By: Ann Voskamp
When you’re the mother of four sons, Steubenville is about us.
Steubenville is about having a conversation with sons about hard things and asking you to do holy things.
Because a Steubenville doesn’t begin with football and it doesn’t begin with alcohol and it doesn’t begin with unsupervised jocks with inflated egos and shriveled morals. It begins with one woman bringing home a man-child in her arms, one mama unwrapping that blanket and what it means to raise up a man.
It begins with one mama looking into her son’s eyes for the next 18 years and showing him what it means to be a woman.
I brought you home when I was 21.
I cradled you, you crying and me crying, and the essence of me ran liquid and milky and a woman poured out of herself to keep you alive. You rooted hungry and it was the roots of a woman that nourished you. It was a woman who gave you life, who was the grace of God that kept you alive, who is the mother of all the living.
I held you when fever burned your forehead. And I stroked back your hair when your stomach churned and I cleaned us both up when you vomited all over everything. I opened books for you and stoked your mind and unpacked a world before you and I laid down me to make more of you and it wasn’t a sacrifice but the unexpected grace of motherhood.
We talked about life being much more than you can see, so you knew that a woman is always more more than you can see. I kept trying to be at peace in my own body so that you would always see women as more than a body. And I always told you that I’ve only ever met beautiful people. Ugly is only a state of soul.
In 8 short weeks from today, you’ll blow out your candles and look up across the table and that baby I brought home at 21 will be 18. I don’t know how that happened. I got a lot wrong. And there’ll be a mother in Steubenville who will be shattered that her teen son’s behind bars and how in the world did that happen. We’re all getting a lot wrong.
Like that night I was 19 and I saw it in my rear view mirror, how a 20-something man reached over and started fondling a terrified 14 year-old sleeping girl. How he shrugged his shoulders when we confronted him, like he was brushing away an annoying fly. How there were girls that whispered that he’d grabbed them too in the dark of a car when he drove them home from youth group, how there were all these shy and ashamed girls who were violated and forced and indifferently robbed.
I want to tell you, son — we were all church kids. There was no alcohol. There were no parties. There were no football teams.
There were young men who opened their Bibles and didn’t value the worth of a God-fashioned woman made for glory, young men who sang worship songs and satiated their lust by ripping off the dignity of a sacred human being, young men who said women were the weaker vessel meant let’s drink them dry and be merry.
We went to the church elders.
A handful of us girls with one teenage boy who knew what he saw and wasn’t afraid, we went to the elders and sat there with our hands literally shaking and our mouths impossibly dry and we tried to find words for what should never have to be said. My cheeks and throat burned.
And I have never told anyone what happened next, but after Steubenville, to stay silent is to let perpetrators perpetuate.
We were looked in the eye, Son, and what we were told, those words tried to shatter God —
“Boys will be boys.”
Son. When the prevailing thinking is boys will be boys — girls will be garbage.
And that is never the heart of God.
That’s what you have to get, Son — Real Manhood knows the heart of God for the daughters of His heart.
Your Dad is one of those men. When he heard of what happened in Steubenville, how boys your age had violated a young woman with such indifference and ignorance, he said it to me quiet –
Unless a man looks to Jesus, a man doesn’t know how to treat a woman.
So this is what your dad and I want you to get, to get this and never forget it: that when God decided to pull on skin and make His visitation into the world, He didn’t show up in some backroom of an inner boy’s club or regale us with some black tie inaugural affair.
This is what God chose as best, this is where He first became one of us: God chose to make His entry point into the world through the holy space of a woman, to enfold Himself inside of a woman, to drink of a woman, be held and nourished and cared for by a woman — that’s the jolting truth of how God loves His daughters with His honor.
That Christ never beat down a woman with harsh words or lusting eyes or sneering innuendos, but He stepped in and stopped a broken woman from the abuse of angry men. Christ came to the defense of a hurting woman and the Son of Man stood between her ache and her attackers and He lifted the weight of shame from her and cupped her heart with hope and wrote a new future into the dust and dirt of everything and he saved. her. life. That’s how God loves His daughters with His defense.
That Christ didn’t degrade women in His talk, but He made women heroes in His stories. He invited a woman with a coin and broom to reveal the truth about the Kingdom of God. He honored an intentional woman with an unjust judge as unveiling the character of God. He elevated a lonely, unmarried woman who dropped her meager resources into the temple treasury as the rebuke of God for all the rich and religious. That’s how God loves His daughters with His words.
That Christ didn’t demonize women but He accepted the presence of a woman reviled by the self-righteous, He sat with the scandalous woman the righteous regarded as damaged goods, He welcomed the rejected and the immodest though he lost the respect of the religious. That’s how God loves His daughter with His grace.
That when Christ stepped out of that black tomb, he still didn’t choose to first manifest Himself to prestigious officials, religious leaders, the Twelve, but instead He revealed Himself first to the women, He entrusted the veracity of His resurrection to the testimony of the women, He offered the privilege of proclaiming Christ as the risen Savior to the women, though no court at the time would accept their testimony. That’s how God loves His daughters with His regard.
So your Dad wanted you to know — when you turn the pages of the Bible, Son, let everything you read of women be shaped by how Jesus sealed His view and value of women.
Let Christ shape you and not the magazine covers of the Walmart checkout: Real Manhood never objectifies women. Real Manhood edifies women.
Real Manhood means you don’t get drunk, and a man can get drunk on a lot more than alcohol.
Men drunk on power, on control, on ego, lose more than all inhibition — they lose The Way, their own souls. Men drunk on anything can destroy everything and real manhood thirsts for righteousness.
Real Manhood means peer pressure only makes you stronger in Christ.
That in a culture where it’s the tendency to bend, you’ll stand. That in situations where there’s tendency to look the other way, you’ll look for help. That, at times in the church when there’s a tendency to be divisive on the secondary and a unified front of silence on the painful, you’ll seek to rightly divide the truth and unify the brokenhearted.
Because if Christ is The Truth — then where there isn’t Truth, there isn’t Christ. Why ever be afraid of the Truth?
Because if you’re at peace in Christ, you fight injustice.
Real Manhood means you take responsibility for your body.
A woman’s immodesty is never an excuse for a man’s irresponsibility. Responsible men — are response-able. This is your job. A woman has her’s. Focus on yours. Real Men don’t focus responsibility on women staying “pure” but on men not pressuring. (Truth is, none of us are pure, Son, and the onus is on you, Son, to pursue holiness.)
Your Dad and I need you to know:
Real Men never pressure but treasure. No one tries to crush a diamond.
Because pressuring a girl? Is blackmail, coercion and repeated robbery attempts. You’re meant to be a man, not the mafia. When you’re pressuring a girl for what you want — is your flag to lean into Jesus who will give you what you need.
The thing is: Real Manhood means you hallow womanhood. A woman isn’t a toy to amuse your lusts, a thing to aggrandize your ego, a trophy to adorn your manhood. A woman is of your rib, who birthed your rib, who cupped your rib, who is meant to be gently cherished at your rib, at your side.
The culture of boys will be boys — means girls will be garbage and you were made for more than this, Son. Your Dad and I believe boys will be godly and boys will be honoring and boys will be humble.
And that teenage boy from youth group, who saw how girls were hurting and violated in shadows and shame, who stood with the wounded because he believed real men of God are men for the hurting?
That brave teenage boy, Son?
He’s now your Dad.
There are more than a few good men, Son.
Real men like their Father — who laid down His life for His daughters.