Soraya Chemaly has some trenchant thoughts on the Steubenville rape case and the culture that enables such cases.
While teaching people about consent isn’t going to change the behavior of predatory serial rapists, it will cultivate a culture that encourages effective bystander intervention and teaches both women and men how to reduce risk. What we have now and by default are subtle and overt messages that teach children, like the two Steubenville boys and the kids who watched them, to treat other human beings — disproportionately female ones — as dehumanized prey instead of as people for whom they should feel compassion.
Seriously, what is that? Why did everyone else just let it happen? Why didn’t anyone stop it? How horrible that is. Imagine you’re at a gathering with a lot of adults and one person – a woman – becomes ill, and gets so groggy and dizzy that she can’t respond properly. What happens? A couple of men proceed to pull some of her clothes off, and stick their fingers up her, and text their friends about it, and drag her around the room, while everyone else stands around and laughs?
Well, no, at least I hope the people you know aren’t like that. No, people help, and suggest going to the ER, or lying down for a minute, or whatever seems appropriate.
So what the hell is this? What’s wrong with everyone? I know teenagers don’t have a complete prefrontal cortex yet, but that doesn’t mean they’re grizzly bears.
In the meantime, kids in Steubenville will pay a high price. The thing is, the boys probably are basically “good.” Although I think they are clearly at fault for violating this girl’s body and human rights, I do not think it’s their fault that they were born into a culture where “nice guys” rape all the time and get away with it. We could avoid an awful lot of hardship and wasted lives if we disregarded the repugnant antics of those who are aggressively opposed to a fairer distribution of rights and confronted these issues head on.
As I recently said when participating in a Women Under Siege forum on victim-blaming, explaining context and shifting the focus from individual people to the systems that produce them isn’t a mentality of victimization, it’s a critique of the deeply entrenched, destructive attitudes at the heart of violence and oppression, and the first steps toward dismantling them. That is a matter of personal responsibility.
Tame the grizzly bears.