Return of the creepy traditionalists

Purity T Shirt PICT0052Allow me to jump in with a quick post about the reactions to yesterday's "Are faithful dads creepy or what?" Once again, here is the end of the New York Times report about Randy and Lisa Wilson and the other families involved in the "Purity Ball" in Colorado Springs, Colo.

If most teenage girls would not be caught dead dancing with their dads, the girls at the ball twirled for hours with their game but stiff fathers. ... The dancing continued past the ball's official end at midnight. Mr. Wilson had to tell people to go home. The fathers took their flushed and sometimes sleepy girls toward the exit. But one father took his two young daughters for a walk around the hotel's dark, glassy lake.

So far, there has been a solid, quite constructive, tread of comments on this post. I urge you to go check that out.

Special thanks, in particular, to Times reporter Neela Banerjee's kind notes offering some clarification about the content of her piece.

Lots of people on various blogs seem to obsess over that last line of the story. People have read into the story what they want to, which is fine, but as the author, let me clarify the last line: it was meant to show a father doing part of what he was broadly being asked to do at the ball, and that is, spend time with his daughters. It was a late hour, true, for a walk, but the uniqueness of the gesture struck me.

[second Banerjee comment]

Oh, the sons: I couldnt get into the story that dads and sons do things together, too, to also shore up abstinence. But Randy Wilson said they are largely things like hiking or camping, away from the public eye. The ball, by its public nature, gets covered.

Let me, once again, stress what I said in the first post. I thought that this piece was solid and well-reported, although I did raise questions about whether it was accurate to say that this event was promoting "evangelical ideals" that sex should be delayed until marriage, since that same doctrine can be found in a wide array of traditional expressions of other faiths. Was the issue, I asked, a matter of evangelical, megachurch style?

I totally agree with Banerjee that the end of the story can be interpreted in different ways. If fathers going for walks and talks with their daughters creeps you out, then that's going to creep you out. The same goes for all of that dancing and praying and stuff.

Obviously, the whole issue of patriarchy and gender roles is a big part of this story and that is a valid subject for coverage and fierce debate. It is also true that a similar event in a Muslim context would raise a wide variety of reactions, depending, in part, on whether the ritual is in the Sudan, Egypt, Turkey, London, urban Detroit or suburban Dallas.

The question is whether one finds moral equivalence between vows/Purity Balls and honor killings/arranged marriages, etc. There is a tendency in some quarters to find all all of these religious and cultural beliefs and behaviors as part of one sliding scale of gender oppression. There are no apples and oranges. All of these traditions are deadly rocks.

I dare say, however, that faced with a fine story about a Muslim community doing a similar event, in a more American, moderate style, the folks at "On Faith" and elsewhere would not have been quite as creeped out. I often advise mainstream reporters that when they cover stories about conservative Christian parents, they should close their eyes and pretend that they are talking to Muslims, Native Americans, Buddhists or some other minority group worthy of cultural respect.

Overall, I think the comments thread underlines my thesis, which is that the creepy journalistic reaction -- in some powerful places -- to Banerjee's centers on the event's public advocacy of ancient doctrines that sex outside of marriage is sin and, thus, that premarital and extramarital sex is bad in the short and long terms. Some people, including many religious leaders, sincerely believe that parents have little or no right to teach this to their children. Strong efforts to teach these traditional doctrines creep them out.

Of course the families covered in this story believe in the defense of other virtues. This event simply focuses special attention on one side of a modern crisis that has been identified by writers on left (Read between the lines of "Reviving Ophelia") and right -- that daughters are uniquely hurt when their fathers are absent, unfaithful and unloving.

Are parallel efforts taking place with young men? Of course. Would coverage of those events creep out many of the same journalists and readers? Of course.

The question is whether any of this leads to biased, unfair, inaccurate coverage of either side of the debate, including the occasional portrayal of evangelical parents as creepy aliens. Let the constructive discussion of the journalism issues continue.

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