Not long ago, I was talking to a friend about rape culture (I swear, I have other topics of conversation. This was in response to a news report we watched together about sexual assault in the military). He expressed the belief that the weakening of religious values and the collapse of civilized behavior generally were to blame: when he was growing up, men respected women, and women respected themselves. Men were taught to hold doors for ladies; to carry their packages; to give up their seats on a bus to them. We don't strive to be gentlemen anymore, he said; we don't even try to be good people. Anything goes.
My friend is a thoughtful, decent person—a "Jimmy Carter Christian," one who expresses his religious beliefs through good works and charitable thoughts. He wasn't victim blaming or arguing that women have too many rights these days. He was expressing a deeply held concern for the way the world is going. And I agree that if everyone would only be more like him, we wouldn't have to worry about rape, or robbery, or wars, or most of the world's evils.
But I think he is wrong about basically everything else. Chivalry is, at base, the othering of women. So is much of Christianity, and many other religions as well. When one group is treated differently from the dominant group, with a different set of rules and expectations, there is a breakdown in empathy. It becomes harder for the dominant group to imagine that the othered group also bleeds when you cut them.
This isn't Jesus's fault. He advocated treating everyone with loving kindness, just as my friend does. But when any movement becomes large enough to require organization, members start jockeying for power, and when one group attains dominance, they get to set the rules—and because we are all human, we tend to set rules that favor people like us.
That seems to be what happened here. The young women at this Christian college were othered, made less-than. The young men were considered superior, dominant, and more important, and the young women were assigned responsibility for the men's success in restraining themselves sexually and in avoiding scandal.
I think it would be great if we lived in my friend's ideal world, with one modification: what if we all treated ourselves and each other with respect? What if we all held doors for each other, helped each other with heavy burdens, and offered our seats to people who were struggling? I think Jesus would be on board with that. I can't say as much for the folks at Patrick Henry.
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