A “Decent” Man is Hard to Find
Note: this is for a high school audience (just in case you A: actually read this, and B: are wondering who “you” is supposed to be).
One of the perks of being irretrievably uncool is that it liberates you to do all sorts of things that you might not ordinarily do. My television habits have and will always be an example of this. For instance, there’s this fantastic old show about a Korean War Army hospital called M*A*S*H that used to have quite the following (in the 70s and 80s, but never mind that). It was basically a commentary on war, suffering, humor, and the relationship between those three things. As I read stories about teenagers and sex crimes like the one in Steubenville, OH, I flash back to one episode involving a character nicknamed “Radar.”
Radar was essentially everybody’s little brother in the hospital. In one episode, he confides to his idol, a womanizing and hard-drinking surgeon named Hawkeye, about his perceived lack of savvy with women. In the tone of a confessional, he tells Hawkeye that when he hangs out with some of the other soldiers at the local bar, “some of the guys start talking to some of the business girls. And well, I feel sort of funny.” Hawkeye asks Radar for clarification on “sort of funny,” and Radar simply says, “I feel sleepy.”
Hawkeye reassures Radar that what he’s suffering from is just a “normal case of decency,” and although he doesn’t out and out say it, the message is that just because he doesn’t want to spend his downtime with other servicemen funding the local prostitution ring, there’s nothing wrong with him. In fact, Hawkeye tells Radar that someday he’ll meet a girl he likes enough to introduce to his mom, and that when that happens, he won’t get sleepy.
Now, part of what I love about M*A*S*H is that although it was sometimes saccharine, it was never not appropriate. I bet Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, of Steubenville rape trial infamy, would have scoffed their heads off at Radar and all people like him just a short while ago. But now Mays and Richmond are convicted sex offenders and examples to the rest of the world of how not to behave.
My contempt for people like Mays and Richmond is such that I wish that the world were full of Radars. If that were the case, no man would ever rape a woman. We would no longer read news briefs telling women to avoid poorly lit areas at night, or to have their keys and cellphones ready in case a strange man accosts them. We would no longer worry about our sisters, friends, wives, and mothers being taken advantage of at parties, in parks, on nature trails, or grocery store parking lots. If the world were full of Radars, people would always do the decent thing, and let other people make their own self-destructive decisions and then show them love and compassion instead of self-indulgent evil.
Mays, now a convicted rapist, apologized to his victim’s family by saying, “No pictures should have been sent around, let alone ever taken.” He was, of course, referring to the numerous photos and videos that circulated amongst the Steubenville community and cemented his conviction. However, he apologized for the wrong thing. He should not have raped his classmate that night, and that’s what he should have apologized for. Had he the decency to walk away from an intoxicated and incapacitated peer, whom he described in a text message as “like a dead body,” he might still be a free man. Instead, he behaved like a lower life form, taking and manipulating for his own enjoyment.
Radar is the perfect foil for the men we revere. He struggled to assert his manhood in a war zone on a daily basis. He was short. He wore glasses. He lacked confidence with women. He drank grape soda. And yet he was a good man. Some of you struggle to assert yourselves as worthy specimens of masculinity on a daily basis, too. Maybe you’re scrawny. Maybe you don’t play a glamor sport. Maybe you don’t take weightlifting. But who cares? Those things don’t make you a man. The way you treat the women in your life, especially when no one is watching, is the strongest indicator of your decency. Rape culture places the burden of responsibility on women to protect themselves, but that’s wrong. Quite simply, we all need to develop a chronic and incurable decency. Only then will we learn to redefine masculinity as something that respects, instead of something that expects.