Here’s a repost of an article I wrote for my Blogspot version of The Overeducated Housewife. It originally appeared February 6, 2019. I’m sharing it again, because last night, I watched Liam Neeson’s Taken series– three movies worth– because Bill had to work very late. As I watched Liam’s character, Bryan Mills, kicking the crap out of bad guys in a very satisfying way, I was reminded of this post I wrote just before I had to shut down access to my old blog. I think it’s worth another look.
I believe that old song in Avenue Q. I think everyone’s a little bit racist, even though some people believe that you can only be racist if you’re a member of the “dominant” racial group. Actor Liam Neeson is a White man who recently confessed that after a friend was violently raped by a Black man, he prowled the streets with a club, looking for a Black man to beat up. He said he was actually “hoping” to be approached by someone giving him an excuse to beat the shit out of them with a “cosh” (British word for club).
Neeson’s violent revenge fantasy occurred about forty years ago. He never did beat anyone up. He was simply very angry about the violent crime committed against his friend and he wanted to avenge her. He says he’s ashamed of how he reacted to the rape and sorry for having those violent impulses to hurt other people.
Naturally, the papers have been having a field day with the story. Lots of people seem to think Mr. Neeson needs a good public flogging for something that happened 40 years ago. I don’t condone Neeson’s violent impulses to hurt just anyone who happened to be Black. However, I do feel like he should be commended for his honesty. It’s not an easy thing to do, admitting those feelings publicly, as hateful and hurtful as they are. It’s awful to hear about them, but it does get people thinking and talking. Is that a bad thing? By the way, I HIGHLY recommend listening to Neeson speak in the above video. He makes a lot of sense.
Neeson eventually came to the conclusion that violence begets violence. He found more constructive ways to deal with his rage, to include power walking for two hours a day. He spoke to his friends and a priest. He also said that if the man had not been Black, he still would have had those same feelings of primal rage and wanting to get revenge. In this case, it was apparently a Black man who perpetrated the crime against his friend. It could have been anyone, though. Also, consider that this happened in Northern Ireland forty years ago, during “The Troubles”. It was a pretty violent time all around, particularly between English people and Irish people. I’m sure that contributed to Neeson’s state of mind.
In my opinion, Liam Neeson’s situation isn’t really the same as Governor Ralph Northam’s situation in Virginia. He’s under fire for having been in a racist photo 35 years ago. Governor Northam is in a leadership position, though, and is a physician. The photo was taken when he was in medical school. And it had nothing to do with being justifiably angry. That photo was about simple mockery of people not like him. To my knowledge, it wasn’t prefaced by violent crime or anything that would cause a person to feel “passionate”. It was just plain stupidity.
I can understand being so angry that one becomes blinded by rage. I don’t condone acting on that rage. It turns out, Neeson never did. He never hurt or killed anyone in reaction to his friend’s rape. Soon afterward, he was ashamed of himself and took active steps to mend his ways. Forty years later, people want to cancel him for simply admitting that he had these dark thoughts after a dear friend was raped.
Is it awful that Neeson had those violent and racially biased fantasies? Yes, I believe it is, although I think having them is pretty “human”. Is it awful that he publicly admits to having those fantasies? I don’t think so. Why punish the man for simply being honest? At least he’s worked on his issues. At least he acknowledges them. Apparently, that incident from Neeson’s past has also been used as a tool in his movies, like Taken and Ransom. That just goes to show that even the worst impulses can be used for something positive if we’re careful.
I do think people should be able to live down the things they did in the past, particularly if they acknowledge them and show that they’ve tried to make amends. We are all more than the worst thing we’ve ever done or said or thought… or, at least I believe we should be. I think Neeson has taken steps to make amends for having those violent, racist impulses over forty years ago. Northam, to my admittedly limited knowledge, has also apparently tried to change his ways. He supposedly has a good reputation as a physician and as a governor, aside from this unfortunate relic from his past.
