“Hillbilly Elegy” is a wonderful book about one of America’s subcultures, the white working class of Scots-Irish descent in Appalachia. J.D. Vance writes about his family’s problems in the context of this culture. A culture that tightly clings to traditional values that are / can be distorted into destructive behaviors. Let me give one of his examples of destructive behavior that can be applied to our health curriculum. J.D. Vance related a story about a member of his family. This family member (we will call him JOE) was hanging with the neighborhood guys. When guys get together many times they talk about girls in a sexual manner. I call this guy talk. Other people might call it locker room talk. One of the guys (Big Talking Guy) started talking about one specific girl and what he wanted to do with her. He was very specific, she was hot, he was attracted to her and he wanted to / was going to ………… J.D Vance does not relate whether the young man knew (or the neighbor guys knew) the older brother (JOE) of this girl was listening to this (Big Talking Guy’s) brash (cocky, brazen, bold) talk. The brother (JOE’s) response was to go home, find a pair of his sister’s underwear. That night He went looking for (Big Talking Guy), found him and persuaded him to eat the sister’s underwear. (You can get arrested for this kind of persuasion).
I like stories, because they present an opportunity for students to discuss consequences to behavior and why people do what they do. Sometimes the best time to do this is the first 5 to 15 minutes of class. As kids walk into the class, post the story on the board or overhead. Their assignment is to read the short story and be prepared to share their first impression. Ask the following questions.
1. Why did this guy (JOE) make (Big Talking Guy) eat a specific girl’s pair of underwear?
Which of these answers is a possible explanation for Joe’s
Big Talking Guy was being disrespectful of Joe.
Big Talking Guy was specifically disrespecting Joe’s sister.
Big Talking Guy was being disrespectful of Joe’s family in general.
2. Ask students how this kind of talk (I want to / going to …………… with ………) could be viewed as disrespectful.
(Disrespectful—when you disrespect people, you think very little of them. Disrespect is all about not showing respect. You show the opposite of respect, by acting rude, impolite and offensive.)
Big Talking Guy broke basic guy talk rules. It is perfectly normal for heterosexual boys / men to see women they are attracted to as sex objects. This is called the male sexual nature. Every normal man can see a woman in general (his wife in particular) as a sexual object while respecting her mind, her character, her family and everything else about her. Guys are stimulated visually. Biologically, boys / men were made to be aroused by the sight of a woman’s arm, ankle, calf, thigh, or figure. There is a reason why a man stops in the middle of a conversation, turns then stares at the attractive woman walking by in a bikini. It’s called seeing then imagining and being totally in the moment. Guys are also very competitive with other guys. They brag about their (imaginary) conquests and future conquests. Guys can brag and sexually objectify woman in general. Big Talking Guy’s mistake was combining a specific name with a specific sexual activity. Guys know when they / other guys are disrespecting girls.
3. Was Joe a bully? OR
Was Joe holding someone accountable for their inconsiderate remarks?
4. How did he hold the person accountable? Can someone explain why he held him accountable?
Teacher Note: I’d be impressed if your students mention:
a. JOE loves his sister. He didn’t think it was alright for his teenage sister to:
- be having sex in general
- perform this particular sex act in particular
- associate with this guy who viewed her as a sexual object (temporary relationship) not a long term love relationship (as in a wife)
Look at your class, ask for a Male students opinion. If you had a sister / future teenage daughter, “Would you want her to be having sex?” What would be your reaction be if you heard this kind of talk about your sister or your teenage daughter? Have the student explain his reasoning.
A sister is a long term relationship. She will always be a part of a brother’s life. Because she is his sister, he wants what is best for her. He wants to protect her from guys like Big Talking Guy. Big Talking Guy didn’t love nor care about Joe’s sister. The one and only sign you need from a guy that he doesn’t love you — is if he brags about having sex with you or asks you to have sex with him. Love always does what is best. In this case, Big talking Guy was publicly bragging about what he wanted to / was going to do. He was building his ego while degrading the girl’s reputation.
b. JOE’S action was making a specific statement to Big Talking Guy. Respect every member of my family. Treat my sister with respect.
The lesson for today is:
It matters what you say and it matters what you do. People quietly listen while observing then privately make judgements followed by decisions. There were two reputations at stake here — Joe’s and his sister’s.
Joe was raised within a violent honor culture where family honor was protected. Family was not to be publicly criticized or slandered. Revenge would be exacted in a violent manner. Reputation wise there was no polite way for Joe to handle this. He had to protect his sister’s honor. His reputation, his family’s reputation required that his response to this insult had to make a statement. J.D. Vance knew about this story and I’m going to assume his family did as well. The story doesn’t relate whether the neighborhood knew of JOE’s actions.
Here are questions for the guys:
- How would you respond in a similar situation? Would it be with words or physical action?
- If you respond immediately, would the response be emotional and out of control?
- Would that increase the chance of you getting in big time trouble? — (arrested and charged with assault)
Can you see where one thing leads to another bigger thing? Such as, words, lead to a fight, which leads to an arrest, which leads to a loss of a job.
The interesting thing about JOE, was he calmly decided a course of action which was appropriate to the insult to his sister (you will have to read the book to know what Big Talking Guy specifically said) but could have led to an arrest.
Here are questions for the girls:
- If JOE was your brother / father, what would you expect him say / do?
- Do you think JOE protected his reputation and / or the reputation of his sister?
- How would you have felt if JOE had been arrested and charged with assault?
- Would the girl’s reputation be impacted by BIG TALKING GUYS remarks if she had a long standing reputation as a good moral girl (no reputation for having sex with. . . .)? Would her earned reputation protect her from gossip, and would the comments not be taken seriously by the peers. “Oh that’s just Big Talking Guy talking again. He is such a jerk. You can’t believe anything he says.” HOWEVER:
- If the girl’s previous behavior / reputation demonstrated that Big Talking Guy’s talk could possibly happen, would his comments have been taken seriously by the crowd (which included JOE)?
- What affect would that have on JOE? His Family?
- How important is a girl’s reputation? What is the guaranteed way for her to lose it?
- How important is a boy’s reputation? What is the guaranteed way for him to lose it?
- Can you see that, what you say and what you do has an impact on others people’s lives?
Recommended book written in 1996 by Judith Martin Miss Manners Rescues Civilization from Sexual Harassment, Frivolous Lawsuits, Dissing and Other Lapses in Civility. Miss Manners spells it our plainly. Simple manners bar any speaking or behaving in a way that makes others uncomfortable, whether that involves course language, looking at dirty pictures, discussing someone’s physical attributes or other risqué talk. We need this now more than ever.