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February 24, 2006

What Price Honor?

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’t is something, nothing;
’T was mine, ’t is his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

- Othello. Act iii. Sc. 3.

Would you like your teenaged daughter's photo used with this article?

Four South Shore teenagers are packed into a new, parentally subsidized, white compact car, which is driving too fast down Route 53. They have plenty of gas, no homework, and a whole night to kill. The only problem is, they have no idea where they're going. It's vacation week, most of the popular kids from their high school are away on family vacations, and the social void left in that wake hangs over the speeding car like a humbling bad-hair day.

"There's never anything to do around here," complains Nicole, a pretty Keri Russell-look-alike riding shotgun and wearing a hooded Abercrombie & Fitch shirt. A chorus of amens (one "No shit" followed by a "Yeah, and it sucks") rises from the back seat. Thus bolstered, she goes on. "I mean, you know, tonight is, like, way worse and all that because there's really nothing to do. But there's never anything good or any fun. It's just like . . . uchh." She expels a sound that's half ennui, half disgust. "All we ever do is go hang out and get drunk, like, all the time, and, you know, hook up."

Hook up with whom? Boyfriends and girlfriends? "Not really . . ." she says, hesitating at first and turning to her peers for backup. "It's all pretty random. We just get together in small groups of kids and drink a lot and then hook up with whoever." Christine, a curly-haired pixie in the under-90 weight range, chimes in. "Sometimes we'll hook up for two or three months at a time with one person. But no one really ever goes steady. Dating is just really uncommon. No one wants that kind of responsibility, you know? Most of us just go out and get drunk and whatever — hook up at someone's house."

"Like the time I hooked up with Ryan," offers Christine. This earns her a wrinkle-nosed grin and a nod from Nicole. "Hey, I have to give you a big pat on the back if you hooked up with him," she says. "Because he is so hot."

As euphemisms go, "hooking up" is loaded and vague — not to mention ubiquitous. To the kids who use it, it can mean anything from sexual intercourse or oral sex to serious touching or just kissing. "No one I know considers oral sex to be sex at all," says Rob, a senior at an area private school who joins up with us later, after we crowd into a booth at a local restaurant for a snack. Dark-haired, clean-cut, and with high cheekbones, Rob looks the very picture of sweet innocence. "Oral sex just isn't what sex means," he says definitively, sounding distinctly reminiscent of Bill Clinton. "But I guess it's what hooking up can mean."

So what does Christine mean by it? "Oh, we didn't have sex," she says, shaking her brown curls slowly to add drama. "But we did come close. You know . . . ," she trails off deliberately. "Anyway, I don't think I could have sex with other people there."

"Like those two freshmen at the New Year's party that we walked in on?" asks Rob. "Remember that? They were totally going at it on the day bed, and we just walked in and they didn't care." He starts laughing. "And, meanwhile, this other girl was in the room, just using the phone, like, 5 feet away from them. Talking like they weren't even there. She didn't care at all. She was just, like, 'Whatever.'"

A District Court judge recently ruled that a teen whose photo was used by BostonMagazine.com to illustrate an article on teen sexuality was not defamed by the juxtaposition of her image with the racy article:

Stanton took issue with the fact that the article included a large photograph of her with four other students at a high school prom. Although Stanton was not mentioned anywhere in the article and the magazine's disclaimer included a statement that "the individuals pictured are unrelated to the people or events described in this story," Stanton claimed the juxtaposition of the photograph and the article "insinuated she was a person engaged in the activity described in the article."

Her suit alleged defamation and invasion of privacy, and Judge Saylor found both claims legally deficient.

Although Massachusetts courts have recognized a cause of action for intrusion into a person's "private sphere," state law does not recognize a cause of action for "false light" invasion of privacy, the judge said. Here, the plaintiff's failure to allege revelation of any private information doomed her privacy claim, he explained.

As for the defamation claim, the judge concluded that the defendant's disclaimer negated any defamatory connotations about the plaintiff, even though she was clearly identifiable in the photograph, the article contained potentially defamatory statements, and the juxtaposition of the article and photograph suggested that the plaintiff is sexually active.

This is an interesting case on many levels. I'm not sure what it says about both the law and societal mores.