Of course, now there’s been talk of a sexual assault claim against Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who would be poised to take Northam’s place if he resigns. Personally, I think the hullabaloo in Virginia is more about people upset about Northam’s comments on abortion and desperate folks wanting to get the Democrats out of office in Virginia. The timing of this is just too funky.
As for Liam Neeson… I think people should stop and think before they pick up their torches and pitchforks. Should we be more concerned about people who are honest about having racist feelings or those who hide them? Truly, I think everyone has prejudices. No one is immune to preconceived notions about other people. I, for one, think Neeson was brave to share his story, knowing how public backlash can happen and what it can lead to. It’s good to think and talk about these things. But then, Liam Neeson is probably in a position where he can talk about these things and not fear losing everything.
Last night, I read about Shallowater High School, a school near Lubbock, Texas that was in the news because of a controversial assignment that got complaints. An English teacher, who was teaching “Beowulf” and the works of Chaucer, had a tradition of having her students explore the concept of chivalry. The boys were expected to dress in suits and ties. The girls were to wear dresses and heels. For one day, the men would help ladies to their seats and open doors for them, and they were supposed stand when a lady or person in authority entered a room. The ladies were expected not to speak unless spoken to, not to complain or whine, and they were supposed to walk behind the men.
The first time I read about this assignment about chivalry, it was in an article for a television station that was short on information and long on media bias. My initial impression was that it was kind of a silly assignment that sounded ill-conceived. But then I read more about it in The New York Times and learned that the teacher who had made the assignment had been doing it for a long time. Many students actually looked forward to taking part in it, which made me want to learn more about what it entailed.
In the course of reading more about the assignment, I learned that those who were uncomfortable with it were allowed to write a one page essay on chivalry. I also learned that the intent was of the assignment was to show students that chivalry was actually promoting male chauvinism and marginalizing women. The message was that chivalry, which is often touted to be “good” and is now “dead”, is not so much about promoting good manners and courtliness. It was about keeping women in their so-called place, according to the men who wanted to stay in charge. Apparently, past students who had taken part in the assignment got the message, even if it sounded kind of “sketchy” in practice.
This year, the assignment made the news, because some parents complained about it, claiming it was “sexist”. I will admit, my first thoughts, when I read about it was that it did seem a bit sexist. But then when I read that a lot of students actually enjoyed doing it, I changed my mind. Having been an English major and read “Beowulf” a couple of times myself, I appreciate anything that makes that story more engaging for young people. Moreover, I figured there had to be something more to the assignment than what was being put out to the masses. According to the New York Times:
“I really don’t think it was the teacher’s intention to have it be such a sexist lesson,” said Hannah Carreon, 18, a senior at the high school. “There were girls that were excited to get to do this finally and get to dress up.”
And those who didn’t want to participate didn’t have to. Seems fair enough to me. Nevertheless, thanks to the uproar, the school district superintendent, Dr. Anita Hebert, said the assignment was canceled, adding “this assignment has been reviewed, and despite its historical context, it does not reflect our district and community values.” Very fine, and she’s certainly within her rights to have the assignment changed.
Given how thin skinned many people are these days, I think it would be difficult for teachers and administrators to teach, especially in a creative way, without offending someone somehow. I don’t have a quarrel with the school administrator’s decision to revise the assignment, even though some students may have been disappointed. Schools have to evolve with the times, and nowadays, people are less inclined to be open-minded about alternative methods. Most people won’t even bother to read a news article before exploding with outrage, after all.
But then I went into the comment section and there were many outraged reactions left by people who obviously hadn’t read the article. One person wrote that the teacher must be a “misogynistic man” and went off on a screed about racism and misogyny.
