A Joke or Misogyny?

Yesterday, a friend on Facebook posted that her 5th-grade daughter’s teacher said, “the most dangerous animal in the world is a 14-year-old girl”. The responses ranged from rage to being dumbfounded, and my response was that many adults use humor to try to connect with teenagers, and I would like to know the context. Like so many things; like a segment of a Scripture verse or a snippet of video, things can be taken out of context and misused. I have yet to see the context, but I have been thinking about this since I read it and I want to attempt to consider what was going on here.

First, I know that I have said things to teenagers that I thought were innocent or funny that were probably not either. After all, those years are fraught with change and doubt and new experiences, and our bodies, minds, and spirits go through a lot. The most innocent thing can be taken as an insult and grow from a snowflake into an avalanche in no time. We say things to our own children that probably set them off and cause friction, and we know and (hopefully) love one another.

Second, we are all pretty sensitive about statements and conclusions made about us or people who are like us. Just look at how some white men get insulted when talking about white, male privilege. Or how pronouns and their use (or misuse) set some people off when we make a mistake. We might be the most patient and graceful person, but small things that seem like personal attacks can set off the most serene among us.

Third, this is either a joke or this teacher is stupid. Obviously, there are at least three animals I would consider far more dangerous than a 14-year-old girl (yes, that is a joke). This teacher was trying too hard to engage, and it completely backfired with this girl (and any other girl in the classroom). Good for her for speaking up to her parents; this kind of hurt can fester and bring worse problems in its wake.

One Christmas Eve I said that Jesus was considered illegitimate by the culture and his family, and one very angry member accused me of saying – in my sermon – that Jesus was a bastard. Luckily, we recorded our services, so I was able to show him that I in fact did not use profanity on one of the holiest days of the Christian year. He still found a way to be angry about it and left the church soon after.

14 (and the years around it) is, as any parent, teacher, or person who interacts with teenagers knows, challenging one’s patience and state of equilibrium. The fact that this teacher singled out girls instead of including boys tells me there is an issue here with his understanding of gender (not that, in this case, being inclusive would have helped much). Maybe (and I’m just spitballing here) if he and the rest of us paused before we spoke and tried to consider our words, these things wouldn’t happen as much. Maybe.

The writer of the Book of James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.” It seems that if we tried a little harder to refrain from saying dumb things, there would be less friction between us. Maybe. Or maybe not. It seems like it’s worth a try.

Prayer – Holy God, remind us that our words, even if said in jest, can hurt. Help us grow up a bit so we can understand that. Amen.