In the days after the Steubenville rape verdict, I have been grateful to see that my personal social media circle has lack the victim blaming, rape apologizing, and other infuriating responses that have peppered the landscape of national media and social media. The outrage has been swift and visceral. But there is a desire to explain it as an isolation - contain it to the football-loving, dying steel town of Steubenville, Ohio. I understand this desire.
The humiliation, violation, and dehumanization of Jane Doe at the hands of her peers is appalling. Even more appalling is the fact that these young men so obviously felt they were doing nothing wrong, that they recorded it in photographs, twittered about it, made jokes about how she was "so raped right now." Let's be clear - they knew it was rape. They used the very word rape. They just didn't believe that they could get in trouble for it.
We want to label them as aberrations. We want to pretend that the toxic masculinity these boys have internalized is limited to "there" - it couldn't happen "here," even though everywhere is "here" for someone.
Steubenville made national news. Have you heard about Torrington, CT yet? The town where two 18 yr old high school football players are currently facing charges of sexually assaulting a 13 yr old girl? The town where days after the charges were filed, the youth of Torrington responded to the charges with victim-blaming on social media? "What was a 13 yr old girl doing hanging around with 18 yr old guys?" & "I wanna know why theres no punishment for young hoes"and others.
Have you heard about the special needs student who was beaten and raped in the West Memphis High bathroom? When the 15 yr old student reported the rape to his principal, the principal sent him back to class. Later he reported it to his aunt and the three boys involved were arrested and gave conflicting stories. Student A says Student B raped the boy. Student B says Student A raped the boy. Student C says nobody raped the boy. Amazingly, one of the accused told his aunt, "he was only trying to help the boy." Which sounds strikingly similar to the bullshit text message sent to the father of Jane Doe from the Steubenville case by one of her rapists claiming, he was trying to keep her safe.
Please don't pretend that if you dont live in Ohio, Connecticut, and Arkansas - this can't happen in your town. It can and it will if we don't change the way we treat discussions of rape, sexual assault, women, masculinity, and femininity in our society. In the words of former NFL quarterback Don McPherson, "We don't teach our boys to grow up to be men, we teach them to grow up not to be women." We teach our boys to value women, based on their relationships to men. Women are "daughters, wives, and mothers" - so the rhetoric goes. How about women are human beings and derive their value from their status as such, not their status as it relates to the men in their lives?
How could we not expect this? In a world where children are taught to devalue all things feminine, beginning with the lessons to "not be a sissy" or not to "throw like a girl," what else do we expect our children to learn? As long as female = less than, we are teaching our children that their worth is determined not by who they are, but by how close they appear to align with the masculine.
When I am overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of this toxic masculinity, it helps to stop and look around me. I look to the men in my life and I see that they have evaded this infection. I see my husband, my brothers, my father, my friends and I am hopeful again. The majority of men are not rapists. Now, we just need the people who believe rape is wrong to fight against the normalization of rape and devaluation of the feminine. Until we do, rape will continue. Steubenville, Torrington, West Memphis, Your Town.
A study found that 37% of men admitted that they would commit rape if they thought they could get away with it. Be the person who speaks up, who lets these men know you won't let them get away with it. Stop being complicit and reinforcing their belief that rape is okay as long as you don't get caught. Speak up against dehumanizing and objectifying behavior and language.
Open your damn mouth and change the world.