It’s weird that we are on the brink of seeing our first woman presidential candidate and our conversation is about the Stanford rapist. Such an incredible achievement clouded by the fact that we are still having to explain the difference between sex and rape. With Brock Turner’s lenient sentence, the judge’s justification of it, and his father’s letter, it’s clear that despite how far we have come, we have not progressed at all. I take that back. I guess the fact that Turner’s crime is being discussed openly and pretty loudly, at least online, is progress of a sort.
Just before the latest hullabaloo, I had an argument with a friend about how girls dress for school. We were talking about dress codes, or the lack thereof, and the conversation turned to yoga pants. This friend said she thought women, young women in particular, needed to dress more appropriately, that tight pants and low cut shirts were too distracting to young men and should be outlawed in school.
I tried to be polite. I do not think I was successful. Why, because my daughter was born with breasts and a butt, should she have to hide her body, I asked? Well, no, that’s not what I mean, answered my friend, but young women should be aware and take more responsibility for being a distraction. So my daughter should wear sacks or a burkha to hide her distracting shape, I asked. She ended the conversation with I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is.
She’s right. It is the way it is. It is an attitude that is ingrained in us, men and women alike. It is wrong though. Why don’t we put the onus, or even ANY responsibility on young men to behave better to women no matter WHAT they are wearing, no matter how much they have had to drink, no matter how flirtatiously they may have behaved? Why don’t we call men out for behaving poorly, catcallling, telling us to smile? It makes me enraged to watch men, older men who should know better, gawk at my daughter in a store, to look her up and down like she’s there for them to leer at, and not there to get a pack of gum or cup of coffee.
James Fell, an internationally syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and author, had a great blog post “She Doesn’t Owe You Shit.” The piece was the end product of his asking on his Facebook page for women to share their examples of harassment. “I didn’t realize what I was in for, thinking I might get a dozen replies,” he wrote. “Was I ever wrong. Reading through every word of the several hundred responses, many sent via private message, was a daunting task that made me feel sick.”
Reading them made me sick, too, even though I had experienced versions of many of the examples myself.
I heard my mother commenting to my father that she understands Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s assertions that a rape victim should bear partial responsibility for her rape because she was drunk. I was grateful to hear my father respond absolutely not.
Fell is not the only male who has been commenting on the rapist. A friend shared a Facebook post by Melvinder Singh that was brilliant in its simplicity (and make me want to read more of his writing!)
What can we do? How can we change our “boys will be boys” culture? I believe that it comes down to mutual respect (as do most things.) To teaching our children to trust their gut–that if it feels wrong it is wrong. (Brock Turner knew what he was doing was wrong; he ran away when discovered.) And to refusing to accept that it’s just the way it is.