In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, a 2011 skit from The Onion's Sportsdome on Comedy Central predicted the Steubenville rape story almost to a T. In the satirical sports segment, done with emotional background music, reporters document the story of a student athlete who scored a record amount of points, "overcoming" the fact that he raped someone the night before. The framing of the news segment is not about the irreparable damage to the victim, but how the young man courageously moved beyond four allegations of sexual assault to become a top scholar and athlete.
"It felt good to show people that I'm not just a rapist, I'm a basketball player first," the athlete says.
Fast-forward to Aug. 11, 2012 when two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, carried around a teenage girl to a series of parties, took pictures of themselves raping her in various settings, then bragged about their crime on social media. The hormone-driven boys were especially hyped up after a win, when rapist and quarterback Trent Mays tweeted post-victory, "Party at jake howarths!!!! Huge party!!! Banger!!!!" The day after, he tweeted, "Some of these "nice dudes" need ta shut the hell up." The following day Mays tweeted, "Ya see, what had happened was..." followed by "Nothing even happened ppl seriously need to shut up."
Despite attempts by the football-proud community to cover up the story, a cell of the hacker collective Anonymous called "KnightSec" unleashed Operation Roll Red Roll, leaking a 12-minute video of the rapists and their friends laughing about their crime, even underscoring the fact that it was a rape as they drunkenly laughed about the unconscious teenager being unable to wake up despite a "wang in the butthole." Before Anonymous seized the Twitter account of Michael Nodianos, the boy talking in the video, they took a screenshot of him commenting on a picture of the unconscious rape victim by saying, "Song of the night is definitely Rape Me by Nirvana."
On March 12, in the midst of the trial, Good Morning America ran a segment called "Steubenville Rape Case: What You Haven't Heard" that focused entirely on the perspective of the rapists, coming from a storied high school football team, who just happened to rape someone after partying too hard. Their only passing mentions of the victim were intertwined with either how much she was coming on to her rapist at the first party, or how drunk she was as the night went on, and even how gentlemanly her rapist had been when he chivalrously gave his rape victim his coat so she wouldn't get cold. From the story:
"Several witnesses said that once outside, the girl needed to stop in the street because she was sick again. "She throws up on her blouse and takes her blouse off," Ma'lik said. "And then she asked for something to drink and I gave her my jacket to cover her up."
The Good Morning America story capped their account of the lovable, complex, human rapists with a lamenting sentence about how a conviction would ensure "almost certain demise of their dreams of playing football."
And of course, after the verdict was read, CNN infamously framed their sensationalized coverage with video of the teen rapists crying as they apologized for their crimes, and commentary from two talking heads about how the boys' lives will never be the same, and how they'll have the albatross of being labeled as a sex offender for the rest of their lives. CNN pundits had nothing to offer on how being gang-raped while unconscious will undoubtedly scar the 16-year-old victim for life, or how nights like that Aug. 11 in Steubenville happen every day across America, to high school girls, college girls, and adult women alike. The entire sad story of Steubenville reeks of patriarchal culture.
It's the same culture that tells young boys that to be a man, you have to be aggressively virile in every aspect of life. Our culture is one that tells young men that to be validated by your peers, you have to suppress any feelings toward women that involve treating them as equals rather than as sexual objects to be conquered. It's the same culture that tells men that to be wanted by a woman, you have to be virile and aggressive or she'll leave you for another man who is more virile and aggressive than you are. A patriarchal hetero-normative culture punishes boys who violate any of these rules with being ostracized as a "fag" by other boys in their social circles until they harden up and conform. For evidence of this, go to Google, and type in "Women should," "Women shouldn't," "Women want," and "Women need." The most popular searches that come up should horrify any decent person.
This cultural brainwashing of boys is done systematically from a young age through television, movies, music, and a tradition of idolizing virile professions like college and professional football. This cultural rot will continue, and we'll continue to see incidents like Steubenville happen on a regular basis until men become allies, embrace feminism not as a pejorative label but as something to be proud of, and collectively speak out against patriarchy. Let's demand a cultural evolution, and let Steubenville be the first step.