So on the one hand, there are a lot of things that have been happening lately that are the kinds of things I normally comment on. Steubenville. Leaning In. Duck penis studies.
But I was busy writing about Bet Me and then having Passover in NJ and then Passover here and, you know, life stuff is happening and I just never got around to it.
And I’m not touching the Lean In phenomenon. I have my own conflicting emotions about my personal choices vis-a-vis work and motherhood and I don’t want to sort what I think, intellectually, about Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In while also grappling with my feelings. Also, I haven’t read it, and did y’all see my TBR pile on Facebook last week? Yeah, I’m not prepared to add it.
I am also not touching New York‘s Feminist Housewife article right now. Just too many feelings getting in the way of my thoughts.
So . . . Steubenville?
Victoria Dahl, who writes some of my favorite contemporary romances and also some pretty great historic romances, as well as my very favorite Twitter feed, had an interesting post on her tumblr. (Warning for those of you who click on the post, and then click on the rest of her tumblr – there are some images that are NSFW! Also, they are hoooot. Did I mention I love Victoria Dahl so much?)
She’s responding to the current feminist message that we shouldn’t be teaching our daughters not to get raped, we should be teaching our sons not to rape. She points out that for a long time, we’ve been taught that rape is not about sex but control and power; that rapists rape because they want to assert power and dominance over their victims, not because they wanted sex and didn’t care how the person who they were having sex with felt about it. And, basically, rapers gonna rape, y’all. Protect your drinks.
Dahl points out that rape IS sometimes about sex, and to the extent that it is, yes, teach your sons that no means no, yes means yes, and everything that isn’t yes means no, and if you’re getting mixed messages ask again, and women are people, not objects for your pleasure, and etc. etc. etc.
But when it’s not about sex, when it’s about violence and power and dominance, then it’s disempowering to tell your daughters that there’s nothing they can do to protect themselves from evil rapists. It’s good to tell them to watch their drinks, take a self-defense course, not get drunk to the point of vulnerability when surrounded by people she can’t trust. (It’s also good to talk to your daughters about how you can tell who you can and can’t trust.)
Even thought I’ve been cheering the idea that we teach our sons not to rape instead of teaching our daughters not to get raped, I don’t disagree with Victoria Dahl here. You give your children – all of them – basic safety information. Curl your fingers away from the knife when slicing. Don’t get in a stranger’s car. If anyone ever tells you not to tell your parents something, TELL YOUR PARENTS IMMEDIATELY. And, yes, watch your drink, and don’t incapacitate yourself when you’re not in trustworthy environs. (And pay attention to your friends. Make sure they’re actually trustworthy and not just cool or fun.)
Dahl’s post is definitely a needed perspective in the current rhetoric about rape, which is, at best, confused and unhelpful. We need to remember, in our current pissed-off-ness about the media coverage of rape, that rape is a crime and teaching men and women to take reasonable steps to protect themselves from crimes is a perfectly normal and even required part of, like, life.
But I said on Facebook, “The biggest difference between telling a person, ‘You shouldn’t carry an open purse; you’ll get robbed,’ and ‘You shouldn’t get drunk at parties; you’ll get raped’ is that no one ever says of a convicted robber, ‘Oh, that poor, poor kid. His future is ruined now, and all because that irresponsible girl couldn’t keep her purse closed. I mean, how was he supposed to KNOW she didn’t want to have her stuff taken, what with her purse all opened like that?'”
It’s not like you shouldn’t tell someone to close their purse. It’s fine. It’s a perfectly valid piece of advice. But the feminist sentiment that we should be teaching men not to rape instead of teaching women not to be raped IS more about the cultural rhetoric around rape than it is about the practicality.
For one thing, the advice sometimes borders on absurd. Go into any room of women and ask if any of them have ever a) been drunk around a guy they didn’t intend to have sex with, b) been alone with no physical recourse with a guy they didn’t intend to have sex with, c) been alone and at least partially undressed with a guy they didn’t intent to have sex with, d) flirted with a guy they didn’t have sex with, e) been at parties with guys they didn’t intend to have sex with – and then NOT been raped. I don’t mean to be callous about this. I know that, in that room, there will be women who have been raped, to the tune of 1 in 4 or 1 in 6 or whatever the latest, unreliable statistic is (because so many rapes go unreported, or even unacknowledged by the victim). But even women who HAVE been raped will have also NOT been raped in moments where the cultural rhetoric seems to agree that, had you been, it would have been your fault. So hearing “Drinking and flirting with boys will get you raped!” sounds a lot like “One inhalation of reefer and you will die young, bitter, broke and in jail! With no brain cells!” It sounds like a lie. People do these things all the time and they’re fine. Because a great many men – maybe even the majority of men – even when they are teenagers! – don’t rape women.
But some do.
And the thing about Steubenville is, I mean, I guess they were more about power than sex, since they didn’t, actually, um . . . put the p in the v? Right? So I guess they were asserting their power?
But the really striking thing about it was, as far as I can tell, the boys really had no idea that what they were doing was wrong. And honestly . . . why should they? A lot of people (the ones who haven’t been bemoaning the ruined futures of these poor, innocent fuhball players) are upset that these kids got tried as juveniles instead of as adults, but I think this is a CLASSIC situation in which trying them as juveniles seems completely appropriate. The whole idea of trying people under the age of eighteen as juveniles is that they’re simply not old enough to fully understand the implications and consequences of their actions. When they’re tried as adults, it’s because the particular crime in question is considered so bad (and their age is considered advanced enough) that they couldn’t possibly argue that they’re not old enough to understand how bad what they did was.
Yes, of course, rape SHOULD be one of those crimes that a sixteen-year-old boy would know is wrong. But it is very evident from their treating their rape of this girl like it was the coolest party trick in town indicates that they strongly did not know that it was wrong.
And why should they have? None of the people at the parties they went to said, “Hey, dude, what you’re doing is wrong.” Well, apparently one of their friends texted them to tell them to cut that shit out, but his voice was drowned out by all the other people going, “Hahaha this is awesome let’s videotape this shit and throw it up on Twitter!” And then their community by and large backed them up and protected them.
And then fucking CNN and Good Morning America were saying things about how these poor boys’ fuhball futures were ruined because this skanky ho got drunk enough to pass out and how were they supposed to KNOW that they shouldn’t stick their fingers in the orifices of passed out girls? I mean, the girl consented to going to the party and drinking and everything! That’s the same as consenting to any and all sexual acts while she’s unconscious! Right? Right!
I mean, when fucking CNN and GMA, which are for and by adults, don’t know that rape is wrong, how do we expect sixteen-year-olds to?
And that’s why feminists are focusing on education about rape is wrong. Because apparently we, as a culture, don’t know.
Okay. Next week I think I’m going to talk about, I don’t know . . . The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills or something innocuous. And if there could be no rapes that are hideously mishandled by mainstream media, or Republicans saying hideous things about rape and abortion, or psychopaths shooting up schools, for, like, the next three months? That’d be great, America. Thanks.