October 20, 2002
Edited: December 30, 2008
ValuesMiss America and Self-Respect
This article (1) is about the controversy that seems to be resolved now (3) over Miss America publicly advocating teen chastity. It's great that Erika Harold, Miss America 2003, takes a stand in favour of sexual abstinence until marriage (4).
In the earlier Miss Illinois contest, her platform was "Teenage Sexual Abstinence: Respect Yourself, Protect Yourself", and she presented this message in Illinois on behalf of Project Reality (4). She mentioned how one girl told her this message had changed her life. (1)
Miss Harold also spoke of her high school and the bullying she suffered in Grade 9 because of her interracial heritage. She described how a teacher didn't interfere when a student sang a degrading song, and how a group of students threatened to buy a rifle to kill her because she stood up to them. When she told the principal, he said, "If you'd only be more submissive like the other girls, this wouldn't happen to you." (1)
Also, Erika Harold had this to say:
"And when I went through that experience, I took the opposite approach, and said I'm going to believe in who I am. I'm not going to be defined by what other people think about me. And so I felt very, very fortunate that I had parents, I had a faith community who reinforced this decision, and I was able to speak about this. I didn't take the route of becoming promiscuous; I took the route of reaffirming what I believed was right and stood for it." (1)
My Opinions on Abstinence and Marriage
Sexual diseases, aborted babies, impoverished single mothers, and life-cheapening half-hearted relationships: condoms are not solving all these problems, and they don't help at all with the basic spiritual issue of self-respect. I think that many young people don't want to be promiscuous, and they don't want to be afraid of AIDS their whole life either, and it seems to me that the culture sends them mixed messages instead of encouraging behaviour that would help them respect themselves and others.
However, since abstinence is only a temporary condition for most people, I also think that parents and the culture (not the government) should encourage early marriage for some young adults and older teens. In this case, it would have to be a more realistic and less intimidating idea of marriage, without the impossible expectations. The advantage of this, for some people, would be to encourage earlier maturity, responsibility, and greater independence.
In this more rational idea of marriage, flexibility about ways of pursuing education would be normal, living apart if necessary for short periods would be normal, and a modest standard of living in the early years would be perfectly acceptable and not shameful at all.
And if you married someone rotten by mistake, it would be a painful mistake, but you would split up the marriage with good reason and without any shame. And there wouldn't be any question about the father of the child and his responsibilities.
Marriage formalizes and dignifies monogamy, and monogamy is what many young people try to practice anyway outside of marriage. But marriage also involves ideas about commitment and accountability. If marriage or abstinence were expected of teens, there would be less chance of teens falling into secret relationships that are physically abusive. In marriage, at least a less absolute kind that's more in touch with reality, the relationship is known to others formally in the family and community, and these abuses would be harder to hide. In other words, there is more accountability to the parents and extended family of both partners.
I think what we have now, in secular Western culture at least, is a ridiculous situation where young adults are living halfway through their lives in dread of marriage. And this idea of marriage involves the wedding ceremony, which is always important and sacred to most families. However, this ceremony can become an obstacle and out of proportion - a ceremony that is often too public, paints too rosy an expectation of human beings in marriage, and diverts energy away from the private issues of commitment faced by the couple. Also, religious weddings are fine for believers, but what about participants who aren't really in sync with their family's religion? They need to make sure the words spoken at their own wedding are not meaningless to them, but words that they understand and agree with.
What's the point of marriage if it's not used by young people? These are the ones who need the structure of marriage the most. I don't believe that what I'm talking about is something unrealistic at all. It's the current state of things that is unrealistic, and I'm sure many people are going to resolve this themselves with more practical and rational ideas about marriage.
Miss America's principal commented on the old-fashioned idea of girls being submissive. He thinks girls shouldn't stick up for themselves!? And notice how well that idea of passivity matches the "value-neutral" approach adopted by school officials like him who let schools become hostile environments for the students, instead of maintaining discipline. The adults she mentions don't seem to be interested in maintaining a school environment based on old-fashioned respect - especially the very old-fashioned value of young men respecting young women. Others go to the other extreme of establishing heavy-handed "zero-tolerance" policies instead of using reasonable discipline based on the teaching of ethics and the expectation of acceptable behaviour.
Many adults are so confused by modern propaganda; they don't always see that young people need concepts about morality to hold their lives together - not just condoms. As a result, life for teenagers is more threatening and confusing than it needs to be. I think 22-year old Miss America's message is a completely understandable response to this situation. The healthiest response is to turn to a lifestyle that will build and preserve self-respect.
Further Reading and ReferencesNote: I will look out for sites that support similar views on this topic, whether secular or religious.
1. http://www.washtimes.com/national/20021009-84617092.htm THE WASHINGTON TIMES, October 9, 2002 Miss America silenced, By George Archibald