book review

Review: “Our Guys” by Bernard Lefkowitz

Lefkowitz, Bernard. Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb 
University of California Press, 1997
Hardcover, 443 pages 
ISBN 0-520-20596-0

In March 1989 a group of boys in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, lured a 17-year-old developmentally disabled girl to a basement where they sexually abused her with a broomstick and a baseball bat. These boys were all athletes, members of the school’s football, baseball, and wrestling teams, lionized by the entire community. Once the scandal broke, Glen Ridge residents were concerned not about the victim, but about the effect the scandal would have on “our guys” and on the town’s reputation. When four of the boys were brought to trial and convicted in 1993, the judge allowed them to go free pending appeal. When the appeals were upheld, the young men were finally sentenced in 1997 to minimum jail terms.

In Our Guys: The Glen Ridge Rape and the Secret Life of the Perfect Suburb, Bernard Lefkowitz, who teaches journalism at Columbia University, examines how this situation came about. He found in Glen Ridge a community that glorified athletic achievement to the exclusion of all else. As early as 1941, a Yale University study had found that the local high school placed “too great emphasis on producing winning teams at the expense of important social values.” Glen Ridge, with its tree-lined streets, well-manicured lawns, and beautiful houses, looked like the perfect all-American suburb. Yet beneath this façade lay a culture that encouraged boys to develop predatory, aggressive behavior and taught girls that they must be submissive to be socially accepted.

Lest we think that this social climate is peculiar to Glen Ridge, Lefkowitz includes statistics and studies reinforcing that what happened in Glen Ridge is common to gang rapes. He says that the abusive behavior we currently hear about in the military, in organized sports (particularly team sports such as basketball and football), and in college fraternities reflects the same underlying attitudes. “I wanted to understand something about the culture that had produced these young men [in Glen Ridge],” Lefkowitz says in an interview in the online magazine Salon. “And of course, when I began to examine that culture, I realized that Glen Ridge was not atypical but reflected the values of communities across the country.”

Lefkowitz builds his case by telling his story calmly, without emotional fanfare. This chilling narrative should be read by teachers, school administrators, and parents—and especially by everyone who thinks, “It couldn’t happen in my town.”

© 1998 by Mary Daniels Brown

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