The Final Verdict in Steubenville: The rapists are the victims

One year. That’s the minimum sentence for these boys. Delivered with sympathy by your U.S. media, lamenting their bright futures as if this were a tragic mistake for them and not a trauma for the victim herself. How sad, the “lasting effect” on these boys, rather than the lasting effect on the young woman. How tragic, that Ohio law has “placed on them” the “label” of designated sex offender.

Others have articulated the issues with this better than I can, but I have to wonder how many tears that young woman has cried, off camera, while someone rubbed her back and said, “You know, this is why you shouldn’t drink.” Because that’s how it goes for the rest of us. That’s what happens when you speak up about something atrocious that happens to you. You, victim, are a life-destroyer; you, victim, should feel guilty about what you have done. It will not be easy to change this, but I do think it is worth signing the petition to hold CNN accountable.

Here’s your roundup, should your heart feel up to it today:

* Laurie Penny, at The New Statesman: “Steubenville: This is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment”

* Dave Zirin, at The Nation: “The Verdict: Steubenville shows the bond between rape culture and jock culture” [related: “The Trouble with Football”]

* And Michelle Dean, from two months ago at the New Yorker:

… these tweets and photos, as far as public discussion should be concerned, are proof of the flippancy and indifference with which some part of America greets the report of sexual assault. If you want to know why sexual assault is so difficult to prosecute, you needn’t look much further than that.

To which I quietly add one word: Amen.

I’m Over It, Too

If you’re following these issues at all, you probably already know three things about rape culture:

  1. Indian women are over it. Don’t even make me put all those hyperlinks in here. It’s not just New Delhi. If you really want a new definition of brutal sexual assault, use your Google machine and type in the words rape or gang rape and Haryana. If you’re not in a place where it will be okay to weep openly, try not to read the stories about prepubescent girls – and be warned, there are lots of them.
  2. The U.S. Congress doesn’t care. (Why are we not surprised?) America may be starting to, as fallout from the Steubenville, Ohio attack is finally hitting the news, or it could just be another case of the somebody-should-do-somethings.
  3. Eve Ensler is over it, and asking us all to be the somebody who does something.

Well, I won’t be reading any of her monologues anytime soon, but I will be joining Ms. Ensler to Occupy Rape on February 14, 2012. One way or another, I’ll be telling my own story.

Why? Because we have allowed shame to silence so many victims and empower so many perpetrators. Because we’ve accepted this culture for so long. Because yes, there is a link between sexual violence and women’s ability to succeed in the workplace.

A culture that passes off sexual harassment as mere “eve teasing” – sorry, in Western parlance, “boys will be boys” – is a culture that will never treat women as equals.

So why do we – nice, polite girls who try to cover up our cleavage and suck it up when the powerful old guys talk to us like we’re trash – let Slut Walk and Eve Ensler do our dirty work?

I joined Ms. Ensler’s campaign, but for me, standing up doesn’t mean reading one of her plays. It means speaking up in my own voice. It means pointing out that rape isn’t just something that happens in Appalachia or at frat parties or in far-off places. A culture that blames women’s bodies for tempting the men around them is reprehensible, whether it’s expressed by covering women in burqas or firing them for their curves or even shunning them from church because their God-given breasts are too big. (And I’m not just talking about Jessica Simpson, here.)

In this kind of culture, the only way to be taken seriously as a woman is to erase your body as much as possible. That can take the form of voluntary breast reduction, something many women I know have done. It can take the form of weight gain or loss. It can take the form of dressing as masculine as possible, as commentators like Ruth Marcus recommend, condemning young, single women to a joyless future with no room for sexuality.

That’s why I’m inspired by other women who refuse to play by those rules, and I don’t mean by wearing skintight dresses in the workplace. I mean by simply being women, their full selves, in whatever context, and refusing to accept any gender-based barriers to success.

Don’t just do it for the rest of us, do it for yourself. It’s a question of honor.