I just watched a twelve-and-a-half minute video from YouTube and it made me angrier than I have been in a long time. It was of a high school boy making tasteless jokes about the girl who was raped repeatedly at a party he was at in Steubenville, Ohio. The case made the news and has started a national dialogue about teenagers and alcohol and rape. The boy in the video clearly does not understand how horrific the experience was and will be for the victim. He is a teenage boy callous in the way that many teenage boys are—in the way that I probably was as a teenage boy at an all-boy school, playing on the football team. His main refrain, “She is so dead,” is delivered each time with a laugh and something approaching admiration, (though for who or what I cannot say.)
My high school days are long past and I no longer make rape jokes or call people “faggot,” but I certainly used to when I was 16. This is not something I am proud of. I am sure my parents and teachers would have characterized me as a good kid, and I WAS a good kid. But I also laughed at jokes about rape. At sixteen I did not have enough experience of the world to understand just how awful a thing rape is.
And there were not enough adults in my life helping me to understand.
Now I am 47 and I am the father of a 13-year old daughter. She is not yet drinking alcohol or going to parties where boys are drunk and adult supervision is lax or non-existent. But she will be at some point in the not-too-distant future. And watching that video just now has scared the shit out of me. It made me commit to opening a discussion with my daughter, no matter how uncomfortable it might make us both. I need her to know just how shitty boys can be sometimes. A little bit of naiveté can, in this domain, wreak lifelong damage.
Much of the national reaction to this case has tacitly apportioned some of the blame to the victim for getting so very drunk at a party with football players. Of course I don’t want my daughter to get that drunk as a teenager (or ever, really). But I also don’t want her to feel like any girl or woman EVER has the blame for getting raped. I want her to see the “What was she wearing? Why was she so drunk? Why was she at that bar at 2 am?” line of questioning for the bullshit it is. Blaming the victim of a rape in any way serves only to relieve men and boys of the responsibility to control their own actions.
Just as the massacre of 26 children and teachers in Newtown has pushed the discussions of gun control and mental illness to a new, harder-to-ignore, level I hope this case in Steubenville will push the discussion of rape out into the open and get us as a nation to look more closely at how we talk (or don’t talk) about dignity and respect and rape with our middle school and high schools sons and daughters.
Excellent commentary on the reaction to the Steubenville case by blogger Lauren Nelson
Good article by Kim Simon on teaching our boys to be kind.