Sometimes you run across something vile hidden in something benign.
Serena Williams is a role model for millions of young girls particularly those of colour who often rarely played any sport let alone tennis which for a long time was treated as “posh” (It certainly was when I was growing up. It was football or rugby. Cricket was rare and for the summer.).
But she “fucked up”. During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine she said something sad. Something that was callous, thoughtless and not rare. In fact what she said was on the minds of men and many women across America in the aftermath of the Steubenville Rape.
We watch the news for a while, and the infamous Steubenville rape case flashes on the TV – two high school football players raped a drunk 16-year-old, while other students watched and texted details of the crime. Serena just shakes her head. “Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.“
Now see there are a bunch of problems with this. Obviously you can read what you want but this is my list.
1. Serena Williams doesn’t think rapists should get punished severely if it affects a “Promising career”. Which is a shame considering we are aware that black people in the USA have received stricter sentences for equivalent crimes to white people. There have even been experiments where Juvenile offenders who are black were judged more harshly and closer to adults with higher culpability than if white.
2. Their actions were stupid. Not a criminal voiding of another person’s bodily autonomy and one of the worst crimes against a person one commit.
3. While we may think 16 year old girls shouldn’t be out on the lash, reality is different and kids will drink. I know I did it as a 16 year old. (White Lightning, Park Benches, Stupid Haircut.)
4. While parents teaching responsibility around alcohol is an issue. Let’s face it. I won’t be teaching my kids to be happy go lucky around booze. I will sit my girls and boys down and tell them that there exist people who will take advantage of them when drunk. And that while this is unacceptable people do it and get away with it. Now while I understand the risks for men, I know the risks for women are far greater. So they have to promise me to not over-indulge and be safe. But you know what’s a bigger issue than teaching your daughters to not over indulge because they are more prone to be victims of date rapists? It’s teaching your children to NOT RAPE. It’s teaching your children to NOT ABET RAPE. It’s teaching your children to DO SOMETHING TO STOP IT. It’s teaching your children to NOT ACCEPT IT. The rapists I feel were the big problem, but in all that we missed out on the second problem. The smaller but no less dangerous one. The children who didn’t interfere and texted each other the messages.
5. Rape is not acceptable even when the person is drunk and “won’t remember it”.
6. If you aren’t a virgin then it’s not rape? That’s not how rape works. Just because you had sex with person A doesn’t mean you will have it with person B or even person A at a later time.
7. The most common date rape drug is alcohol. We aren’t talking a bottle of wine tipsy, (but then again remember that it makes it harder to fight off a “Rapist”) we are talking bad decisions around tequila drunk. And while most men fear being drawn on when passed out, women have to live in fear of rape. It doesn’t matter if they slipped something in your drink. It doesn’t matter if they hypnotised you or cast a magic spell or held a gun to your head. It’s rape. And it’s wrong.
I wrote about the institutionalised distrust of rape victims during the Delhi Rape Riots. I wrote about how people assume that the rapist is just a beast of instinct and that the woman is to blame by her action, the clothes she chose to wear or what she did. I pointed out that even if she were nude it would still be rape. If we were to treat a mugging the same way we would not take any people in tuxedoes who got mugged seriously lest they be a rich philanthropist.
At the core was the notion of the victim was asking for it. The Delhi victim was clearly promiscuous. She had a boyfriend after all! And he wasn’t a proper man! A proper man would have fought off a gang of armed men in their rape bus and not have the shit kicked out of him. (Don’t worry. I will revoke his man card post haste). She was out late, the sun was down and as everyone knows when the sun goes down we go from this…
A lot of the conversation was less about how to prevent further rape but how “Men will always be this way”. And Steubenville’s rape was boiled down to “boys will be boys” rather than “there was a serious culture where football stars could get away with rape with the blessing of adults”.
It’s bad particularly when a woman says something like this. Serena Williams is a star and millions of people idolise her. We must have some understanding of what others go like. Serena isn’t the only one who thought like this. I wrote on Judgy Bitch and her support for the rapists. There are a sizeable number of women who blame other women who primarily make up the victims of rape for their own rapes.
And it’s this sort of thinking that prevents women from coming forwards early enough to help build a solid case that leads to more convictions. So for every sucess there are women who never succeed because they come in too late to build the case or worse because they never come in at all.
“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.
“I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent 16-year-old child.”
See a real apology involves owning up to what you said. Not hinting in vague ways that Rolling Stone may have misquoted you. What you supposedly said? It’s either your words or not. I am sure Rolling Stone were very professional and RECORDED the Interview and from what I know Rolling Stone pride themselves on some Journalistic Integrity.
From the sound of this Serena is trying to accept blame for the mistakes made by Rolling Stone in quoting her. In effect trying to spin this incident so that it appears to be her graciously taking the blame for her own mistake by implying that she was misquoted.
And it beggars belief that rape victim who may have had it coming to her now is a tragedy rather than the punishment the two boys who did it received. That’s one hell of a typo.
And it’s easy to mishear “horrible tragedy” with “she shouldn’t have put herself in that position”. And clearly when she said “innocent 16 year old child” what it got translated to was “virgin”.
The thing with apologies is that they have to be apologies, not a misdirection of blame. It’s your statement, stand by it or decry it and admit your own mistakes.
Serena is only human. Her fame is linked to her spectacular skill at tennis. She can make mistakes. It’s just that she should own up to them. We would be far far more accepting of her if she said “I was wrong. I said something stupid and callous. I am sorry and I will try to not make similar mistakes in the future” rather than not taking responsibility.
And isn’t that a message we should teach kids. That even if they get something wrong it is better to take responsibility than shift blame? To learn from mistakes? To realise we are only human and make mistakes.