In what has become a heated media frenzy, January’s pending case of two 16-year-old high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, who raped an unconscious female peer at a party while their friends joked about it on social media, has captured the attention of families and students everywhere. For rock sub-dwellers, the girl was allegedly too inebriated to respond to the advances of Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, and media on youtube and twitter depicted the girl being raped while the ad-hoc camera crew laughed on about it. As revealed in text messages and tweets while the case unfolded, the girl had no memory of the incident and learned of her assault from her friends who were present.
The considerate young men just wanted to make sure she was aware of what happened. Isn’t that sweet?
After CNN’s controversial report in which Poppy Harlow and Candy Crowley harped on about how “emotional” and “difficult” it was to see two students who had “such promising futures, star football players, literally watch as their lives fell apart”, news networks and bloggers began to analytically approach the crime in order to discuss what went wrong and how similar events could be prevented in the future, as if it were the wreck of the Titanic. Terry Newell tried to diagram it out for us in the Huffington Post’s “Understanding the Steubenville Rape”, fleshing out the issues of age and parental supervision in placing responsibility for this crime. Barbara Amiel’s recent gem in Maclean’s even illuminated the dysfunctional “sexual landscape” in which the crime took place, explaining that “In a normal society, the girl’s mother would have locked her up for a week and all boys present would have been suspended from school”.
Emphasis has consistently been placed on understanding the innocuous mystery of how it “happened”. There must be some kind of socio-cultural recipe for this bizarre act of god!
The cultural ingredients that led to the boy’s gross misjudgement are the same ones that keep the public refusing to view them as perpetrators, and can never be eliminated until we accept their guilt. That’s right, it’s the oh-so-twenty-years-ago discussion of patriarchal culture and media representations of women that is now treated as blasé and excessively PC. While young women who were raised to believe they really can have it all are increasingly treating “feminism” as a dirty word, rape jokes are still on primetime TV. Women’s bodies are still being used to sell beverages, food, services, and an unlimited range of products. (If I see one more model having a mini-orgasm while eating yogurt, I may become lactose intolerant. Where are the watermelon or taco commercials featuring pleased men?) Top-40 singles still have lyrics that glorify sexual violence. We’ve changed policy, sure. But we haven’t changed culture. And a case like Steubenville, of two boys who thought they wouldn’t get caught so decided that the comedy outweighed the crime, reveals what our culture teaches young men.
Reading the coverage of this story, my mind immediately went to my first-year brother whose raucous party stories have provided my family with laughs, tears, and hospital bills. I was filled with horror upon realizing that, while it takes an exceptional moral defect to make the decision that Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond did, any young man could have been roped into holding the camera. Any young man could have been present.
I thought about what to say to my brother.
I thought about what I would say to Mays and Richmond if I could.
It’s one thing to be nominally “for women’s rights,” but I know how it’s also seen as somehow incorrect to be too politically correct. It’s something else entirely to actually understand how structural violence and patriarchy effects women. I settled on something like this:
Yes, we can vote and work now. We can even do math. But imagine that, instead of the hero in a biographical movie, you’re the girl who the hero tries to win over, finding himself and becoming a man along the way. We define her by what is done to her. Society is uncomfortable thinking otherwise.
The girl you raped is not a goalpost to measure your masculinity or adequacy, she deserves to be the protagonist in her own life. This did not “happen” to you. You did this to her.
– Jenna Hornsby
(Featured photo: marsmet523, Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo 1: Mr. Noah, Creative Commons, Flickr )
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