Trigger warning: Proceed with caution.
The verdict is in for the two Steubenville teens that CNN seems to feel sorry for. Twitter is a mixture of rape apologists and people angry at said apologists. Facebook is probably still all cat pictures or shamrocks and Pinterest, I’m sure, is still largely flowers, baking, and projects even Martha Stewart wouldn’t try. At any rate, here are my two cents:
I’ve spent the past seven years listening to teen girls tell me or tell each other about being raped, molested, or assaulted. It’s so often a gateway to their criminal or drug activity. I’ve also heard too many times about their stripping, hooking, drug use, and older “boyfriends” who are sometimes encouraged to “date” them by their own mothers. This is not technically part of my job description. It falls into that category of being there for the students and trying to find out what’s keeping them from learning and just not interrupting them when they feel compelled to spill their guts instead of answering a multiple choice question. It’s reading their essays and poems. It’s being told in confidence the reason why they really need to graduate early or get a GED or drop out. Teenagers don’t always follow the lines we put in place about who to tell and who to talk to. It’s why we’re all supposed to be on the lookout for signs of abuse. Why teachers have team meetings to discuss at-risk kids. Why we’re sent to professional development courses on dealing with such things.
I’ve spent about five years listening to teenage boys. Teenage boys rarely tell you what they’re going through. Not like girls. Sometimes, they’ll whisper about checking mom for track marks or that dad’s in jail again. Sometimes they’ll scoff about divorce or say they’re bringing home the money for moms (sic) or taking care of siblings. Some of them are rapists. Some of them are victims. Some of them are both. The culture we’ve created is as confusing for them as it is for the girls.
The girls will tell you about some “slut” who had her first kid at eleven or thirteen or fifteen. They’ll tell you their first kid was their rapist’s. They won’t make the connection. They’ll tell you the “slut” had her second kid a few years later with her boyfriend or at least on purpose. They might tell you the same thing about their second kid. They won’t make the connection. They haven’t read the stats. They haven’t seen the literature. They don’t know about the studies. Even if they’re following the pattern of sleeping around after their own assault, they still let our culture tell them the other girls who do the same thing are sinful or slutty or stupid. Which means, even if not consciously, it’s what they’re telling themselves.
Many of the boys will call any female human they see or interact with a “bitch” or a “ho.” Doubly so if she has sex with them — consensual or otherwise. Well-meaning instructors tell us they have poor boundaries and mommy issues and distrusts of males and all manner of excuses. What I see are kids largely raising themselves and each other who get much of their information on right and wrong from media sources like movies, video games, and songs. (They are not listening to Air Supply.) They’re fighting to be the macho kings their cultural touchstones promise them they can be — football stars and rappers and drug kingpins. They’re fighting to prove they aren’t “pussy” because to be soft or feminine is to be wrong.
The girls meanwhile fight for dominance in their own realm. In their world, they must be hard — able to punch and take one — and sexy — dressed to the nines in booty shorts with pounds of weave on their heads — or sporty and butch in sagging jeans and brand new Nikes with near-shaved heads. They’re flaunting or hiding the only parts of them the boys see. They don’t talk about big dreams. They talk about getting by. They talk about stripping or doing hair. They talk about selling drugs, but they don’t have illusions of making it to the top of the game like the boys. They just want to be able to buy enough Pampers. They watch cartoons and have sex with grown men because to be “childish” is to be sexy, but to be “juvenile” or soft is still wrong. They are equally confused.
The boys who rape aren’t all the same. Some, especially the younger ones with younger victims, still look like victims themselves. Most have been and they’re re-enacting or trying to make sense of what’s been done to them. They know they did something wrong, but they can’t always articulate it. Usually, they don’t — to their teacher anyway– but it’s on their faces. And it’ll follow them around just like it does the girls. Some are more vocal, that females only exist to make them happy, to keep them satisfied. They talk of running trains and assaulting drunken girls as though it is their right. These are the ones our culture created (as opposed to the ones our pedophiles created). These are the ones the apologists stand up for. These are the ones we, as a culture, can stop. (And maybe if we stop enough of them, we’ll decrease the pedophiles while we’re at it.)
It comes down to this: No.
It’s time our fathers and mothers and coaches and rappers and politicians admitted the word exists and it exists for boys, too.
No does not mean “okay, if she or he is drunk.”
No does not mean “okay, if you bought dinner.”
No does not mean “okay, if you’re famous or think you are.”
No does not mean “okay, if she or he is dressed in sexy clothes or dances provocatively.”
No does not mean “okay, if we’re on a date.”
No does not mean “okay.”
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, that most of the homophobic men I’ve met were homophobic because they were afraid gay men would treat them they way they treat women. I mention this because the same idea applies.
If you wouldn’t want a gay man/woman you find unattractive/monkey-wielding a pipe to penetrate your orifices (with a penis, a finger, or said pipe) because you did one too many tequila shots, don’t rape a woman who drank too much.
If you wouldn’t want a gay man/woman you find unattractive/monkey-wielding a pipe to penetrate your orifices (with a penis, a finger, or said pipe) because you agreed to go out (even casually or as friends) with said man/woman/monkey, don’t rape a woman who goes out with you.
If you wouldn’t want a gay man/woman you find unattractive/monkey-wielding a pipe to penetrate your orifices (with a penis, a finger, or said pipe) because he/she/it thinks he/she/it is famous, don’t rape a woman no matter how awesome you think you are.
If you wouldn’t want a gay man/woman you find unattractive/monkey-wielding a pipe to penetrate your orifices (with a penis, a finger, or said pipe) because wore a pair of shorts or flip flops or your swimsuit at the pool or took off your shirt to play ball or stepped outside in a tank top, don’t rape a woman no matter what the hell she’s wearing.
And if you do want gay men, women you find unattractive, or pipe-wielding monkeys to get it on with you, you should tell them as much and let them make their own decisions (well, except for the monkey–get help for that).
Note: I work in a non-traditional educational environment.