Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Chameleons, Hostas, and Abuse at UVA

I knew he was living in there.

At least one gecko.  Or, at least to us Texans, he's a gecko.  One of those lizard-type chameleon things whose skin can turn from bright green to dark gray, depending on the color of their surrounding environment.  Technically, their scientifically supposed to be called anoles, and they're neither geckos or chameleons.  But here in Texas, we don't usually worry about nit-picky accuracy.

Just ask Ted Cruz.

Okay, that was a cheap shot.

At any rate, there was at least one little gecko, or anole, or chameleon, who lived in a potted hosta in our backyard.  Whenever I watered the broad-leafed plant with a watering can this summer, the green guy would stick his pointy head out from under a leaf, either confused about it raining when the sun was shining brightly, or to give me a stern scowl about not watering his home often enough.

That was then, of course.  Today, however, we're running full-tilt into the end of November, and we've had several hard freezes already this fall.  That means our hostas have died for the season, and their leaves, once buoyant and as green as a gecko, are now brittle and yellowed, lifelessly draped over the rims of the pots in which they were recently thriving.

So I went out this morning and trimmed off the dead leaves and stems, even though Mom insists that I should leave the dead stuff alone until springtime, so that they can help protect the rest of the plant during the winter.  After all, contrary to what the corporate relocation experts will tell you, our part of Texas can get mighty frigid between November and March.

As I was trimming the yellowed leaves from the biggest pot of hosta, its resident gecko stumbled out from within the thicket of stems on which I was cutting.  At first he looked pretty confused, but he seemed to realize that his home was being chopped up.

At first, I didn't notice it was him - he was exactly the same color of the stems I was cutting:  a pastel hue of very light yellows, very light mint greens, whites, and grays.  Even if this creature isn't a chameleon, his skin certainly had acclimated to the color of his environment, even if that environment had died, and was losing the final strains of vibrant greens from its summery chlorophyll.

He'd gone along with the color scheme around him, and had adjusted his own skin color accordingly.  Even though the colors around him were the result of the plant's hibernation for the season.

I've been told that I think too much, but I thought anyway about the incidental example of my longsuffering anole - gecko friend.  Here he was, going along with the flow, and unwittingly letting himself acclimate to an environment that the thin-skinned little fellow likely wouldn't be able to endure throughout the entire winter.  At least, not if he'd stayed in that pot.  Anoles have their own version of hibernation, but scientists say they usually do so in groups, presumably to preserve body temperature, and they congregate under sturdier things than the thin, dead leaves of perennial plants.

Of course, with all of the anoles we have in our creekside neighborhood, I know that whenever I see one, even if he repeatedly shows up in the same place, chances are pretty good that it's not the same exact one every time.  And maybe this little guy was simply checking up on his summer home since we'd had nice weather this morning.  Perhaps he fully intended to return to wherever he and his fellow anoles are spending this winter's coldest nights.

Nevertheless, I soon found myself contemplating how I sometimes allow myself to acclimate to whatever environment I'm in, whether it's a beneficial environment for me or not.  I work hard to blend in, and ignore warning signs as that environment changes.

And then when winter comes, how often do I feel like I've been left out in the cold!

I'm supposed to be smarter than a gecko, or an anole, or chameleon, or whatever those little critters are.  Sometines, however, it feels like I'm simply better at disguising the ways I'm not.

Meanwhile, our little grayish, mint-green-tinged anole might also represent a way to approach all of the angst currently being expressed over the riveting Rolling Stones article about the culture of sexual dysfunction at the University of Virginia. 

If the accusations are accurate - and by many accounts, they are - is UVA's rampant rape crisis the fault of spoiled rich fraternity brats at one of the South's most yuppified schools?  Is it the fault of administrators who seem desperate to preserve their jobs, and their employer's prestigious image?  Or could it even at least partly be the fault of women who are so eager to win acceptance into the school's flinty cliques that they inadvertently set themselves up for being molested?

The goal of Rolling Stone's article is to help declare nationwide alarm over what appears to be a silent epidemic.  Our society's relentless objectification of women - spurred in part, ironically, by a pop-rock culture Rolling Stone glorifies - plays a key role in the ability of fraternity boys to perpetrate and perpetuate this rape culture, not just at UVA, but at institutions of higher learning across the United States.  Rolling Stone's protagonist had a friend who herself flung herself at men, reveling in their attention, and striving to be part of the insular UVA community.

A community based not just on academic traditions, but sexual ones as well.

Who enters college anymore as a freshman and isn't aware that sex is one of the most favored activities of college students?  Sex, and drinking, and abusing sex, and abusing alcohol.  It's all part of the package these days, isn't it?  At least if you want to be social, popular, and running with the "in" crowd.

Not that the ubiquitousness of sex and alcohol can justify rape.  "No" should still mean no.  But every rape victim is a person for whom the sea changes in our culture away from rape are too late.  Every time a person gets raped, the advocacy on behalf of sexual morality and personal integrity that articles like Rolling Stone's seek to advance proves ineffective, at least to a certain degree.

So what can people do in the meantime to try and avoid being a victim of rape?

They can refuse to be a chameleon.  They can refuse to work at trying to embrace and emulate the culture that apparently has little interest - or incentive - in changing itself.  After all, our potted hosta didn't change its color to match the little gecko's.  The lizard changed itself to match its environment.

Okay, so it's not a perfect analogy, but it still works, right?  Women who are going to college to have sex with the cutest guys they can find will probably succeed.  Women who go to college to obtain an education, however, risk being targeted by the same sexual predators that are preying on willing victims.  Perhaps one of the best ways for these women to reduce their chances of becoming a victim is to flatly refuse the urge to join the broader social culture at universities.  Particularly universities with robust fraternity and sorority programs, where the abuse of alcohol and sex is notorious.

Otherwise, the more they try to mimic their environment, the more risk they're subjecting themselves to.

After all, trying to fit in doesn't always pay.

Remember, the hosta plant of summer isn't the same hosta plant of winter.

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