By now we've all heard (ad nauseum) about the Notre Dame vs Alabama football game this past weekend. (I'm still hearing about it at the office, from people who spent about as much time on a football field as me. That ain't sayin' much.) We've also heard about how ESPN commentator Brent Musburger went ballistic as Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama's A J McCarron, and (invariably) the reigning Miss Alabama USA, appeared on the screen.
Everyone thought this was tasteless and boorish, which it probably was. Many also thought that it bought into stereotypes about how star athletes always get the really attractive women, some of whom are (or so the story goes) a little short on intellect. Personally, I can't imagine where such Neanderthal notions originate, but let's go back about forty-some years and give it a try, shall we?
+ + +
Clarisse -- I'd love to use her real name, really I would -- started her first year at my Catholic high school, just as I was beginning my second. She was smart, beautiful, vivacious, and with all that, she was also the girl next door, if by "next door" you still meant the respectable part of the city where the school was situated, as opposed to the podunk town from which I was bussed every day. During my sophomore year, I thought she was unattainable, and so was content with a convivial and platonic friendship. By the following school year, I got past those limitations, and with good reason. The annual Mardi Gras dance was coming up, and when I asked her to be my date, she happily agreed. My high school was a shallow, artificial world, but to my adolescent mind, I was finally moving up in it.
In some respects, my high school was no different than any other in America. If you played intervarsity athletics, was reasonably good at it, was reasonably good looking, and wasn't a complete klutz around the ladies, you could pretty much write your own ticket on the social food chain. (You didn't even have to know how to dance. In the post-hippie, pre-disco era of the early 1970s, I'm not sure anyone knew.) It also helped that you brought honor and glory to the school, which paid off in alumni contributions to the athletic boosters club, and mentions in the daily newspaper. I would not have qualified for this elite caste, but Clarisse hung around with girls who did, in what amounted to a "jocks only" policy when it came to dating.
Now, the Mardi Gras was a time-honored tradition, brought to the school by the order of sisters who ran it, and whose motherhouse was in New Orleans. The event was preceded by the seniors electing a Court of Honor, consisting of two dozen senior men and women, from which a King and Queen were chosen. The other classes voted on attendants to the court. Clarisse made the grade, one of three girls and three boys in her class, the former escorted by any one of the latter. It was here that fate intervened. Clarisse had to break the bad news to me, that her social obligations to this event precluded being my date (which didn't seem to be a problem for others, as I recall), and my invitation was unceremoniously returned. Naturally, I was crushed. She did a great job of pretending to feel bad about it to my sister, who was her classmate. And there wasn't enough time left to ask someone else to be number two on your list. But the order and harmony of the status quo was restored, and all was right with the world, myopic though it may have been.
But take heart, dear reader, for the story had a happy ending. Clarisse ended up "going steady" with the guy who escorted her (who it turns out may have been a very distant cousin of mine), and they married shortly after graduation. Mr Storybook went on to teach at the high school for many years, as he and Mrs Storybook were often feted for their years of service to dear old Alma Mater.
Seven and a half years after leaving that cultural wasteland, I got the hell out of Dodge City, and except for reunions every ten years (where I manage never to run into those two), never looked back. In recent years, my old high school has had the audacity to recognize achievement in other fields of endeavor besides athletics, and with no small amount of enthusiasm. I wish I could congratulate them, but I think Huey Lewis and the News deserve the credit.
+ + +
In the book of Proverbs, it is said that “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.” (31:30) You have to wonder if the Katherine Webbs of the world ever learn this the hard way, or if they just get tired of everyone telling them how pretty they are. What else can people say? “Hey, loved that term paper you wrote on quantum theory. You should get that published.”
They could also say nothing at all. Part of the reason that women wear head coverings in many cultures and through much of history, especially those who are married, is due to how sensitized they are to the unwanted attentions of men, preferring to save their beauty for someone more worthy, like, oh, their husbands, maybe. This is hardly an endorsement of that practice, so much as a reminder of why it would exist anywhere at all -- especially inside a Catholic church during Holy Mass; now that IS an endorsement! -- and how easily the base elements of our human nature, especially among the male of the species, can be easily provoked.
That being said, there are worse things that can happen to a woman than getting ogled by men, after voluntarily entering a beauty contest and subsequently dating the college football star, don't you think?
Or don't you?