The Steubenville rape case has been on my heart for quite a few months. I went to college in Steubenville and so I am familiar with the culture. I remember when I was a freshman trying to comprehend why high school football was such a big deal! When I saw Steubenville in the news, I started to pay attention. The more attention I paid, the more disturbed I was. I am going to share with you some of the reasons I think this case is a lot more complicated than people are naming, and I am going to share with you how I think we are all, at least a little, to blame.
I am in no way trying to excuse the actions that took place on that horrible night in Steubenville. For those of you that don’t know, a girl was raped repeatedly while drunk to the point of being passed out. She was dragged to multiple locations, many people were involved, and people posted videos of her being taken from one place to the next. Social media sites had pictures of her, jokes about her, etc…And, as though that isn’t evil enough, apparently at least a few people in the town tried to ‘protect’ their football stars by covering up/using false information/etc… I firmly believe any adult who actively participated in covering up these crimes should be forced to face severe consequences. And I was wish that was being talked about more.
But that aside, I think we need to start reflecting about the complexity of this case.
When the group ANNONYMOUS decided to get involved, they posted video/social media links from that night. On a random Saturday evening, I watched. And I was shocked and horrified. I could not believe the sheer number of young people involved. As I watched the twenty minute video of young men (who were clearly wasted) laughing about the torture and exploitation of the young girl, I was sick to my stomach. In the video background, people come in and out of the room, so many people aware this was happening. And then, whoever made that video, even if just for a short amount of time, posted it to youtube, so they could brag on social media about how it felt to victimize the wasted girl. As I watched the video, I thought about the young people I work for, and I wondered, if in a similar circumstance, would they be willing to do the right thing? Would they be willing to step up and say, ‘this is wrong’? I wondered if the young people I work for understand the danger of using drugs/alcohol, when the lines between right and wrong are blurred by impaired judgment. I wondered if I will be diligent enough to raise my own boys to understand the importance of self-control, respect for women and standing up against peer pressure. I wondered what in society, would lead young people to make such systematically poor decisions on a night that altered the lives of so many families .
And the conclusion I have drawn is although we should be horrified of the events on that tragic night in Steubenville, we should not be surprised. And, I’d like to explain why.
We should not be surprised because we live in a culture where the ‘fist pump’ dance was popularized by a group of people who Barbara Walters called, ‘the most fascinating’. The men of the Jersey Shore have taught us that the’ ideal day’ is a day consisting of going to the gym, tanning, and doing some laundry. That’s the ideal day. Night is something different though. At night, these men go on the prowl, avoiding the ‘grenades’ (less than attractive women who keep them from the hotties), mocking the intoxication of their peers, and stopping at nothing to make sure they get laid after a night of partying. I’m not throwing stones here, I watch reality tv with the best of them. I’m just saying, when young men look at a women as solely objects meant to bring them gratification…we should not be surprised.
We should not be surprised because we live in a culture where the number one series for women last year was a series about the handsome Christian Gray. Cloaked in mystery and romance, women flocked by the millions to read the tale of Fifty Shades of Gray…making it a number one best seller, and helping it shatter book sale statistics. ‘Women love this book’, media tells us. It happens to be a book about a woman who chooses to be tortured and enter a world of sadomasochism, but hey…isn’t that what sex and romance is all about? Again, I am not throwing stones; all of my literary choices don’t reflect the true, the good and the beautiful. I’m just saying, when women enjoy reading a distorted book about a fictional character being tortured by her lover, should we really be SHOCKED when young people struggle to understand the sacredness of sex and the importance of boundries?
We should not be surprised because the message we send young men from a very early age is respect depends on the ability to control the other. We teach young men sexual pleasure is something to pursued, bragged about, and experienced with no consequences. We teach this through our music (“shake ya a$$, watch yourself, shake ya a$$, show me what you’re workin with”), we teach through our magazines (sports illustrated swimsuit edition, shockingly, wasn’t meant for women), we teach through our movies and most of all, we teach through social media. Social media, where pornography is so rampant and starts so young, the statistics in terms of those addicted by their early twenties are mind-blowing.
And yet, we act surprised when teenage men act out a night rape and abuse.
Here’s where I might cross a line, but I am going to do it anyway. When I first heard this story, a bit of my heart broke for this young woman, a woman who was exploited by a whole community and will wear those scars forever. But, when the guilty verdict was read the other day, and pictures were shown of two guilty young men breaking down (along with their families) as the reality of consequences finally caught up to them, my heart broke a little for them as well. The bottom line is we are training young men, through popular culture, to be sexual pigs, and then, when they act that out in a night of intoxicated abuse, we act surprised.
And the next time I make a choice about the music I am listening to, the books I am reading, the movies I am watching, I am going to consider the messages they are celebrating. Because, you know what? Our youth deserve better. Much, Much better, than what we are demanding for them.