals.
To begin with, we should give the organizers of the events a chance to explain themselves. With that as a base, all of us, in our own homes, with our children and with our friends and colleagues, should consider the whites, the blacks and the greys of being good humans.
We are all complicit. We must all do better.