There have been a couple of interesting discussions over at Grim's place lately. He wrote an interesting post about the concept of honor (to which I still owe him a reply), but he made two points that seem particularly applicable to this case:

We are talking about honor, though few use the word: about what kinds of things are honorable, and what are dishonorable, and who deserves to be considered a praiseworthy man....The average person seems not to understand the concept of honor at all...

And he is right. Few do seem to use, or even understand, the term anymore. When was the last time you saw someone - male or female - rise to defend a lady's honor? And is that a sign of progress, or a sign of our moral decay? Why is it that we are no longer prickly about our own honor; no longer quick to take offense when our reputations are impeached? Is the upright man (or woman, for that matter) hopelessly out of step with the modern world?

I would like to think that a young woman's reputation was so precious to her that it was still worth defending: that it was, in truth, this and not the lure of compensatory damages that set her on. And I can't help thinking that the judge was swayed by contemporary mores: by the thought that perhaps there was no "real harm" done here. Without knowing how much latitude judges have in these matters, I wonder if a more discerning jurist would not have dismissed the invasion of privacy case (which clearly lacked merit) but found for her on the defamation claim, yet awarded no damages?

Because it seems to me that notwithstanding the disclaimers, she was defamed. The vast majority of readers do not bother to read disclaimers, as BostonMagazine well knows. They were careless with the reputation of a young girl, and needlessly so. They could easily have used a professional model. Their negligence had the practical effect of casting her in a false light whether they intended that result or not, and as professionals they had sufficient experience to anticipate that result and prevent it. They simply did not care to.

This is one of those situations where money cannot make the plaintiff whole, but old-fashioned justice really demands that some price be exacted for the carelessness exhibited by the defendants, who robbed a young girl of that which enriched them not one whit, but made her poorer, indeed. I don't know how, other than making the magazine pay her legal fees, that effect can be accomplished without encouraging frivolous lawsuits? Considering her age, at the very least the judge might have ordered the magazine to publish a prominent clarification in their next issue. This might encourage them to be more careful the next time.

What value does society put on a young girl's honor? It would seem that nowadays, the answer is: no value at all.

Via Howard Bashman

Posted by Cassandra at February 24, 2006 03:19 AM


Honor is, like, a tow-tally language-based system of contextual genderist oppression.

Actually, most honor societies have their dark side. As with all systems, it really only works in the hands of really smart, sensible people. And even then it can break down egregiously -- see Hamilton v. Burr. Or the tribal honor killings that so hideously break out in the Arab world.

Also, in practice they are very asymmetrical. In the American version that prevailed in the youth of my parents and into my own era, women (or girls) that enjoy sex and are able to get it are attacked, while the boys who do the same are revered. Spread across tens of millions of people, that seems like a high price to pay.

Posted by: TigerHawk [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 06:39 AM

women (or girls) that enjoy sex and are able to get it are attacked, while the boys who do the same are revered...

Heh. Funny you should mention that. Grim and I were just having that conversation last night :)

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 06:47 AM

Here you go, guys... the opportunity of a lifetime for you (click my name)

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 06:48 AM

Tigerhawk makes a good point, the era of his parents youth was rather oppressive. It was a time when girls had all the power, now the powerlessness is shared equally.

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 07:24 AM

and then you have the jihadists who defend the honor of their prophet by rioting in the streets.

I know I know, you will say it isn't the same thing.
And maybe you are right.

But when you are talking about associations, avoiding the very appearance of evil means just that. I am so glad she spoke up for herself and no, the case to me seems black and white. Her picture was used. Did she sign a release? If not, then she has every right to holler foul.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 09:55 AM

I did click on your name. It was enough to send me screaming back to the Bounty Man.

And Pile, despite the humor, you bring a good point
to the discussion. Teaching my sons to defend a lady (or girl) is something I take seriously, but I take equally seriously the teaching of my daughter in her behavior, along with the required martial arts classes. I think you need to get the Onlette enrolled.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 10:00 AM

Methinks friend Pile is cranking one up.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 10:04 AM

So...are you saying you disagree with my point there young lady?

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 05:33 PM

Well, I don't believe necessarily that girls or women were saying "no" because that's always what they wanted, Pile. Just as I think perhaps the pendulum may have swung too far the other way now and they often say "yes" when they don't want to these days. In general, both women and men try to live up or down to what society seems to expect them to do.

