A Few Thoughts on Guys, Girls, and Work: Or, a Quick Response to Peter Heck

Peter Heck is a guy I went to college with and who graduated a few years ahead of me. I remember him and he has become a high school teacher and a conservative radio show host. This is all well and good. And, it is from this position that he recently have the commencement address at a high school graduation (which, by the way, I didn’t know they had – I didn’t have one…did you?). Some of his comments created a bit of controversy and I will quote him in full, so as not to be accused of misquoting.

Ladies, I challenge you to a life of rebellion. To recognize that your body is a temple that is deserving of honor, not indiscretion. I challenge you to be women of virtue, finding beauty not in how many unprincipled men you can attract, but rather finding beauty in modesty and self-respect. I challenge you to devote yourself to family, to your children.

If you choose to have a career, God’s blessings upon you, but I challenge you to recognize what the world scoffs at…that your greatest role of your life will be that of wife and mother. That the greatest impact you will ever contribute to our world is a loving and devoted investment into the lives of your precious children. To solve the problems plaguing our society, we don’t need more women as CEOs, we need more women as invested mothers.

Men, I challenge you to a life of rebellion. To recognize that manliness is not defined by who bench presses the most, or who scores with the most women. I challenge you to recognize that the measure of a man is found in his character – his honesty, how well he can control his urges, his temptations, his desires…setting them aside for the good of others. I challenge you to find a woman to love, to commit yourself to her and her alone for the rest of your life.

I challenge you to be man enough that when a provocatively dressed woman comes on the television, turn the channel. Send the message to your wife that she alone captivates you and she is in competition with no one. You want to be a rebel – that’s a rebel. I challenge you to lead your homes in the pathway of righteousness. Provide moral clarity for your children and unyielding hard work for your wife.

So many times I’ve heard others compliment my wife for supporting my ministry, supporting what I do. They have it backwards. I work to support her ministry, what she does in raising our children. And it’s an honor to do so. To solve the problems plaguing our society, we don’t need more men as millionaire entrepreneurs, we need more men acting as fierce defenders of their wives and providers for their children.

This causes some controversy because, people said, Peter was advocating for the young women graduating high school to give up their careers and

I’d like to offer a quick critique of these comments.

(1) While Peter may not have meant to say that women should give up their jobs and go home and simply raise their families, he certainly evokes that kind of image. He is playing on the “Leave It To Beaver” and Norman Rockwell-ish nostalgia of a white, middle class family where the man works and the woman does not. Even if he believes women can work out of the home, he is drawing on an image with his language that definitely comes from a never-existing bygone era that is drenched in patriarchal structures. It is also an era that women fought to divest themselves of.

(2) This post actually deeply offends me as a male because it does not encourage me to stay home with my kids or tell me that my greatest calling is as a father; no, I, as a man, am to provide for my family. Now, I am a stay-at-home dad. Well, that’s not totally accurate as I do work from home during the day, but I am the one that is the primary caregiver for my three sons. My wife and I took on these roles somewhat by accident after my first son was born, but I have embraced this role. To make the inference that, really, I am doing the woman’s job or priority is deeply troubling. Peter opens the door for men to be left void of responsibility, as long as they are providing for their family and loving their wives, whatever that means. The responsibility of the father is really to do everything he can to ensure that his family is taken care of – and if that means he stays home so that his wife works, so be it.

(3) I’m not sure that Peter has an understanding of community. Families are small communities. Larger communities, like churches and schools, can operate in a way that a family can, even though the family unit is of a primary importance. However, when stuff happens to families, it is important to be part of a community that actually cares and loves and will draw you in. Peter’s take over-emphasizes the family and does not take into consideration the place of families in broader communities. The networks we are part of, usually with our family, provide the support we need to do family correctly. To not mention this is to miss a large part of what it means to be human. In fact, I think that Peter makes the family unit an idol by not understanding the way it works within communities, especially the church.

(4) I am not sure what understanding of virtue or morality he is working from. He obviously has something in mind about what it means to be moral, upright, and virtuous, but I do not know what it is. What are the virtues that he finds lacking in people? What sort of morality does he believe people should pursue? And how do these play within the family unit? These all seem to be predicated upon a series of assumptions that Peter is making, but I imagine the understanding of morality and virtue in San Francisco is different than that in Kokomo, IN.

(5) Peter attacks the media but he is also a member of the media. I can’t imagine how a radio host (a member of the media) makes comments like these and does not believe that they will not be taken out of context or sensationalized. Beyond Peter, I get kind of tired of members of the media making statements and then being “upset” or “outraged” when people critique or get upset at those statements. And, then, it is usually a critique of the mainstream media not covering something properly or doing something bad or being in a politician’s pocket or whatever. The media needs to remember it is, as media, fair game for critique and discussion (as is someone who writes books and blogs and articles and the like).

Anyway, these are just some quick thoughts. I think that Peter’s intentions were good or right, but he did poor execution. As well, I believe that it’s time for us to begin understanding and reacting to the changing family place and situation in our society and to start offering better solutions than harking back to a world that never really existed.

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About nmcrawford

I'm also a theologian with a Ph.D. from Loyola University Chicago. I work at a church. I live in northern Indiana with my wife and three sons. I also have bipolar II disorder. This is a blog for working out whatever it is I need to work out.
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