Part I: Steubenville stuff
On Monday, I listened to Democracy Now’s coverage of the tragic Steubenville rape case. Over the past few years, rape has become an increasing reality for me. I’ve become afraid to walk home at night. I worry about female friends. I wonder not if, but when something will happen–to me, to my sister, to the children we hope to have one day. Because 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. In many ways, Steubenville was a breaking point–and a point of no return–for me. I was at a complete loss and in a state of emotional… devastation? shock? shock at how not shocking the actual events were? I turned, as I do too often, to facebook: The post got suprising amounts of support–not because I doubt my friends, but because I doubt how much attention my friends give my facebook activity. They sent a few great articles my way, & I wanted to share them.
- Ask Moxie: A Letter to My Sons About Stopping Rape. It’s touching, honest & inspiring. Parenting is key to stopping the madness of situations like Steubenville. A lot of things make me too afraid to have children, but then things like this–this case and this woman’s response–make me damned determine to bring some hope & love into the world.
- Ten Things to End Rape Culture. Step 1: acknowledging that it exists. The Nation put together a nice piece to help you sift through your frustration & start working to change things.
- Henry Rollins Comments on the Steubenville Rape Verdict. Great thoughts on why we can’t lock them away forever, why the onus is on us & the pieces of our culture that perpetuate this behavior.
- College Basketball Star Heroically Overcomes Tragic Rape He Committed. What does it mean when a comic news source provides the most piercing & apt commentary on this situation? This video from the Onion makes me laugh & cringe. I’m not sure which I did more.
Part II: Steubenville’s tragedy
I am fortunate enough to have been spared physical sexual assault thus far. I come from a small town in Ohio where I felt remarkably safe. A town a lot like Steubenville: less than 20,000 residents, more than 75% White, fierce pride in their athletics, median family incomes of under $40,000, per capita incomes of under $20,000. Rural, then industrial, now struggling economies. I felt safe. And I bet that the 16-year-old girl whose violated, unclothed, under-age body was scattered all over the Internet had felt safe, too.
Then, she wasn’t safe. She was completely isolated, judged, discarded, made less than human & put on trial by society at large. In a moment of need, the national community accused her of drinking too much and thus provoking the boys. We reminded her why women feel they must never speak out against sexual assault–because we bet men. Because we ask for it.
What struck me most, and what we don’t seem to be talking about, isn’t the fact that young men posted pictures of violating a peer on the Internet, or that the media mourned the loss of their football careers, or that no one stood up for her. It’s that this was a premeditated act. This was not one random moment of violence. This was an evening spent taking pleasure in destroying a person’s life.
Oh, but they didn’t know what they were doing. Yes, they did. This is the generation of the Internet. They know how this works, and they did it for that reason. Because to them, to those young men who–not once, but in multiple way & for an extended period of time–took advantage of a young woman… she was not a person. She was entertainment. She was worthless.
It is time that we make this behavior unacceptable. From this moment forward, we must do better to educate each other about the worth of young women & the power of sex. From waiting for an enthusiastic yes to promoting a true masculinity that is disgusted by violence to a healthy conversation with our kids about sex.
Part III: Beyoncé, and I promise this is related
I’m not a long-time Beyoncé supporter. Something about that “Run the world (Girls)” video rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t feel empowered. I felt sexualized, and it was a bummer. I think it was the men watching her roll in sand, or the fact that we are no where near running the world and the “girl power” card can actually have negative impacts on female empowerment*, or that she’s using her powers of “persuasion” to for nation building.
My point is, this year’s half-time show–and her “Take that” response to the national anthem nonsense–felt like her tone had changed in a key way. This wasn’t about Girl Power or female persuasion. This was a woman in total command of her life, making choices for herself. Because, as the glorious (and only 15!) Tavi Gevinson put it, we’re able to like fashion & “feminine” things simply because we like them. Here’s a great post about the personal (rather than “Girl”) power of that half-time show.
Then, Queen Bey released the single “Bow Down/I Been On” in preparation for her upcoming tour, The Mrs. Carter Show. It started a tornado of talk on the Internet. Rush Limbaugh tried to join the conversation but somewhat tragically misinterpreted the lyrics. I don’t normally like to give time to Rush’s deliberately controversial existence, but in this case I think it’s important. Because his listeners still believe that women should be filling traditional gender-specific roles. For those not digging the new tune, here are some key lyrics:
I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don’t forget it , don’t forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches
I took some time to live my life
But don’t think I’m just his little wife
Don’t get it twisted, get it twisted
This my shit, bow down bitches
Why is this a feminist act? The real question is, Why do we need a song to justify taking a few years off after marriage to enjoy your life? Or maybe, Why are we surprised that she came back to her passion after having a child? More than in “Run the World (Girls)”, Beyoncé is teaching young women a valuable lesson: Each decision you make–to wear lipstick, to wear a swimsuit as your stage costume, to whip your hair around, to get married, to work or not work, to study econometrics–is yours. You own it. You decide what it means, how it’s shaped & who gets to be a part of it.
Marriage & child-bearing don’t make Beyoncé subordinate to her husband. She doesn’t have to defend her actions. In 2013, she’s teaching us that you can be Mrs. Carter, you can be Obama’s favorite woman (after Michelle, obviously), you can live your life, and you can be a wife.More proof that Queen Bey & her spouse can teach our youth about marriage? Jay-Z took Beyoncé’s name.
She’s making her own roles, and they’re not attached to her gender. That’s a feminist. And that’s important when what we’re still exposing our high school girls to the fear of being humilated at school, on the Internet & in the national media for speaking up about being sexually violated. So let’s do it. Let’s start teaching our kids better. Let’s let them wear lipstick or dresses or football uniforms no matter what sexual organs God gave them. Let’s teach our kids that instead of video taping, blame-gaming or going along at a party, you stand up & stop rape. You respect sex. You earn sex with a partner; you don’t take it because that’s what a man does.
*I’ll find a link to readings on this.