I know I should have kept scrolling, but I was lonely, irritated, and bored last night. So I commented that the teacher who had made the assignment was a woman who had been teaching this particular lesson for years. It was a long-standing tradition in her class that, apparently, had been well-received in years past. The teacher was actually trying to show the students that so-called “chivalry” wasn’t actually chivalry. From The New York Times:
The exercise had been scheduled to take place on Wednesday. Female and male students, who had been reading “Beowulf” and the works of Chaucer, were given assignment sheets that described 11 “rules for chivalry.” They would be awarded 10 points for every rule they followed.
Boys were asked to rise any time a female student or faculty member entered a room, to avoid profanity or “vulgar words” and to “allow ladies to leave the room before they leave.”
Girls had to walk behind men or “walk daintily, as if their feet were bound”; address men with “a lowered head and a curtsy”; “clean up” after their male classmates; and “obey any reasonable request” from a man.
According to Colin Tynes Lain, 18, a senior, the teacher had anticipated backlash and said students who were uncomfortable with the assignment could write a one-page essay instead.
In the past, Mr. Lain said, the teacher had given parents and teachers a written disclaimer explaining that the goal of the project was to show how the chivalric code was used to obscure chauvinistic principles that harmed women.
“That’s what she was trying to pull our attention to,” he said. “That this was not chivalry in any way.”
But to read the comments, the teacher was perceived as some boneheaded cave dwelling man who was trying to suppress women with a backwards assignment meant to push them down. And when I gently pointed out that the teacher was a woman who was trying to teach about how chivalry was actually not so good, I got a lecture about racism and misogyny from several “woke” ladies who felt I needed a “schoolin'”.
I commented again that many of the students had been looking forward to the assignment. And they also had an alternative assignment they could do if they didn’t want to participate in the teacher’s lesson on chivalry. But that comment only served to further inflame the “woke” woman who hadn’t bothered to read the article, along with a few others who felt this assignment was so damaging. So my parting shot, which got lots of likes, was something along the lines of.
“Y’all can spare me the lectures on misogyny. I’m simply reporting what was in the article. I didn’t say I liked it or agreed with it. If more people would read before commenting, the world would be a better place.”
I often complain about conservatives. But you know what? Sometimes liberals are just as bad. Some of them have this agenda they just feel compelled to push, often without any critical thinking or forethought applied whatsoever. They often make judgments without knowing all the facts or context. And, just like conservatives, they often make perfect asses of themselves.
I will admit, I have read about some assignments that appeared to be especially tone deaf and ill considered. For instance, just last year, a high school teacher in Iowa was placed on leave for asking students to pretend they were “black slaves”. The assignment was made for an online learning program. A surprising number of teachers have attempted to teach kids about slavery via role play, which is bound to be a bad idea.
Role-playing can be an effective pedagogical tool, but teachers have to be very careful that they are not reinforcing negative gender and racial attitudes, said April Peters-Hawkins, a former sixth-grade teacher who is now a professor of school leadership at the University of Houston College of Education.
“What we typically see is marginalized groups continuing to be marginalized,” she said. “Black kids being asked to play the roles of slaves, Jewish kids being asked to play the role of victims of the Holocaust and girls being asked to be subservient.”
I think some people felt this assignment would make some girls feel uncomfortable, so they brought up their concerns. Unfortunately, it then became international news and, I think, it got blown entirely out of proportion. And now, the narrative has become completely distorted from the facts.
It’s easy to react to inflammatory headlines without actually getting the facts. People are often eager to promote a progressive agenda, but are loathe to think first. On the surface, this assignment about chivalry seems like it would be offensive and wrong. It sounds like the teacher’s methods might wind up marginalizing girls. And no, it’s not a good thing to teach females that they are to be subservient to men, especially in the year 2021. But if you actually read about the intent of the assignment, it sounds a lot less offensive. Especially since participation was entirely voluntary.
I will grant that the chivalry assignment probably should be reconsidered, but not necessarily because it will damage or offend students. I think it should be reconsidered because of the court of public opinion, our culture of people who don’t want to read before they react, and people who claim to be open-minded but actually aren’t. Frankly, it’s very irritating to get lectured by people who can’t even be bothered to read before they comment. They’re usually people who feel like their (often uninformed) opinions are so very important to share, but don’t care about anyone else’s opinions. And you can’t have a discussion with them because they refuse to consider all sides of an issue. It’s like the thinking has already been done, and not by them, personally.