It used to be that the expectation was for the man to be 'experienced' before marriage and the woman pure as the driven snow (and by that I do not mean snow with tire tracks on it :), but when you stop to think about it, the man had to get that experience with some female somewhere, which then meant that particular young lady was deemed "damaged goods" and therefore unsuitable for marrying if he was a "decent young man".

But his value in the marital equation was by no means lessened by this little 'transaction' for some mystical reason that is not immediately apparent to me ... ummm, yeah.

I think that is hypocrisy of the worst sort.

The underlying assumption in all of this was that women find sex distasteful and were withholding something of no value to them anyway. Frankly it is even more insulting, when you think about it, if society held chastity to be a such a sterling virtue, to think that a chaste woman should have to settle for a man who had been catting around before marriage.

Either it is, or it isn't. If it is, then hold men to the same standard you hold women to. If it isn't, then don't infantilize women or put them on some silly pedestal. Let them make their own decisions and take the consequences just as men do.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 06:10 PM

That damned paperclip is stalking me.

I hate his guts and livers.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 06:13 PM

You make some fine points, and I am not going to argue any of them. Not one.

What I was trying to say was, there was a time when more women were aware of their power to civilize young men, to be fathers and husbands who don't disrupt society.

When young males get their milk from a cow they don't own, and bear no responsibility to be a father to their offspring society breaks down. And you build jail cells.

Posted by: Pile On [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 06:20 PM

Well, I agree with you there, Mr. On.

I guess I have always wished we could strike a better balance, that's all.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 06:55 PM

Damned paperclips what with their 2 livers and all. Them bastids can handle twice as much booze. It's just not fair.

Posted by: Masked Menace© [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 07:00 PM

Yeah well now he's looking at me funny too.

I don't trust him.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 24, 2006 07:11 PM

Excellent, Pile and Cass. Just reinforces my belief that men should to be pure too, and that parents need to talk to their children about this most sacred of relationships and activities. And if parents are too embarassed to talk to their children, then a trusted friend or family member whose beliefs and actions are IAW parental beliefs and actions, but who isn't shy about speaking the truth.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 25, 2006 02:27 PM

I'm going to have to take the opposite position from TigerHawk, after lengthy reflection.

Honor is an absolute requirement for the proper ordering of a harmonious society. It must be taught to young men in that fashion -- and it is absolutely worth the price paid by the occasional duelist, in a fair and honest combat. Far better that, than what we have found as the alternative.

This I believe -- and, further, that it is the only type of "purity" that can be found in young men: the purity of the knight in the pursuit and love of his lady is a healthy and even a blessed discipline; the purity of the monastery, except for a chosen few, is not honest.

It has served me well, or well enough. Life is harder than it is billed to be, and the only thing that will carry you through -- as Chesterton was so right to point out -- is an abiding faith in the fairy tale. That means accepting (among many other liberating truths) that things are worth killing for, and dying for; and that love is chief among them. It should be a matter of deadly seriousness.

This is a shocking attitude to encounter, for most Americans. The teenagers in the article you cite have plainly never encountered it: they have been accustomed to treat sex as a minor entertainment, and perhaps even a rather boring commonplace. Love? It seems not to enter the picture.

Yet I think they would recognize it in an instant if it were presented to them as a manifest fact. I don't see how they could fail to do so. It is a truth that was in all their nusery stories. Just one moment alone with a man whose eyes blazed with wrath or passion, and they would understand.

We spend too much time being troubled by what violence such systems can unleash. We ought to take a moment to realize what freedoms are also thereby released. For those described in the article, it would be like the crack of dawn to someone who had dwelled their whole life under the shadow of night. To awake from that colorless world, and find sex that was a sacrament; love that was a passion; men that were warriors; and women, each a princess.

It's true that duels once claimed many young lives, though not so many as is often assumed. Yet it was well worth the price, to live with such high and fine things; and, dying, to pass to such rewards as come to those who die for love.

Posted by: Grim [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 25, 2006 10:47 PM

You managed to put much better, something I was going to say in reply to Cricket's earlier comment but didn't for fear it would be misunderstood.

We are not perfect beings but we can, at the least, stand by our actions and honor our commitments. And we can not take love as a light matter.

