For those of you who used to read my “Sex Geek” column, you know that about a year ago I got a little upset lost it over rape jokes being posted in a facebook group and called it out. This wasn’t something that had happened overnight- it was definitely a result of years of hearing my peers talking about “raping” their exams, comments about how women wanted Chris Brown to beat them (or calling Rihanna out on pressing charges against him, since obviously she liked that kind of treatment), other inappropriate comments on that same message board, and a police officer in Toronto telling women that they could prevent rape by not dressing like sluts.
Well, I was verbally attacked/berated over facebook, heard plenty of jokes about how I obviously just needed a good fucking to get over being such a prude, and had friends stop talking to me. Imagine my shock/disgust to find out that the response I got was downright prudish compared to what others have gone through. (Look up Anita Sarkeesian to see what I mean- when she asked for funding to look at how women were treated in video games, she was subject to some of the most disgusting threats I’ve ever heard. There was even a video game designed where a player could beat her up.)
I’m happy to say though, my response didn’t go unnoticed. Other people started speaking out. I received messages from others who had seen the rape jokes and had felt too afraid to say anything, or from those who had experienced rape themselves thank me for saying something. The president of the university issued a statement, I was asked to write more about rape culture, and there were some pretty serious discussions about how we needed to change things. And the student group that had been blamed (unfairly) for these jokes had me come in for a serious discussion about how they could make campus a safer place for women. A couple of weeks later, a post showed up in the same group saying that when students had been singing that same drinking song/rape parody, the bus driver pulled over and called them out.
Regardless, there were a lot of people who said “What’s the big deal? Rape jokes don’t mean I’m going to rape someone or think it’s okay to do that?”
And I’m really sad to say that there is now plenty of social media that shows that this really isn’t the case.
Have you heard about Steubenville? If you haven’t, unfortunately you’re not alone. Here’s the rundown: it’s the birthplace of Dean Martin, a steel town that’s been suffering since the 80s, and the middle of a controversy where two of their star high school football players have been arrested for rape.
But wait, it gets worse. The survivor in this case, a sixteen year old girl who had been unconscious when she was allegedly assaulted by the two teens who have been arrested found out about it over social media.
That’s right, it was a joke. Everyone at the party heard about it. There were tweets, videos, and pictures either of the girl or of partygoers joking about it. Her parents later came forward and pressed charges (and let me say: good for them!). But it really wasn’t taken all that seriously by police. By now, we all know that this kind of incident is quietly brushed aside, especially when it comes to athletes (see Notre Dame and Amherst for very recent examples WARNING: the Amherst site may be particularly triggering). Though they’d been charged, these players weren’t even benched. And two months after it was reported, a writer decided to bring attention to the case to force officials to act. The story ended up being picked up by the New York Times.
But did that mean that Steubenville changed their act? I wish. The two football players ended up suing the writer for putting this information out there. One of the coaches made the statement that
“The rape was just an excuse, I think. . . What else are you going to tell your parents when you come home drunk like that and after a night like that? . . . She had to make up something. Now people are trying to blow up our football program because of it.”
I know what you’re thinking: No way, a coach couldn’t actually say something that awful! Unfortunately. . . it was his statement in the New York Times! The town is split on whether or not these boys have done anything wrong, despite the fact that there are videos of it! There are witnesses (who have largely refused to do anything), comments from Twitter, and pictures from Instagram.
But the international attention still wasn’t enough to get the police to take the matter seriously. Instead, a wing of the Anonymous movement (“Knightsec”) had to threaten to expose secrets about the adults (especially the police) involved in the case if they didn’t apologize to the survivor.
The police didn’t do as requested.
Okay, so here’s where the situation is. It took anonymous internet vigilantes exposing awful secrets about the supposed authorities in the case of a passed out 16-year-old who was videotaped being sexually assaulted to get anyone to take the case seriously. That’s only after international attention. And the town is still deeply divided. The prosecution has even said that the accused in this case might not be able to get a fair trial in Steubenville.
Ummm. . . how about we pay attention to the survivor here? She and her family have been threatened repeatedly since then. She’s been the subject of intense media scrutiny (and analysis of her social media presence for proof that she was asking for it). SHE HAD TO LEARN ABOUT HER OWN RAPE BY FINDING IT ON SOCIAL MEDIA. How about the number of people who have told her that it was her fault, that she was asking for it, or that she’s responsible for the bad press the town is getting?
How about all the other rape victims out there who have tried coming forward and been scared off by what the police/lawyers have said? What about those women who have been threatened, intimidated, forced to withdraw from school, threatened with legal action, or lost their lives because of this kind of behaviour?
But back to the social media issue. I’m going to propose something totally radical here. Not every single person who made a comment or joke about the incident is a totally morally bankrupt person. In fact, there may have been good people there who did/said something stupid. Or who weren’t trying to hurt anyone when they posted any part of this. (I’m not defending the actions of anyone, I just don’t believe that every single person here is necessarily a monster). But how about this? They heard jokes being made about a rape, and thought it was just another rape joke? Or maybe even thought “this sounds really weird/wrong/illegal”, but were pressured into keeping quiet by those around them who didn’t see anything wrong with it?
I know, I may be totally wrong on this. But go with it for a minute. If rape jokes are okay, how are you supposed to know when one is going too far? Like when Daniel Tosh suggested it would be funny if the woman in the audience who told him rape jokes aren’t funny was gang-raped. (BTW, I’m not saying comedians are the enemy. Check out this awesome video made by a comedian who figured out what rape culture is all about). Now let’s flip our paradigm for a minute. If boy were brought up in a culture that said “rape jokes aren’t funny, they’re making light of a serious crime that 1 in 3 women experience, and it’s not going to be tolerated when they joke about it”? What would have made things different that night? Would someone have stepped in? Would someone have stepped up and said “not cool, we’re not going to let you do this”? Would the football coaches have said “this is morally reprehensible behaviour, we’re ashamed to have these young men who have been charged with this vicious crime associated with our football program and they’re kicked off the team”? I can’t say so definitively, but clearly our current approach isn’t working.
(By the way, there are reports going around that police are looking into another rape perpetrated by members of the football team.)
Instead we live in a rape culture. Where it’s okay to do this. Where the biggest story about Notre Dame football is that one of the players had a fake girlfriend who died, not that a young woman took her own life after reporting football players for rape and the police didn’t take it seriously. Where a woman who has sex is called a slut, a woman who says no to sex is a prude, and a woman who is raped is asking for it. We live in a culture where women take classes on how to ward off dangerous criminals who attack them in the night, as though it’s their responsibility to make sure that anyone who tries to rape them doesn’t succeed. A culture that thinks suggestions like “don’t put drugs in anyone’s drink” and “if you see someone dressed in provocative clothing, don’t attack them” are funny, but “don’t let anyone put drugs in your drink” and “don’t wear provocative clothing” are REAL tips that women are given to keep themselves safe.
I’ve been reading and thinking about these issues a lot lately, so expect to see a lot more on these issues.
But let me leave you with this final thought to from an openly gay man I was discussion casual sex with a couple of years ago. I told him that the stakes were way higher in terms of hooking up with a stranger than for men. His response?
“Yeah, I guess that’s true. There are times I’ll be going home with a guy and think. . . he’s way bigger than me, he could really hurt me if he wanted. And then I realized. . . this must be what women feel like ALL the time.”