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FIRST PERSON

Commitments : What a Father Dreads the Most for His Little Girls . . .

October 31, 1994|PHIL BERARDELLI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Whenever I think about the O.J. Simpson case, there's something I feel beyond the sadness and disgust elicited by the media frenzy.

It's a feeling beyond the loathing that occurs whenever the discussion sinks to clothing styles worn by the lawyers, or the nausea that wells up whenever I must run the gantlet of tabloid exposes at the supermarket checkout line.

Or the dread at what new disclosures might be lurking. Or the weariness at the sheer length of the proceedings. The other emotion has seethed in me every day of the four months since the crime.

That emotion is outrage. A vague outrage, the most painful and wrenching kind, because it cannot find a focus, and therefore it tends to regress inside, where it tears at me.

Outrage is what I feel any time I, the father of two daughters, contemplate the kind of society we live in, where women are so frequently at risk. It is certainly what I felt last month, when the family of Nicole Brown Simpson was interviewed by Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Prime Time Live."

There, displayed for the whole country to see, were the grainy, utterly familiar home movie images: A young girl, beautiful and happy, cavorting with her family, playing the aspiring dancer, smiling for the camera, her life--by all appearances--full of love and promise.

Over the years, I have filmed my daughters in hundreds of similar moments. Reliving their childhood in this way has always been pleasant for me.

This time was different. I wasn't watching one of my children, but someone else's--Louis Brown's daughter, Nicole, who was brutally murdered one evening in June. And so instead of nostalgia and tenderness, my heart was filled with sadness, dread--and outrage.

I watched that particular program because I wanted to see Louis Brown. I wanted to see him and I wanted to hear his voice.

Since this whole sorry spectacle began, I have thought a lot about what it means to see my two beloved daughters, my little angels now full-grown women, enter this society within which lurk predatory, brutal men. The prospect makes me extremely angry.

I see with alarming frequency how children like mine--like Nicole--can be taken in an instant of animal, inhuman rage.

Mr. Brown has experienced the loss of a child, a tragedy intensified unimaginably by how she was killed. Yet this quiet, gentle man showed no rage, only great dignity, to the TV cameras.

I could only shudder as I watched. There are many beasts out there. That's why, in this society, women can face far greater danger from their boyfriends, lovers and husbands than from strangers. No father's daughter is safe from them. The child in the home movies, displayed for millions to see, could have been one of mine.

It's extremely frightening and sad. But there's something worse, something that fills me with guilt as well as anger: As men, we tolerate these monsters. We may deny it, but we know who they are.

We do not speak out against them with nearly enough forcefulness and conviction, so that the societal message is clear: Cruelty and mistreatment of women is unacceptable, despicable--and unmanly--behavior.

Instead, there is acquiescence and even tacit approval. I have seen it since I was in grammar school. That's when I started noticing the words used to represent women--specifically, parts of women's anatomy. At first, I heard them uttered by adults. Eventually, they were copied by my classmates. I spoke them too.

It's the beginning of a process that reduces women from fully dimensional human beings into sexual gratification apparatuses.

In high school, the preoccupation became touching those body parts. We compared the process to baseball. ("I got to second base with Margaret last night.") The quest continued, until "sliding into home" was achieved.

For most of us, fortunately, a maturing process also managed to creep in. Somehow a human being was finally perceived as attached to those body parts. The woman grew a head and a brain. The idea of sexual adventure emerged as a two-way street. The woman grew arms and hands, so she, too, could hold and feel.

For some, however, maturity never happened. They proceeded along a darker path, never acknowledging women as having value beyond sex. The concept of body parts remained, never to be relinquished. Sex was something you did, not shared. It was symbolized by that now-ubiquitous four-letter word. Normal and healthy sexual desire was perverted into a form of hatred and self-loathing.

*

All men know this, as I do, because when you are an adult male in the company of males, you hear what some men say and see how they can behave.

Like my first college summer, working at a construction job, sitting with co-workers during lunch, listening to them, day after day, describe various women they knew solely in sexually pejorative terms. Never, ever, was a women referred to as a human being.

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