culture dignity

Mixed Messages

1:50:00 AMCourtney Christine Shingle

When I finally decided I had to watch what everyone was sharing on Facebook and Twitter, I laughed and smiled my way through  this video.  


Basically, the boys are asked to hit a girl.  The responses were precious and candid.  Each of the boys was so appalled that anyone would ever hit a girl - leaving many to wonder why something apparently so simple to little boys could be apparently so foreign for many grown men.  I thought the video was cute, I talked about it with friends for a couple days, then pushed it to the back of my mind.  

Until a couple days later.  

When I was a student at Duquesne, I went running in a small gym on the far side of campus.  The smaller gym had only one television and one fateful day I was subjected to the only ten minutes of Jersey Shore I had ever seen and would ever see again. 

I was appalled.  For the span of nearly ten minutes, I watched men degrade women.  

Sure, it wasn't physical abuse; but all the same, those women were reduced to the status of sex objects.  It didn't matter that the women were willing participants.  The message that came across loud and clear was that women are worth little more than entertainment.  This initial disrespect for women would, I was sure, escalate into different kinds of abuse.  I was not surprised to find out that early in the first season, one of the lead women was punched in the face by a man at a club.  But what shocked me was that the ratings continued to rise after that inexcusable act of violence, finally making Jersey Shore the number one show among 12-35 year-olds for the 2009-2010 season. (1) Shows like that, especially reality shows, continue to enjoy popularity.  

Contrast Jersey Shore's crass disrespect with the wisdom of Pope Saint John Paul II's words in his Letter to Women: "Women's dignity has often been unacknowledged and their prerogatives misrepresented; they have often been relegated to the margins of society and even reduced to servitude.  This has prevented women from truly being themselves and it has resulted in a spiritual impoverishment of humanity..." (2)  John Paul praises women's contributions to society as not to be overlooked.  

He praised women for their significant contributions - women like Mother Teresa who work to end the suffering of the poor, women like Susan B. Anthony who labor with passion and dedication for women's rights, women like Edith Stein who deeply love the truth.  

John Paul saw the value of women and recognized that they are not in any way inferior to men, despite their differences.  Rather, women are worthy of the same regard.  In his encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, referring to the Biblical account of Jesus speaking with the woman at the well, John Paul writes: "in the eyes of his contemporaries, Christ became a promoter of women's true dignity and of the vocation corresponding to this dignity.  At times this caused wonder, surprise, often to the point of scandal ... He was a witness of God's eternal plan for the human being,created in His own Image and Likeness as man and woman." (4) This vision of the woman is a far cry from what is so often portrayed by shows like Jersey Shore: woman's dignity holds more depth than merely the ability to satiate a man's desire. 

Maybe young boys' teachers or parents tell their students and sons that violence against women is wrong.  But then society turns right around and promotes shows that present violence and mistreatment as entertainment.  At the very least, shows like Jersey Shore belittle the plight of women who are devalued, mistreated and even abused; at worst, they encourage this behavior. 

We can't expect this kind of inconsistency to foster the dignity of women.  Rather, until this inconsistency is resolved, the culture will not change.  Knowledge of the truth demands that we live that truth out - not only in our actions, but in what we choose to support, even passively.  

Christ was willing to defend the dignity of the human person to the point of scandal; we can certainly follow his example. 

So change the channel.  There's got to be something better on Netflix.

(1)  "Deal With it Ratings for Jersey Shore," accessed online here.  
(2) John Paul II, Letter to Women.  
(3) John 4, RSVCE.  
(4) John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem.  






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