My sons haven't always listened to their mother in small things, but I've been very proud of both of them in the big things.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 26, 2006 12:42 AM

Honor? What is honor?
Honor, courage, loyalty.
They are all expressions of love.
Honor. Love of your own self-respect and your own self-worth, and a willingness to express it in individual acts of courage and unwillingness to cowtow to those who would deny your own self-worth. To hold yourself as a value.
Courage, the love of something larger than yourself, and the willingness to express it in a stand that may risk physical harm, or worse.
Loyalty, the love for someone else, and the willingness to express it with acts of physical or psychological foritude.

These children described in the story have little self-love (not selfishness, but love of their own self-worth), pride in their own value as human beings, and have been degraded by society to believe that they are only meat on the rampage, with no conscious self-will.
Unfortunately, that is not reality. These children will be terribly hurt to discover that they are not just meat on the hoof, but beings with a metaphysical part that needs sustenance too. When this child gets an STD or becomes pregnant, reality will intrude all to brutally.

A spirit, the metaphysical part, within a man or woman can be wounded and die for lack of reinformcement of their own self-worth, which these children seek in meaningless sexual couplings, and which they won't find there. They've been betrayed by their parents (no teaching of values or expressions of love) and families, their friends and peers (mirror images of no self-love), the culture at large (Hey if it feels good, DO IT!), and suprisingly, the person who wrote this story (I'm just doing my job!), in giving out names and bringing "dishonor" upon this poor, unloved girl.

You wonder what the destiny of Western Civilization is when this is the microscopic vision of individual children's lives gone wrong.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 26, 2006 09:30 PM

This seems to be one of those posts where a lot of my comments never see the light of day. That usually happens when I'm struggling with some strong feeling. I don't know how many I've thrown away by now.

This is going to sound incredibly trite, but I don't really know how else to say it and something about this, I don't know what, is making me angry. We let other people put an awful lot on our backs but in the end, all of us know what is right without really having to be told. We just need to live up to it.

I think people do a lot of wrong either by trying to do what other people expect of them or by being dishonest with themselves. It's hard to face yourself squarely.

I may get this somewhat wrong because I'm too lazy to look it up and I'm quoting from memory, but Shakespeare said it best and I think this is equally true of honor, or of love: To thine own self be true. And then it must follow as the night doth the day: thou canst not then be false to any man.

So simple, yet so hard to do.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 26, 2006 10:26 PM

And for what it may be worth, I saw this the other day but did not have time to write about it. The Court of Appeals has reinstated the girl's case:


Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 26, 2006 10:30 PM

You'll never get where you want to be that way. :) The best way to find the truth of a difficult matter that I have found is this: erect a fortress on the ground that seems strongest to you, and invite attack. If you withstand the assault, you may have a strong argument. If you do not, you'll learn where the flaws were, and can build your next fortress with the greater confidence.

You're among friends, after all. Or try it at Grim's Hall, if you like: the comments policy will defend you from personal attacks, and you'll get the interest of a crowd devoted to the concept of honor, to understanding and furthering it.

Posted by: Grim [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 27, 2006 01:31 PM

Thanks, Grim and Cassandra for articulating it better than I could. I like the allusion to the fairy tale or the quest literature...isn't that one reason why we should read the classics? That we take scripture and allegorize it or relate it to real life?

One day we were talking about heroes. It was a hugely eye opening session for me, since the heroes were real life as well as fictional. The kids totally missed the point since the greatest hero I know of is Christ (forgive the religious
sland here, but I do have a point that is relative to the discussion), who loved purely, completely
and wholly, and gave His life for ours.

The same question I think, is asked in "Saving Private Ryan,' about the sacrifice being worth the life it saved.

If we strive to live cleanly, the sacrifice is worth it.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 27, 2006 01:49 PM

And then there is that mad Spaniard, Don Quixote.
I think Shakespeare was worshipped by Ayn Rand.

Posted by: Crckt [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 27, 2006 01:51 PM

Maybe when I am not so overwhelmed at work. I have been working straight through for too long and I can't think anymore. I'm running on coffee fumes, adrenaline, and very loud music right now.

And I have learned through long experience to keep my mouth shut when I'm feeling off-balance. But thank you :) I feel at home there, Grim.

Posted by: Cassandra [TypeKey Profile Page] at February 27, 2006 02:09 PM

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