The teacher who made this assignment is described as “caring and well-liked”. I wouldn’t want to see a good teacher who is caring and well-liked canceled from her profession because of uninvolved people who are hell-bent on thinking the worst about her intentions. I hope she hasn’t been harassed, and I’m glad her name has been kept out of the media.
I know how much time, money, and training goes into making good teachers. I also know that a lot of them don’t get the respect and consideration they deserve. It’s a shame that some of them are punished for thinking outside of the box, even if the lesson ends up being a flop. I hope this teacher will continue to try to teach students the truth about so-called chivalry, even if this particular role playing method is now off limits.
Kinda reminds me of how people have been offended by this classic Randy Newman song… which isn’t actually about “short people”.
Incidentally, I have some people on my friends list who are notoriously bad about reacting to headlines and not actually bothering to read. Yesterday, I shared the video that was in yesterday’s post about Gloriavale Christian Community. Two people left me sad reactions, even after I commented that it wasn’t a sad post. Seriously. Watch the video. It’s not a sad tale– it’s a triumphant tale about a STRONG woman who left a truly oppressive and sexist cult. But people are gonna react… and I say, if you’re going to form an opinion and make a public comment or reaction, isn’t it better to actually know what you are reacting to? I think it is.
This morning, I was looking at my Statcounter hits, and I noticed that I got one from Blackboard, educational software that is frequently used at colleges and universities in the United States. The person who hit my old blog was evidently at Drexel University. He or she read a post I wrote about a book I read, written by a college classmate who is now in prison. As I was revisiting that post this morning, I felt a little flabbergasted by how much technology has changed since my undergraduate days. When I was in college in the 1990s, we didn’t have Blackboard. In fact, we barely had the Internet back then. By the time I was in graduate school from 1999-2002, Blackboard was commonly used around the country.
Several years ago, on my old blog, I wrote a post called Prison. It was inspired by a thread I had read on RfM. Someone had posted that a family member was about to go to prison and they wanted information about what it would be like. I remembered that a few years prior, I had read a number of books about the prison experience. One of the books I read and reviewed was entitled A Woman Doing Life: Notes from a Prison for Women (2010). Although I didn’t realize it the first time I read that book, back in 2010, I actually knew the author, Erin McCay George. We went to college together in Farmville, Virginia. As I read Erin’s book the first time, I kept marveling at how much we had in common, right down to having attended Longwood University (then known as Longwood College) at the same time.
When I revisited Erin’s book in 2013, it suddenly dawned on me who she was. Longwood was a very small, close-knit school in the 1990s. It’s grown a bit since I was a student, but it’s still a very friendly campus. I have many friends from my college days, which as of this year are 25 years in the past. I even still speak to former professors, and they actually remember me! Bill marvels about that, since he went to much larger American University, where he was just one of thousands of students.
Because the campus was so close-knit, it was easy to get to know “of” people. I wasn’t buddies with Erin George, but I definitely knew who she was. She was friendly with people I knew better, and in fact, had been a very controversial editor of our school newspaper. One of my friends worked with the Student Government Association and knew Erin because she was accused of embezzling money that was intended for the newspaper. Erin evidently left the country while the case was being investigated and never graduated from Longwood.
So, the next post I composed after “Prison” was called “I actually DO know Erin McCay George.” That post is now six years old, but it’s attracted a lot of attention that continues today. I got comments from several people who also know Erin, including one from one of her children, who was sent to England to live after her mother was sent to prison for 603 years for murdering her husband over insurance money. I’ve also gotten comments from college students whose professors are using Erin’s book in their criminal justice classes, as well as people who knew her at Longwood, or knew her husband’s family in England.
