You may be aware that I have a “no bad news after 8pm” policy in order to keep myself sane. And yet, sometimes there is bad news that I just cannot avoid.
Last week, while relaxing into my utopian science fiction fantasy land of Star Trek the Next Generation on Blu-Ray, my social media-addicted brain craved stimulation and I grazed through Facebook updates on my phone. Hmm let’s see… cute baby pictures, cute puppies, cupcakes someone baked, and oh, what’s this? Some teenage boys drugged and repeatedly raped a 16 year old girl, took pictures and videos of the assault, and finally dumped her on someone’s lawn. After many efforts to conceal and defend the assault (because football players should, apparently, be allow to rape anyone they determine to be a ‘slut’) CNN decided the sentence was worthy of national news coverage. Not because it was a terrible crime. Because the poor rapists got a whole year of prison and were labeled sex offenders, and this, CNN complained, is a charge that will “haunt them the rest of their lives.”
First I read this wonderfully written article on Feministing that captured the multiplicity of problems to do with this case, from the fact that the boys did not believe that what they were doing was rape because it was not “violent” (she was incapable of fighting back,) to the fact that the girl was portrayed as a slut on trial in order to defend the boy’s right to rape her, to the fact that twitter was awash with sentiments that the girl who was not raped, she was just “a loose drunk slut”. The article drove home the point that what we’re dealing here is a rape culture that endorses violence against women. It endorses rape.
As much as it’s easy to point fingers at an individual level when it comes to perpetrators of crime, we need to take a step back and consider what sociological factors are involved. And nothing drives home the point more than that stupid CNN video. There’s not a whole lot that needs to be said about it because it is so overt. Watch in horror as CNN glorifies the rapists and their promising careers. Apparently, CNN decided that boys getting an entire year of prison and being labeled as a sex offender for raping a girl was worthy of national news coverage. This wasn’t newsworthy because they didn’t get enough time. It was newsworthy because, in the eyes of CNN, they got too much.
Anyone looking for proof that women’s lives and bodies are worth less than men’s, even in 2013 and even in America, there you have it. The biggest news station in the United States argues that boys should be allowed to rape girls and not be punished for it.
If CNN isn’t an example of how media contributes to rape culture I don’t know what is.
It is ironic, I thought, that when we talk about the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, we need to argue that someone with HIV who uses a condom but doesn’t disclose their status in a single sexual encounter - which does not result in transmission - does not deserve to be convicted for aggravated sexual assault, with a maximum sentence of 14 years. It’s amazing how people resist this premise, even we are talking about consensual sex between two adults. Yet in the case of rape, in which consensus is non-existent, and the intent to humiliate and violate is wholly present, it’s national news that the perpetrators received a whole year in prison.
We need to talk about these issues in the whole context of women’s equality issues, not in silos. The issue is bigger than Steubenville. Violence against women is a problem around the world, and that includes all forms of violence. Legally, politically, and economically women do not have the same rights as men. Not only in other far away lands. Here. Not 60 years ago. Today.
I don’t want to blame the media, because the media is only one part of this. But it certainly contributes to rape culture, there’s no denying that. Some of these issues are challenging to deal with. For instance, the media glamorizes drug facilitated sexual assault, and not just CNN. There are so many examples in movies and television in which male violence, in general, is present, and many instances in which men lie, use alcohol, or manipulate women into having sex with them. (Not to mention rape, kidnap, dismember and kill them). Even though rape is about power, not sex, the media contributes to the idea that male desire for sex is natural and should override a woman’s sense of power over her own body.
In the Feministing article, the author, Maya, writes:
I don’t want to live in a world that assumes guys are naturally sexual aggressors who will opportunistically take advantage of an incapacitated girl, or forever push, push, push at the boundaries of consent until they hear a clear and forceful “no.” I want to live in a world that gives boys more credit than that.
Although this would far from solve the problem, I believe that sex education needs to include an education about what consent actually means and how important it is. It seems so obvious that sex education should include this component but it’s absent. The “no means no” language is so limited that the rapists involved in this case, apparently didn’t even realize they were doing something wrong.
This blog starts and ends with Patrick Stewart because, earlier in the day, before I learned about the trial, I read an interview with Patrick Stewart on his initiatives to end violence against women. One of the questions asked, do you think we also need to take a closer look at the messages we're sending to boys?
Absolutely. Most certainly…. We talk to our children in ways they will understand about morality, about honesty. We tell them that it's not good to lie and it's not good to be deceitful. But I think we rarely have spoken to them about the proper elements of the relationship between a male and a female, a young boy and a young girl. And I look back to my childhood and from quite an early age, my recollection is that the girls that I knew were either desirable, sexual objects or were potential victims - you know, people you could persecute, and it was okay to do that. And so I think in the same way that in our schools things like sex education have now become standard and normal and entirely acceptable, if lessons can be learned about how to be in the world, how to be in society and treat everyone with the same measure of respect.
Thank you to Patrick Stewart. My next blog post will be about hope.