We so often think about rape and sexual assault as "women's issues" and we focus on individual cases. But the facts are that boys and men have a significant role to play in stopping rape and rape culture, and it's just that, a part of our culture.
Like many, I am outraged by the sexual assault and cover up that happened in Steubenville. While the guilty verdict and continued investigation into prosecuting others brings some small measure of justice, it's a band aid on a gunshot wound because we all know that Steubenville is but one very public example of what is happening all over the country -- in high schools, colleges, bars and elsewhere. You can help, and you should.
If you are male and reading this and thinking that there are a lot of good boys and men out there who would never assault someone, of course you're right. You may even feel sick of being lumped together with "Neanderthal" men who abuse women. I don't blame you. I imagine I might feel the same way. But it really isn't that simple, is it? Steubenville is an all-too sad reminder that rape happens within the context of rape culture. What is most disturbing about Steubenville is the role of others as bystanders, endorsers and cover-up artists. We can all contribute to preventing these crimes. Boys and men have an especially important role to play.
Several years ago a professor (Dr. Sut Jhally) came and spoke at the college where I taught. Shortly before his visit we had a female speaker (Jennifer Pozner) come and talk about how women are represented in the media. In one part of her presentation she showed some coverage from a well-known sexual assault case, involving a celebrity. Much to my horror, one male student raised his hand, in front of several hundred peers and professors, and said that woman had been a "slut" (thus the media coverage was unproblematic). Some audience members laughed. I was horrified as I believe our speaker was, although she handled the situation beautifully. So, weeks later when Dr. Jhally came to our college I told him what had happened at that event. He then incorporated a discussion of it into his talk. At one point he challenged the "popular guys" and "football players" in the room. To paraphrase, he said, if you're ever in a car with your friends and there is a girl jogging in short shorts and one of your friends wants to call out the window and shout something at her, you need to be the one to stop it. If you're in the locker room and someone is degrading girls or women, you need to be the one to say, "That isn't cool." Of course, you needn't be the popular guy or a jock to stand up for what's right.
The victim in Steubenville is your sister, girlfriend, daughter, cousin, mother, just as she is mine. And you can be a part of preventing this kind of assault and degradation from happening. If you are a good guy, if you know this was wrong and it horrified you as it did me, you need to choose to be a part of the solution. As the saying goes, "silence is complicity."
Rape culture is pervasive and isn't just about the rapist and victim. Rape culture is an environment in which rape thrives. Here are ways that you can contribute to squashing rape culture:
• Understand that if you are trying to prove something about yourself by degrading others, you are contributing to a culture in which violence is inevitable.
• Don't make light of talk that degrades girls or women including labels like "slut," "tramp," and the like. Rape thrives in environments where it is normalized and thus seems justifiable. Rape thrives when we dehumanize and categorize girls/women.
• Don't turn a blind eye when a girl/woman is being harassed (spoken to in a derogatory manner). Speak up or hang out with better guys. If this behavior caused men to lose all of their friends, they may not engage in it. If there are more good guys than bad ones, prove it.
• If you see a situation where someone looks like they are going to harass or possibly assault someone, try to get them out of that situation or if it is safer, try to get the potential victim out of that situation.
• Think about the media you consume -- from music to sports casting to comedy. Yes, there are lots of ways of justifying listening to outlandishly sexist media, but come on. You choose to consume it; you legitimate its messages.
• Teach your brothers and/or sons to respect all people and that no girl or woman ever deserves to be violated.
We all get to decide who we want to be. Who we are, our integrity, it's all we really have. Choose well.