As I was rereading that post this morning, it occurred to me how pieces of a story can come together. It’s really fascinating. For much of my life, I didn’t have access to the Internet. Now that it’s as ubiquitous as indoor plumbing, I can communicate with people from all over the world and get more of a story than I would have otherwise had. But I also have the benefit of hindsight, and this morning, I’m remember the controversy that made Erin a campus name back in 1992.
It was all over a newspaper article that appeared on the front page of The Rotunda in the fall of ’92. Erin had penned an expose over the disparities in faculty salaries, and went as far as to publish them in the newspaper. Thinking about that situation now, it seems crazy that people would have gotten into such a tizzy over the salary information, especially since Erin George is currently doing 603 years for murder in a big death penalty state. But I do remember people were very upset about it and Erin came under fire for printing the information for everyone to see. Actually, looking at the numbers, I’m a bit horrified by how low the salaries were. I know it was 1992, but jeez, most of the profs weren’t making a lot of money!
Then, I remembered there was a controversy about condoms in the newspaper. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this accurately, and as of right now, I’m looking to see if I can find the actual issue, but I seem to remember that Erin was responsible for condoms being distributed within the newspaper. I could be wrong, though. I’ll keep looking to see if I can find the proof. ETA: I’m right. In the screenshot, you can read Julie Wiley’s comments about the infamous SEX issue of the paper. I don’t think I got an issue of that paper myself, even though they were freely distributed around campus. They went fast because college students are always keen to get things for free… condoms were probably especially valuable.
What I did find while searching the archives is a supportive letter to the editor written by a math professor from back in the day. Behold:
In searching the archives, I’m not finding the unsigned sheet Dr. Webber mentions. I suspect that some people in the know decided to put them in the paper after they had already been printed. The above letter would have been printed in the fall of 1993, but Erin was married by March 1994. My SGA friend told me that Erin abruptly left the country while she was being investigated for allegedly embezzling funds intended for the newspaper. Erin was also mentioned in The Virginian, Longwood’s yearbook, for making comments about how the yearbook was funded:
I went looking for the infamous SEX issue, but I can’t find it posted anywhere. However, I did find the article about the SGA and its funding of the yearbook. Interestingly enough, the piece appears to be more of an editorial than a news article, yet it appears on the front page.
And the article got a lot of responses from the community…
Anyway… it’s been interesting to take this walk down memory lane. It doesn’t seem like I graduated from college 25 years ago, but it’s pretty funny to read some of the back issues of The Rotunda during the Erin McCay years. It’s amazing what you can find when you look in the past. While I’m sure none of us ever thought the controversial newspaper reporter would one day wind up in prison and write a book that gets used in college courses, I think some of what was written in our college paper sort of foreshadows the fact that Ms. George was destined to find trouble. Farmville, Virginia is a pleasant, quiet, college town, but it’s had its share of craziness. On the other hand, rock star Jason Mraz was once a Longwood student, too.
Edited to add: I found this clipping from 1992 about the infamous Sex issue of the Rotunda…
“College Newspaper Comes With Condoms” United Press International (09/25/92)
Farmville, Va.–Longwood College’s student newspaper this week was published with a condom taped inside each copy. Erin McCay, editor-in-chief of the Rotunda, said, “The purpose of this issue was to raise awareness.” She added that she was “appalled by the Victorian attitude toward sex, and the grim repercussions that that attitude can have.” The newspaper was headlined, “SEX!! SEX!! SEX!! IN THE NINETIES.” The condoms were stuck on page eight in a box headed, “Just Use It.” Dean of students Tim Pierson said the issue was “inappropriate.” Advertising revenue paid for the condoms, according to McCay, who was summoned to a meeting Friday with Phyllis Mable, vice president for student affairs. The special edition entailed stories and commentary about date rape, AIDS on college campuses, and attitudes about sex as well as unrelated articles. A total of 1,200 copies of the Rotunda were distributed around campus on Monday night and were gone by early Tuesday.
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