The public outcry over Roger Goodell’s failure to adequately punish NFL running back Ray Rice for knocking out his girlfriend in an Atlantic City hotel elevator is an encouraging sign that some vestige of civilization remains. It has been heartening to hear from talking heads that even in 2014 some things are still not tolerable. And, that one of those intolerable things is a man hitting a woman.
Regarding the case, not all of the facts are currently known. The public has seen the tapes of Rice indelicately dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of the elevator, but no footage of what occurred in the elevator has been released. This makes the civic outcry particularly elevating, because people realize that essentially nothing could have happened in that elevator that would justify Rice’s actions. A man may not hit a woman regardless of what she said or did.
This simple point was driven home when ESPN suspended Stephen A. Smith for suggesting that women needed to learn how to not provoke such violence. Smith learned, that even in a discussion show, there is no room for debate here. Men do not hit women.
Still, civilizations are more likely to crumble from within. The reaction from those that know men must not hit women may bode worse than the reaction of the small group of yahoos that do not. For instance, in perusing just a few comments generated from an ESPN column condemning Rice’s action, one reader opined that this type of incident will continue to happen “until men see females as truly equals.” It is hard to imagine a worse reading of the situation. While equality is a precious political principle, culturally, equality is fraught with problems.
Men do not hit women because women are fundamentally different than men. If men are taught that women are not different but equal, or worse yet, the same, then the compunction not to hit them is removed.
Richard Weaver explained this over 60 years ago in his magisterial book “Ideas Have Consequences.” He wrote, “the refusal to see distinction between babe and adult, between the sexes, between combatant and noncombatant—distinctions which lay at the core of chivalry … this is the destruction of society through brutality.” Weaver further noted that if “we say that woman is identical with man … there is no reason why she should not be bombed along with him.”
Here then, we reach an impasse. Either our love of equality or our embrace of civilization must give way. And that leads to perhaps the most important discussion: What do we teach our children?
The existence of domestic violence demonstrates the dark nature of man, but a society’s condemnation of abuse shows a noble culture can nevertheless arise. Maintaining civilization always requires education, but this latest incident demonstrates that our approach will require clear understanding and priorities.
Boys need it instilled in them that real men never hit women. All agree on that, but frustratingly for many is the fact that this makes sense only because women are fundamentally different than men, not because they are the same.
Dr. Jason R. Edwards is a research fellow with The Center for Vision & Values and an associate professor of education and history at Grove City College.