I usually stick to jokes and book reviews here, but today I’m taking a break to discuss something that has been infuriating me all week (and has in the past, and undoubtedly will in the future). Because it’s important. All of this has been said before but I feel compelled to vent a bit.
So. There’s a news item that has been circulating the web-o-sphere recently about a Stanford student convicted of sexual assault–and then only sentenced to 6 months because the judge felt bad for him. Here is the very detailed, very upsetting letter read in court by the woman who was assaulted. And here is the distressing and very illuminating letter by the boy’s father explaining why he doesn’t think his son deserves any punishment.
Digest a second.
If you ever encounter somebody who is confused by the concept of ‘rape culture’ or skeptical about how it can exist when rape is technically illegal, here is your textbook example:
It’s the incident itself (girl is drunk at a party and herded away to seclusion), which is so common that people are coming out of the woodwork in comment sections to say “what’s the big deal, that’s what happens at parties.”
It’s the media, which finds out a rich, white athlete is accused of rape and spends article after article bemoaning how this will affect the future of such a bright young man of potential. [See also: the romanticizing of school shooters]
It’s the legal process, in which a victim only has a chance in hell of conviction by going into court armed with extensive forensic evidence and multiple eyewitnesses–and will still be put through a grueling, insulting attempt at character assassination by the defense.
[Sidebar here: your personality and sexual history should have nothing to do with whether a crime was committed. I don’t care if you are the world’s busiest prostitute and you agreed to a transaction and then changed your mind. Still a crime to rape you!]
It’s the judge providing a lenient sentence, not because the boy’s guilt is questionable in any way, but because he doesn’t want this regrettable incident to impact his life too much.
It’s the boy’s statement of regret, in which he clearly still does not understand which part of what he did was wrong, and pledges to do public speaking gigs about his experience, so he can warn other boys that a night of heavy drinking might ruin their lives, too. (Oh you poor boys, facing the prospect of being convicted of a crime for your criminal actions!)
It’s the boy’s father clearly exhibiting why his son doesn’t understand what rape is, by arguing that he shouldn’t be punished for a mere “20 minutes of action.”
And of course, as always, it is the cesspool of Internet comment sections blowing up with speculation about the incident and insisting that the only real rape is when a guy hits a perfectly sober and resistant woman over the head and drags her into the bushes. This is just a story about a poor boy who got carried away!
Like, how much more evidence do you really need?? This is why so many women don’t bother to file charges. Filing charges means having to repeat your humiliating story repeatedly to strangers and then have your entire life and history scrutinized in an attempt to dig up a sordid detail that paints you an unreliable accuser. And then, of course, if a woman keeps silent at the time and then discusses the incident later in life, people scoff and question her account because psh, if it really happened why didn’t you file charges?
It’s like when those three women finally escaped the psychopath in Cleveland after a decade of captivity and horrific treatment, and some of the first comments I saw online were along the lines of: “I don’t see how you could hold somebody captive that long. They must have had Stockholm Syndrome and liked him a little or they would have escaped earlier.”
And at that point I just
I want to have a daughter. But it is frightening to think of how paranoid and how lucky you have to be to raise a girl to adulthood without something like this happening. Because it’s largely luck in this country. You’ve got to worry about your sons when they’re little because the world is full of monsters preying on children, but as he grows up you know that the threat of certain crimes drops to statistical unlikelihood for him, whereas your girls are going to have this hang over their heads for the rest of their lives.
[Don’t pop in telling me stats on sexual crimes against men. I KNOW. And yet I still haven’t met a guy who strategically plans his schedule, appearance, and activities around not giving the wrong impression in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who treats all the women he encounters with nervous caution just in case, etc etc.]
And it pisses me off that there is a difference. That I can’t just raise my potential kids the same way regardless of sex/gender, with some practical safety advice about not getting in cars with strangers, and expect that they will be equally safe as a result. That if I have a girl I’ll have to arm her with a ton of advice about how most violence is perpetrated by somebody you know, and here are all the underhanded ways they’ll try to take advantage of you and make you feel at fault. That, on the flip side, having a boy means I’ve got to work hard to teach him to be ethical and outspoken before outside cultural forces sink in, so that when he encounters slippery slope attitudes in his friends he has the confidence to call them out on that shit.
Pisses. Me. Off.
Basically, if somebody uses the phrase “boys will be boys” I will have to slap them in the face. And if somebody tells a little girl that the boy who pushed her in the schoolyard or threw dirt at her just did it “because he likes you,” then I will have to unhinge my jaw like a snake and swallow them whole.
It pisses me off that the first time I narrowly escaped assault I was only 16. A friend of mine started hanging out with some guys in their mid-20s. I met one of them at a high school Halloween party, where he followed me around and kept trying to give me shoulder rubs. Shortly after that he and one of his friends invited the two of us to another party (in retrospect I wonder if there was anyone else there). I didn’t want to go because they creeped me out. She went anyway. The second guy got her good and drunk. You can fill in the rest. They dropped her off at my house the next morning and sped off. We tried to get her to file charges but she wouldn’t. I understand why.
I feel guilty to this day for not talking her out of going. And it pisses me off that I should feel “lucky” and even grateful that I was already paranoid enough by age 16 to trust my instinct and bow out of the invite, even though at the time the only way I could articulate it was “he makes me uncomfortable.” That I had enough skepticism and self-esteem to wonder “why is a 24-year-old hitting on a 16-year-old and not other 24-year-olds?” instead of being flattered.
All these years I’ve vaguely thought of it as a situation in which she went to a party and drank too much and the guy saw an opportunity and took it. Except today the whole thing popped into my head and I don’t know how it took me so long for this to click, but oh my god, Sam, duh. That was the plan from the get-go, and I was invited over expressly so the first guy could do the same to me. Raaaaaaaaaaage.
And then of course there was college. As you could probably guess, I was a big nerd who was way too busy studying to be much of a party-goer, but I went to a few before deciding it wasn’t really my scene. And a couple times I had guys pop out of nowhere with drinks they made for me, and I politely took them and politely dumped them out at the next opportunity without taking a sip, because I’m good and paranoid. I don’t know how many times I need to say this, but you shouldn’t have to be a paranoid homebody to avoid sexual violence.
And then there were years of working in customer service and taking public transportation, when the easiest way to get a guy to stop hassling me would be to say I had a fiance, whether I did or not. And that’s a whole ‘nother category of angry, because they didn’t leave me alone out of respect for my wishes, but out of respect for my fictional man.
If the only way you can empathize with women is to ask “What if she were my daughter?” then you have a problem, my friend. I gnash my teeth every time I see a wheedling article trying to convince men to treat women better for this reason, because it inevitably comes across like they’re arguing, “You wouldn’t want other men to mistreat your women, would you? So why would you go and mistreat other men’s women?” GNASH.
It’s the episode of 30 Rock in which Tracy Morgan is hitting on a woman and has a revelation. “Virginia? But that’s my daughter’s name. Are you also someone’s daughter? IS EVERY WOMAN SOMEONE’S DAUGHTER?”
Mallory Ortberg of The Toast wrote my all-time favorite parody of the father-daughter argument, by the way. I don’t have a good way to end this post because the situation is perpetually unresolved, so instead I will link you out to something very funny with which to cleanse your palate: “As A Father of Daughters.”