As a Virginian, I’m following the news about Hannah Graham and Morgan Harrington, as well as other women who have gone missing. It appalls me that these crimes happen. I find it unacceptable that the universities who kicked Jesse Matthew out didn’t do more to interrupt his trajectory. But let’s take a moment to look at the societal messages that program and anchor attitudes.
Most people are aware that not all abuse involves hitting or murder. Some of it is subtle and pervasive. We see dumb blonde jokes on social media that of course aren’t really about blondness; they’re saying women are stupid. “What’s the matter, can’t you take a joke?” That’s a line right out of the verbal abuse handbook.
Right now Sprint is running an iPhone ad that shows a group of women in an inane conversation squealing so loudly that they shatter glass. And Verizon is deluging the airwaves with an iPhone ad that shows a whipped man shutting down his nagging, needy wife and trading her in for a new model. Oh wait, it’s a phone he’s exchanging, right? The 5 for the 6? Not. The subtext is heavy-handed enough to be right in your face. “The woman is there to steal your manhood,” says the ad. “If you want to feel like you’re in control of your life, replace her. She is a ‘thing,’ and an annoying one at that. So stick with Verizon. We feel your pain and we’re here to help resurrect your pride.”
I pray for a world in which we’re smart enough to recognize abusive behavior in its most subtle forms and interrupt it early. One on one, in relationships and marriages. In schools and educational settings. In cultural messages. A world in which anywhere it shows up, men and women join together to say, “we’re over that.” In which we teach our children that no one is an object. No one is a thing. We all matter. We all are worthy of respect, compassion, protection and justice. And we make choices not to assuage our secret shame, but based on better criteria.