On June 2nd, Peter Heck, a social studies teacher at Eastern High School in Greentown, Indiana, gave a controversial commencement speech at the school’s graduation ceremony. Among other things, he made several comments about female students’ future responsibilities regarding work and family:
Ladies, I challenge you to a life of rebellion. To recognize that your body is a temple that is deserving of honor, not indiscretion. I challenge you to be women of virtue, finding beauty not in how many unprincipled men you can attract, but rather finding beauty in modesty and self-respect. I challenge you to devote yourself to family, to your children.
If you choose to have a career, God’s blessings upon you, but I challenge you to recognize what the world scoffs at… that your greatest role of your life will be that of wife and mother. That the greatest impact you will ever contribute to our world is a loving and devoted investment into the lives of your precious children. To solve the problems plaguing our society, we don’t need more women as CEOs, we need more women as invested mothers.
That excerpt comes from his website, which, if you visit, shows you this pop-up:
The link leads to a portion of his speech. It’s interesting that he doesn’t offer the speech in its entirety on his own website. One would think that printing the whole speech, with full context, would be beneficial to Heck in refuting the “irresponsible reporting,” but I digress…
Several news outlets featured students talking about Heck’s inherent sexism and discouragement of female students. One of them quoted a student saying, “It jumped out at me that he said [the female graduates] shouldn’t pursue a professional career.”
Huffington Post puts this speech in a broader context:
Heck’s comments come on the heels of the rising popularity of Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” message and a Pew report stating that the number of working mother breadwinners has increased. Now women are the primary financial providers in 40 percent of households with children.
This isn’t the first time Heck has expressed disdain for shifting gender dynamics. In a blog post from July 2012 in the wake of the Aurora shooting, Heck described the present day as “an age where we too often yield to the idiotic sniveling of modern feminism that suggests there is no place in our enlightened society for men to act as ‘protectors’ of women.”
I could elaborate on the problems with the excerpt from Heck’s speech line-by-line, but instead I will only comment on a couple that jumped out at me. The major point of contention was his comment about how a woman’s “greatest role… will be that of wife and mother,” amplifying a traditional stereotype. He also dismisses and discourages women who have no desire to marry or have children and discounts those whose goals may include becoming a high-level executive. Young women about to enter adulthood should be encouraged to pursue the lives that they feel will bring them the most joy and fulfillment whether that be as a wife and mother and/or a CEO.
Second, I noted the absence of sex-positivity. He told the women not to use their body for “indiscretion” and not attracting “unprincipled men.” This was a commencement speech, not church, and Heck shouldn’t have commented on this at all. A woman has the right to use her body as she pleases and should not be shamed for the number or kind of men (or women, for that matter) she chooses to be with. I wonder what his thoughts are on lesbian marriage, single-motherhood, trans women, those who do not fit neatly into the gender binary, and asexuality.
For more examples of Heck’s worldview that will likely result in you shaking your head in frustration, you only need to peruse his website for a few minutes. Not only does he express his outmoded views on women and relationships, but he also misinforms on science and atheism. He has a couple dozen videos that are real gems, like “Wrong Way Atheist” where he compares atheism to driving the wrong way on a one-way street. It’s a bad idea, he admits, to follow everyone else if they jumped off a cliff… but when it comes to religion, he says next, it makes logical sense:
Also, “Burying Evolution in Info” is a three-minute video where he gives an inaccurate description of what “evolutionists” think while again using several logical fallacies.
His website has recently been revamped, but his Facebook page still has posts up from his old site showcasing his point-of-view.
Also, worth noting: he is a proponent of the Bible Literacy Project whose mission it is to “a encourage and facilitate the academic study of the Bible in public schools.”
I thought the big church/state graduation issue this year was administrators needing to green-light students’ speeches before they get onstage. Maybe they need to start doing that for faculty speakers as well.