So I wasn’t surprised that this happened:
But should we laugh? Should we be angry? Should we tell the lady angry about having to explain things to her son to grow up, or that she is justified?
First, let’s not pretend this is a new thing. A little bit of searching revealed Iraq war dick photos
And the Greatest Generation
and I’m sure this happened all the way back to the Revolutionary War, just in fancier sounding language and without photographic evidence. Plus, it’s not limited to the United States…I’ve seen archives from native Americans, Turkey, Greece and other military museums that had penis references. Just because it’s not in your history book doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You see more of it now because we are so connected via the internet that sharing photos, including inappropriate ones, is all too easy.
But does that make it OK? Nope. I don’t think it indicates a “rape culture” though. What it is signaling is a lack of engagement by fathers with their sons, and society with male behavior in general.
I had it recently pop up while driving around some Cub Scouts putting out Scouting for Food bags. One of the young boys tried to tell a poop joke to get a laugh.
Yup, second graders and poop jokes. Is anyone surprised? I’m not.
My son looked at me for a reaction. Instead of doing the Cubmaster “You shouldn’t say things like that” response, I tried a different tack:
ME: Do you really think that’s funny?
SCOUT: Uhm, not really, but it’s funny in my class.
ME: It’s not really all that funny. Do you have a funnier joke?
SCOUT: Oh yeah!
And then he immediately leapt into a funny joke that didn’t involve poop. Between his dad and I, we’ve both been consistent on de-emphasizing the funniness of certain things that his classmates try to push on him. Given that he’s still doing well in school, I’m hoping it’s working.
Over a young man’s life he’ll have thousands of interactions like this, where someone tries to pass off behavior as acceptable, and he looks for guidance from others, especially his father. A measured response on what it means to be a man is critical, or else he will go along with whatever the crowd wants.
(By the way, this isn’t limited to boys. Anyone who has seen the cliches that girls form, and the destructive behavior that can become normal for such cliches, understands exactly what I’m talking about.)
This isn’t limited to grade school. For my high school prom, the Catholic Brothers that taught at the school I attended talked to us about appropriate behavior. They specifically called out treating our young ladies (I went to an all male school) with respect and dignity, both on and off the dance floor. In the Navy I attended more than a few formal occasions, where I quickly learned about appropriate levels of drinking, social interaction and how to behave correctly from older officers.
Anymore though, I keep finding we don’t do this. Proms have become an excuse for debauchery instead of a learning experience. Anymore we see schools handing out condoms instead of calling on young men and women to behave properly towards one another. Too many families don’t have fathers, or if they do many are working two jobs to make ends meet. Plus we tend to demonize them anyway, such that it has become fashionable to dismiss them as bumbling idiots.
I see this first hand in my own Navy organization. Plenty of my Sailors don’t talk with their dad, or dad was a crappy role model. My Operations Officer often tells me that part of our job consists of building young men, most of whom don’t have a great base of morals and thinking to start with. Trying to build them into a cohesive fighting force that will fight our enemies while also being upstanding citizens is a heck of a challenge, especially with the current pressures of an ever-present internet and a lack of appreciation for manly input from fathers.
But it’s a fight we should have. We should push our young men in grade school, high school and beyond to become outstanding citizens. We should tell them that poop jokes aren’t appropriate at school, or drawing penises with multi-million dollar aircraft isn’t a good way of demonstrating proper use of taxpayer money.
We don’t have to make it a black and white issue either. These young men aren’t rapists by default. They need some strong correction to be sure, but over-reacting and treating them like rapists will simply drive the problem underground. These young men need an older man that they idolize to tell them what is appropriate. Laws and regulations are simply there to punish behavior after it happens. You can’t legislate away problems like this. You destroy them by inoculating young men with ideals they can look up to when faced with these decisions.
So what do we tell the angry mother? That’s pretty easy. Have the kids father tell his son that behavior like this, while it might cause us to chuckle, isn’t appropriate. Tell his son that the guys that did this (and we don’t know if it’s just guys by the way) have a father just like they do, and when their son gets punished at court martial, he’ll have to explain that to his dad, and that conversation is going to suck. And above all, it would be absolutely shameful if he was to do things like this, now or in the future.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any government agency. And no, the author does not think drawing genitalia is appropriate, unless you’re doing medical drawings for a textbook.
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