Girl-Type Graduates! Congratulations! Now Go Make Babies Like Proper Lady People!
Did you miss me while I was on holiday? Allow me to make up for my self-indulgent absence by self-indulgently using some vacation slides to illustrate this triumphant return post!
To wit, get a load of this guy, Mr. Peter Heck, social studies teacher, “conservative motivational speaker,” and 2 June 2013 high school commencement address deliverer in Greentown, Indiana:
I challenge you to devote yourself to your families and your children. If you choose to have a career, God’s blessings upon you. But I challenge you to recognize what the world scoffs at, that your greatest role in your life will be that of wife and mother. The greatest impact you could ever contribute to our world is a loving investment in the lives of your precious children. To solve the problems plaguing our society, we don’t need more women CEOs. We need more women as invested mothers.
Hoo boy. Where to begin? How about with the opening suggestion that devoting yourself to your families and children is a new, revolutionary “challenge,” mutually exclusive to having a career? (For the womens, anyway.) I know we see plenty of news stories about crap parents; some of us probably have experienced or witnessed crap parenting in person. It exists. It is bad. But the vast majority of people who have children are devoted to them without Mr. Heck’s generous advice. We can’t help it; hell, thanks to our biology we tend more toward the other extreme, experiencing such debilitating obsession with our precious offspring that we will bore the people around us to the point of despair with endless photos and Facebook updates and stories, from potty training to SAT scores.
Also? I don’t know who Heck includes in “the world,” but the one I live in does not “scoff” at mothering. In fact, the world I’m familiar with is downright fetishistic in its worship of mothering. We freaking LOVE it. Once Christianity threw down a long-suffering, perfectly virtuous, martyred mommy right in the center of its world dominating dogma? BOOM. Game over. Drop the mic. Post-Christianity, the purest concept of mothering for Western culture involves sacrifice, always. And this, of course, illustrates Heck’s real problem: Mothers are supposed to give things up; that’s how they demonstrate their love. That’s how we are recognized. We give up time, sleep, leisure…and careers.
This is not a positive message for young women graduating high school. (Or young men, for that matter.) Heck’s rhetoric exposes his disdain for women with career plans: “If you choose to have a career, Gods blessings upon you. [because that’s the level of help you’re going to need after making that terrible choice]. But…” BUT. [I don’t really wish blessings upon you. I actually want you to change your mind and realize that’s a terrible choice]. Nice. When asked wtf, Heck responded:
Heck added that he did not intend to discourage the female students from pursuing careers.
“If that’s what those girls there in the audience want to do, by golly, that’s what they should do,” he said.
By golly? By golly?
Hey, by now you’re probably wondering: BUT WUT ABOUT TEH MENZ? Don’t worry. Heck had solid advice for the young men in the graduating class as well:
“I was addressing both the ladies in the audience and the men, stressing to them that the most important role any of us will ever have is the role that we play in our families,” Heck said. “I challenged the men by telling them that to solve the problems of our society, we don’t need more millionaire entrepreneur men. We need more men acting as fierce defenders of their wives and providers for their children.
Fierce! Defenders! Sounds hawt! Wait…huh?
So, the message so far: “Ladies” (ugh) should devote themselves to producing children and caring for them, and anything else they might wish to do (such as go to college, one wonders, considering the audience?) only detracts from that sacred quest. Meanwhile, men should “solve the problems of our society.” Their role in the family is to defend (from WHAT?) and provide and solve while women nurture.
Look, we all know what’s going on here. You say these ultra-conservative hyper-nostalgic things to an audience of new high school graduates in an attempt to undermine any sense they may have acquired that their mission from here on is to change the world for the better. People like Heck believe we have peaked already; conservative Christian eschatology does not allow for new generations who dismantle the mistakes of the past and construct a brighter future. Progressivist young people must be reintegrated and silenced, or the whole house of apocalyptic cards falls.
The question this vile scenario raises for educators and education administrators is: What rights or responsibilities do we have when it comes to commencement addresses? It’s a tricky question. Myself, I prefer non-political, celebratory commencement speeches. These events are supposed to be about the students, all of them, praising their accomplishments and expressing support for their ambitions. Anyone using that platform to press an agenda is poaching those students’ time, and I really hate that. Graduation is not a time for lectures; it’s a time for congratulations.