By: Suzy Berkowitz, Rachel Freeman, Angela Matua, Carolyn Quimby, Katherine Speller & Cat Tacopina
Last summer, a 16-year-old girl was raped in Steubenville, Ohio by two prominent high school football players. At the time of her rape, she was too drunk to consent, or even recall what happened to her.
The Steubenville case managed to capture national attention on numerous platforms thanks to the countless bystanders who traded footage and images of the unconscious girl as the crime was being committed. Months later, this victim is still under national scrutiny, garnering attention that sadly demonstrates and perpetuates the sad reality of rape culture.
As women, journalists and decent human beings, the women (and the non-women, I’m sure) of The Oracle were appalled. We would like to make a few things about this case — and the media, cultural responses that followed — perfectly clear.
A culture that tells women their value — and claim to basic human privileges — rests between their legs is one that grooms them to become victims. This is culture that tells women not to get raped yet does nothing to prevent the rapists from committing their crimes.
This is rape culture: ensuring rapists are punished takes a backseat to promoting and protecting a climate of fear.
On Relational Language and Slut Shaming
In the media and in politics, women are wives, daughters, mothers, sisters. That qualifier serves to position them — humanize them, somehow — in relation to men. It’s easy to say that these terms are meant in solidarity, however it’s one of those technical criticisms that makes the good intentions of those using said language irrelevant.
The language we choose to use makes an argument of its own. This relational lens we see women through ties a woman’s humanity and worth to her male relations. Somehow, she must be validated to earn compassion.
She shouldn’t have to be your wife, daughter, mother or sister to deserve dignity and/or respect for her bodily autonomy.
Similarly, the language used to describe women and to prescribe them value represents a greater issue. Clearly, the slut-shaming column from two issues ago has not reached the eyes it was meant for, ie., all those whose tweets were featured on publicshaming.tumblr.com.
The tweets on this blog are prime examples of how slut-shaming can easily evolve into victim-blaming, showing a slew of disgusting examples of people projecting the fault of the rape onto the victim.
These tweets, and others featured on this site, reek of victim-blaming, wherein the victim in this case is pinned as “just a loose, drunk slut,” and is implied to be unworthy of respect and sexual autonomy. The choices a person makes regarding her own sexuality will never, ever justify another person violating her. Ever.
Reinforcing Male Entitlement and Rape Apologism
If CNN and every other media outlet showed us anything, it’s that even if a man commits the most heinous of crimes against a woman (without killing her,) he should be entitled to sympathy over how his life will change for what he’s done. Men are entitled to compassion and well-wishes for their lives to get back on track once their (too) short sentences are done.
It would be nice if that same sympathy and compassion entitled to the rapists were something the actual victim was entitled to in this case as well.
Oh wait, it is.
Let’s make one thing explicitly clear: there was only one victim in this case.
However, the media would lead you to believe otherwise. When we have prominent news anchors telling us how “difficult” it was to watch these two rapists, who had such “promising futures,” see their lives fall apart, it is astonishing and disturbing. Our culture is rife with rape apologists.
When the news should be focusing on the dehumanizing violation this young girl had to endure and the lifelong trauma she must now deal with, it instead makes her invisible. The new victims are Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, the star athletes and students. It is simply unfathomable.
Yes, their lives are perhaps destroyed, but they did it to themselves the moment they decided to commit rape. If you don’t want to destroy your life and be held accountable for your actions, don’t take advantage of a severely and blatantly incapacitated girl. It’s really quite easy.
And the excuse of thinking there was consent goes to shit when there’s a viral video of bystanders describing this poor girl as “dead.”
Speaking of, let’s briefly discuss how Michael Nodianos, the star of said video, received numerous threats and was forced to leave Ohio State University. While his actions were incredibly difficult to stomach, and his consequences deserved, the bile he spewed seems to have received more public backlash than the actions of both Mays and Richmond. On a similar note, this unbelievably brave girl is also receiving threats, while our media ponders the harsh realities of these boys being found guilty and being registered as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. Oh, how my heart breaks. They are guilty and registered as sex offenders because they are sex offenders.
Why is this so incomprehensible to so many people? Especially to educated, informed people? Why do so many people feel the need to sympathize with these rapists and make excuses for them, to point out their every positive quality? How can the focus not be on this 16 year old girl who was harmed in the most disgusting and degrading way possible, but still had the courage to stand up to her assailants? Instead, these men who just couldn’t stop themselves from not only raping her, but spreading images of it, are mourned. Their lives are literally mourned.
How sad that their futures are so bleak because they chose to rape someone.
Girl on Girl Crime
Men haven’t been the only ones to humiliate, degrade, and harass the Steubenville victim. In fact, women have been some of the most vocal people in condemning the young girls “choices” — let’s clarify that her rapists took away any choice she had. Girl hate is not unique to the Steubenville case, but it illuminates a larger, societal problem that has not been given the proper attention.
Women are taught from a young age to see other women as competition in everything from physical beauty to relationships to careers, which is why it’s not uncommon to hear women say “I hate girls” or “girls are the worst.” Pitting women against each other only serves the patriarchy. When women resent each other, they won’t question why they feel inferior and they certainly won’t question why they so desperately try to impress their only real threat — men.
It would be too easy to say that women are simply jealous of one another — although that probably has something to do with it. This culture of girl hate is a product of a patriarchal society that stifles any possibility of forging true bonds with women or those who identify as such.
In our culture, it’s cool to be a “girl’s guy” or to have a lot of male friends, and — for some women — being called “one of the guys” is the highest compliment. But have they ever wondered why? Why do we, as women, only truly feel accepted when we’ve been completely stripped of our gender? We are so desperate to alienate ourselves from our gender, because being a woman feels like a societal burden too heavy to carry.
While commenting on the Steubenville case, women were throwing around slurs like “slut” and “whore,” alongside the men they were so desperately trying to impress. But, they don’t seem to think that if they were the victim, the men laughing at their Facebook and Twitter posts would be hurling those same insults at them. Today, they may be “one of the guys,” but tomorrow they could be the target. We constantly debase our own gender, so is it really a surprise that men do as well?
As women, we need to stop the cycle. We need to harbor safe communities. We need to recognize that another woman’s success is not our failure. We need to stop hating each other for coexisting in a society that will never truly accept us.