Bernard Lefkowitz’s Our Guys raises a lot of issues, all of which have been discussed throughout this semester.
Just a few pages into the book, words had already begun to jump out at me, capturing my attention. “The kids in Newark, black and brown, speaking Spanglish, hoods over their heads, wheeling their stolen cars over to the local chop shop — they were aliens in America. Strange, forever separate and separated from the American ideal. But these Glen Ridge kids, they were pure gold, every mother’s dream, every father’s pride. They were not only Glen Ridge’s finest, but in their perfection they belonged to all of us. They were Our Guys (page 7).” This is a story about White Privilege, I thought. After reading the next two pages, I changed my mind. “…I wanted to understand how their status as young athlete celebrities in Glen Ridge influenced their treatment of girls and women, particularly those of their age…..I was especially curious about what license they were permitted as a clique of admired athletes and how that magnified the sense of superiority they felt as individuals (pages 8-9).” Oh! This is a story about jock culture, I thought.
I had only touched the surface. Later on, I realized Our Guys was about jock culture and white privilege…as well as rape cultures and patriarchy, male privilege and compulsory heterosexuality, pornography, accountability and “blame the victim.” All of these issues were part of this, a real life story, a real rape.
Reading the story of the Glen Ridge Rape, I was able to make observations and draw conclusions that Ridgers who lived inside their glass bubbles weren’t able to make. They didn’t realize what type of things they were teaching their children. Morals and values are instilled into a person at a very early age. It can start at birth. Males of Glen Ridge were taught that they had power and were expected to do certain things. “In their youth sons were permitted and even expected to raise a little hell. There was a boys-will-be-boys attitude that went back to the nineteen fifties’….Boys were supposed to be vigorous, assertive, competitive; they were expected to test the boundaries of behavior within clearly established limits” (page 63). This is what boys learned at such an early age. Many of them grew up in male dominant families. Patriarchy was practiced in many homes. Male influence made it difficult for most of them to establish strong relationships with or learn to appreciate members of the opposite sex.
Something else that was taught to the young boys of Glen Ridge was the importance of athletics. “….Exclusively male Glen Ridge brotherhood of athletes; the masculine style established at home was reinforced on the town’s playing fields” (page 69). “The Glen Ridge image was something everyone was measured against. The image was that the successful kid was attractive, well groomed, articulate, and doing well in school or in some enterprise, like sports. If you didn’t meet these standards, you could be treated like an outcast” (page 75). These were the idealized standards held by the town for its young males. If you didn’t meet them, you were subject to ridicule and isolation, sometimes even abuse and torture.
It’s one thing to introduce athletics to a child as an extracurricular activity, or because of it’s benefits, but it’s quite another to push them toward it because they’ll never be considered a real man because they don’t play on the field. Not only was jock culture a huge part of Glen Ridge life, but being a jock also had it’s responsibilites. “Jocks got drunk at parties…acted boorishly…were sometimes a little more aggressive with girls than manners permitted. Mainly, though, parents believed that this behavior fit within the boundaries of boys will be boys’ ” (page 73).
I can’t help but wonder what in the world were these people thinking? Where do you draw the line? If you let your son behave a little aggressively on occasion and teach him that this is what “real men” do, what’s to stop that same boy from pushing up on young women, lashing out at someone or even committing rape? They’ll think it’s okay because it’s part of being a male….a male in Glen Ridge. Not only did parents tolerate this behavior from their sons, but the entire town tolerated it from all the boys, even in school. “Some teachers…they tolerated behavior from the boys that they would have punished had it come from a girl” (page 83).
This exaggeration of how men were supposed to behave fed into the rape culture that Glen Ridge was a part of. Examples of rape culture would be rape, harassment, assault, aggressiveness, dominance, and even patriarchy. Sounds like Glen Ridge to me. In a rape culture, people gradually conform to standards of rape, sometimes without realizing it. You learn to accept certain behaviors that wouldn’t normally be accepted or found in other cultures. Sounds like Glen Ridge to me. Unconsciously, Ridgers made their town a rape culture and made it part of their everyday lives. It was accepted and expected. “Boys will be boys.” If you didn’t meet the standards, you weren’t a real man.
The jocks who were always in the spotlight were Paul Archer, Richie Corcoran, Kyle and Kevin Scherzer, and Peter Quigley. They were in the limelight on the field, in the social scene and even in school. They explored the outer limits by lashing out sexually. They would snap bra straps, push girls up against lockers and make explicit comments or requests. Kevin did things the other guys didn’t dare. He would sit in class and expose himself, mooning the students or sometimes jerking off. He’d even pretend to “hump” the teacher when her back was turned. Many students and teachers thought this was warped behavior, but they let it slide. Teachers moved them along to keep them out of their hair and avoid the real issues. Students would laugh it off, not daring to go against the powerful Jocks. Guys had unchallenged power.
