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Ventura County Perspective | PERSPECTIVE ON BEHAVIOR

The Boor Is Always With Us, Unless We Act

Inappropriate actions and crude speech affront everyone's dignity. But together we can insist on better conduct.

March 26, 2000|ALICIA A. REYNOLDS | Alicia A. Reynolds lives in Ventura and teaches English at Oxnard High School

I often find myself having to discipline students for behavior they think is perfectly acceptable.

When my poetry class was exploring William Blake's "Songs of Innocence" and "Songs of Experience," I remember one young man casually musing that "When I was a little kid I didn't like girls, now I'm pimping with them."

When I told this 17-year-old that I was deeply disturbed by his use of the word "pimping," he said that it meant he had friends who were girls. When another student asked him if he referred to his female friends as prostitutes, he responded, "No, they're only ho's if they put out."

What was so shocking in this exchange was his complete lack of sensibilities concerning what constituted appropriate dialogue for the classroom. He genuinely had difficulty understanding why those references would be considered offensive.

"You just don't understand," he kept repeating.

Now, lest anyone be tempted to stereotype this young man as the product of an inner-city ghetto, let me say that he is white and middle-class and by no means alone in his preferred use of crude references to women.

Our students are well versed when it comes to their biological plumbing, but in their speech and behavior they show little respect for the power and beauty of their sexuality.

This is especially true concerning attitudes toward women. If I had a dollar for every time I heard demeaning words about women bandied about by students of both genders, I'd be a wealthy woman.

Yet judging by the number of times I've heard those words spewed out in movies, sitcoms, radio shows and pop songs, it's obvious that someone is making a chunk of change through the use of these derogatory terms.

What was once reserved for locker room repartee is now the lingua franca of our youth. Young women are constantly subjected to crude comments and gestures by young men who think perpetrating such acts proves their virility--an attitude that seems to be modeled not only by those in the entertainment media but by a society that often seems addicted to sexually overt behavior.

Whether we like it or not, kids copy what we do and what we fail to do. And while the vast majority of people respect the boundaries of others, we often fail to speak up when we witness someone crossing over the lines of common decency. This is especially true when inappropriate behavior is more subtle and covert.

How many workplaces tolerate the guy who goes around giving unsolicited "back rubs" to female office workers who are too frightened or embarrassed to say anything? Even when the offensive behavior is obvious, few are willing to admonish the offender. In our silence how many times have we allowed a woman, a woman who could be our daughter or mother, be subjected to behavior and comments we knew made her feel uncomfortable, but we failed to do or say anything because we didn't want to get involved?

We would do well to teach our children appropriate boundaries within the public forum. As a nation we have turned just about every public setting into a sports bar where jocular banter is the norm. We need not wait for the media to model appropriate behavior for us, nor do we need politicians to legislate morality.

As community members we can stand together to promote conduct in our schools, workplaces and neighborhoods that honors the dignity of each individual.

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