It’s wearying, this constant reminder that we live in a culture that has standards at odds with lofty goals. People make special conditions for their principles. The people lamenting the “ruined” lives of the Steubenville rapists would no doubt feel completely different had the victim been their daughter. But there’s no hesitation to indulge in public shaming since it’s their favored sons who are going to have pay a penalty for indulging what we too often give implicit permission.
I remember clearly the moment the disparity really struck home for me. I was maybe eighteen or nineteen, watching a Sixty Minutes segment on some aspect of sexuality. Most of the report is a fog. It had to do with attitudes in Italy, where publicly available contraception had caused a huge stir (for obvious reasons) and Sixty Minutes did its usual job of crunching numbers and finding relevant interviews. The bit that stuck with me was a breakdown of premarital attitudes of Italian males and females.
Something like 80% of Italian girls (premaritally) wanted to marry a man who had had sexual experience. Close to that percentage of young Italian men insisted they would only marry a virgin.
How was this to be addressed? Where were all those young men going to get the experience their future wives desired if not from the very girls the men would then refuse to marry should they provide said experience?
I worked this over for weeks, trying to make sense of both the disparity and a culture that accepted this without much question, with an “of course” attitude that expected boys to get laid before marriage and demanded girls keep their legs crossed. Regardless of the stated principles of society, down deep where people live in their skulls, this is the common attitude, and has been thus for millennia.
That’s the attitude we’re seeing on full display in the reaction to the Steubenville trial. Oh, they were just being high-spirited boys! They didn’t mean anything by it! Why ruin their futures with a guilty verdict for doing what we all expect undisciplined unreflective un-self-aware young males to do? I mean, there but for the grace of Twitter…!
And the girl? Fox has named her, an absolutely unconscienable act of malice and insensitivity, and most of the networks have been focusing on the “promise” of these boys now endangered and the hell with the girl.
Because she shouldn’t have been there. Because she’s one of those girls that teased the bull and “got what was coming to her.”
We have halfway internalized the idea that women are allowed to have sex lives, but on some level it seems a lot of people think that if indeed a woman wants to partake of sex outside the rigid guidelines of past traditions then she should be willing to accept it no matter what form in comes in. That any woman who wants to have sex outside of marriage (before, during, after, or remaining unmarried) has forfeited the right to be selective. Whether we say that or not, this is at the heart of the reaction to this case.
And somehow, the idea that we should teach young men not to rape is viewed in some quarters as an absurd idea.
This is, by the way, one of the main bases of fundamentalist Islamic practices in this regard, that men have no control over their libidoes and the only solution is to keep the women in cages to spare the hapless males the temptation. I mention it here because in Islamic sha’ria law it is so blatantly obvious, but we in the West more or less nurture a similar idea. It is a ridiculous abandonment of an idea of teaching and training that is taken for granted in most other areas of life. We assume we can teach people to behave when it comes to just about anything else. It would be laughable if a defense were mounted for a thief that said, “Well, that house should not have been there, looking so prosperous. My client couldn’t help himself seeing such temptation.” We would laugh and unsympathetically sentence the thief for his crime. Because we assume people can learn, can be taught.
Except in sex. Gosh, when it comes to that, there’s nothing we can do. Despite evidence to the contrary, despite programs that do just that—programs that are fought tooth and nail by people who seek to blame the woman because their feckless men can’t understand limits, boundaries, and seem to have the notion that any sex they can get (and get away with) is just their due.
The added fact that these boys were football players just makes it even more absurd. How could such youth not be given complete sympathy? They are the standard bearers of our culture. Football is next to christianity to some people. You can’t take that away!
We privilege our athletes too much in the first place. Males who already believe they have rights to other peoples’ well being who are also athletes make for an ugliness of which we should ourselves be ashamed, because we’ve handed them the keys to the house and implied that any harm they do we’ll put down to “boyish enthusiasm”—because we don’t want them to be punished when what they do is so important to us.
I’ve got no sympathy for these boys. They thought they were getting away with something. They furthermore didn’t think what they were getting away with was really wrong because they bragged about it. I want to know how come they missed the part that says fucking someone who has not said, very explicitly and very soberly, yes is absolutely wrong. By bragging about it, they not only demonstrated that they didn’t think it was wrong but that they felt they deserved it.
And The Culture seems bent on validating their belief.
Shame on us.