Girls were especially careful not to go against the Jocks. They wouldn’t speak against them or rat them out. Many of them acted as groupies, or Jockettes, as they were called. The Jocks would use some girls as party decorations, others for sexual release. Some girls acted as Little Mothers, baking cookies and taking care of the injured athletes. Others were sex toys. A girl who gave oral sex was “hovering.” If I guy knew he was going to receive oral sex, he’d tell his friends and they’d hide in the room, out of sight from the girl, and spy on them. This was referred to as “voyeuring.” This was a favorite past time, as well as watching pornography. They would gather around the television set, watch porn and masturbate together; it was no secret. Their interest in porno might have also contributed to their aggressiveness toward females. “Pornography is almost always about power and aggression….But these jocks were aggressive to begin with…Girls were an easier target because they weren’t as strong as them, and they had been taught not to compain about how they were treated” (page 183). The girls of Glen Ridge High School would giggle at and disregard the Jock’s disgusting behavior. They learned to live under oppression. Many of them took it as a way of life. Others knew it was abusive behavior and it effected the way their thoughts of all men.
All these behaviors were observed by Leslie Faber. Neurologically impaired, there was no way Leslie was able to even begin to comprehend what was going on around her. I can’t even fully comprehend this. Leslie saw and heard things, but no one stopped to explain it all to her, to separate fact from myth and right from wrong. The jocks took advantage of this, as well as many other things. Somewhat of an athlete herself, she looked up to the jocks. She thought of them as her heroes. Like many other girls, she couldn’t think of going against them. She was willing to do anything to become socially accepted.
A baseball bat. A broomstick. A stick found in the park. Forced oral sex. Did she say “no”? No, she didn’t. Did she say “yes”? No, she didn’t. She just went along, never uttering a word, only crying silent tears. A group of jocks gang raped her, never once stopping to think of what they were doing. A few of them might have had thoughts of remorse, but it wasn’t enough to stop what was going on. How could they have done something so brutal? Sure, they say she looked normal. Is that an excuse? Is that an excuse for anything that happened? Push aside the fact that she was mentally retarded. Would it have been okay to force a “normal” girl to give oral sex, to push a baseball bat into her, as well as a broomstick and a stick found in the park?! NO, it’s not.
When word of this got around in the sick little town of Glen Ridge, it took weeks for someone to speak up. They “…saw the evidence, but they chose to ignore them. Partly because they didn’t want to taint the town they treasured…with scandal”
(page 493). Even when action was taken, everyone was skeptical. Who to believe? A mentally retarded girl who was never socially accepted or a bunch of aggressive, trouble making jocks? “Oh, but those good boys, they couldn’t possibly have done something wrong! They’re handsome boys, so popular and well-liked. They come from well off white families. Accusations like these can scar them for life!” Oh, what it’s like to have white privilege! And that’s the way it was. The jocks were supported; the town didn’t turn their backs. It was all Leslie’s fault. She had engaged in some sort of sexual activities before, hadn’t she? She had made some sexually explicit comments before, hadn’t she? Well, she asked for it. Leslie gave her side of the story, and when everyone learned of the gruesomeness that went on, most of the town still thought it was her fault.
And so it went to trial. And even then, even after she had been brutally raped and gone through so much pain, embarrassment and anguish, Leslie still stuck with them. On the stand, she lied to protect them. “I lied in court because if I tell the truth the boys’ll go to jail” (page 432). She portrayed herself as a sexually experienced young woman, telling Zegas she had given many “blowjobs” before and knew what boys liked. If it was unable to determine that Leslie couldn’t figure out what was right and wrong before, her conflicting stories would have done it. It was obvious this young woman was confused. She didn’t want to hurt her “friends.”
And the verdict was decided. The jocks were found guilty. But still, Leslie lost. The Jocks were given light sentences and released on a small bail. Justice was served, in the legal sense, but not morally.
And so, Glen Ridge continues to live in their glass bubble. But they are not alone. Thousands of these communities exist across the nation. I was able to make it through all 502 pages of Our Guys, but throughout the entire time, I fought feelings to put down the book and forget about it entirely. I truly found it disgusting. What bothered me most though, wasn’t what happened or how, but the fact that I could believe it actually happened. “The Jocks didn’t invent the idea of mistreating young women. The ruling clique of teenagers adhered to a code of behavior that mimicked, distorted, and exaggerated the values of the adult world around them” (page 493). We live in this society.