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From “Girls” to Steubenville, It’s Time To Ditch America’s “Rape Culture” for Good

| March 29, 2013

Enough with droogs.

Enough with droogs.

By Alana Baum

Usually when I’m angry about something, my first instinct is to write. And while I’m furious about what happened to that 16-year-old girl in Ohio, I’m hesitant to lend more ink to the topic, because every additional word adds to the explosive media gossip-fest this has become.

But if we’re going to stop having more Steubenvilles, people have to start responding to the current tragedies with more than just passivity, victim-blaming, and claims like, “I’m tired of hearing about rape.”

HBO’s Girls — a show I normally revere for its unparalleled ability to get my generation talking about sex in long-overdue ways — recently featured a scene in which Adam (a grungy, aggressive, yet mostly adorable weirdo) pressured his new girlfriend Natalia into having rough nonconsensual sex.

other-wordsEven I, with my feminist education and anti-rape activist badge, was too taken aback at first, too cautious of the absence of a verbal “no” from Natalia, to call this display of sex what it was: nonconsensual.

For the whole duration of the scene, she had a look of bewilderment and fear on her face. It was clear that she neither enjoyed, nor consented to, Adam’s display of power and control. But he didn’t even stop to notice.

Why is it the responsibility of women and girls to avoid being raped? I’m sick of being told to walk with friends at night, keep an eye on my drink, and say “no” loudly and clearly if my boundaries are threatened or violated. Yes, I do all of these things. But the point is that I shouldn’t have to.
Society has yet to hold men accountable for their responsibilities in preventing this all-too-frequent atrocity. Although two of the perpetrators in Ohio were convicted, their football coach covered up his players’ actions, the school administration has yet to fire this coach for his compliance, and CNN correspondents lamented the impact these boys’ sentences will have on their futures. Why, in the aftermath of tragedies like these, is it up to women to raise a red flag? When will men start talking about their role in ending this epidemic?

One of the men who has spoken out powerfully against rape is artist and activist Henry Rollins, who blogged about the Steubenville case. His most salient point was that our obsession with the sensationalism of this horrific story has upstaged our need to discuss why it even happened in the first place.

In discussing Rollins’ article, a male friend of mine posited, “That’s the systemic issue to me, the split between those who are so entrenched within this system of abuse that they are shocked and appalled that a 16-year-old girl would ever be raped, and those who see this headline and think, ‘are we really just now trying to stop this?’”

To the millions of shocked observers, to whom the Steubenville case represents an isolated instance of abuse, it’s way past time to remove your rose-colored glasses. And no, you can’t put them back on again when the headlines stop running. Because without a social transformation, rape isn’t going away.

This issue has been shrouded in silence for far too long. We can’t wait for another politician to fumble or another high school athlete to Instagram his own heinous crime for us to deal with rape. Until we stop being passive actors in this violence, the real people getting life sentences for rape, as Rollins noted, are the survivors.

Alana Baum is an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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6 Responses for “From “Girls” to Steubenville, It’s Time To Ditch America’s “Rape Culture” for Good”

  1. NortonSmitty says:

    Alana, like you, I too hesitate to give more exposure to this topic, but I feel I must after reading your concise and passionate dispatch. Even though I know it’s gonna’ piss you off.
    But I believe you are missing a very important, ignored and embarrassing point we refuse to face in todays society. All of us are referring to “Steubenville” as if it is some kind of anomaly. A horrible incident that is one more signpost on the road to depravity that this current generation represents. And it is our duty to society to ” stop having more Steubenvilles” as you put it. But this incident was far from an aberration, far from unique or even uncommon. This basic scenario is happening this Friday night across this country and the entire world as I write. It happened when I was in High School forty years ago, and my father told me similar stories from the ’30’s. This story is as old as stories themselves. The only thing that makes this case different is an uninvolved idiot with no concept of empathy for the suffering of another human being posted some disgustingly crass and juvenile comments that went viral on Facebook. If not for that and Anonymous pushing it on the Media, this incident would have been swept under the rug like the millions before it. That is the only thing that makes this case special.
    Other than that, it is just another unfortunate and never ending display of the inevitable fallout in our search to learn the mystic steps of the eternally cursed Kabuki dance between men and women. When you calm down, please read on.
    It’s not all mens nature to take advantage in this situation, but evil people have always existed and they always will. But I sincerely believe they are not normal or common. If you look at the facts of this incident from a different angle, and I know this is not going to be received well, I would point out one thing: The girl was passed out, helpless, and dragged around in front of dozens of young people at several parties. Yet the charges are that she was possibly but briefly orally assaulted and vaginally penetrated by fingers. As horrible as this is, there were not dozens of people willing to rape this poor girl, though the could and were being encouraged to do so. I know it’s nothing to be proud of, but it is a straw to grasp to hopefully keep the belief in universal human kindness alive in all of us.
    You ask Why is it the responsibility of women and girls to avoid being raped? I am going to use an analogy I have used on men who said something similar to the old “If rape is inevitable, lie back and enjoy it!” bromide. I ask them to consider if they were in a situation like passed out at a strange party or maybe in prison and they were raped by a few strangers if they would feel the same? Because some folks enjoy it, you should too. It usually changes their opinion for life. And so I believe it is the responsibility of all men and women not to get shitfaced, passed out drunk around strangers. Because it’s dangerous. That’s just common sense, because that’s just the way it is.

    Alana, if you have read this far, I ‘m sure you are convinced of my nonredeemable misogynist soul. But please let me point something out from your post. You use HBO’s Girls to make the point about No meaning No. Forget that you should never use a fictional story to argue points of fact, I want you to think about something else you said. Alana, even you, with your feminist education and anti-rape activist badge, would describe Adam to us as “a grungy, aggressive, yet mostly adorable weirdo”. Do you wonder why even the best of men get confused with the concrete concept of “No” when even someone as enlightened and educated as yourself would feel comfortable describing someone you hold out as an example of a rapist as Adorable? Evidently “Aggressive” is interesting, but there is a line there somewhere. How are men supposed to recognize this boundary between sexy and sadistic when you yourself seem to be having trouble defining it?

    I am going to end this by stating the obvious, what happened in Steubenville was a horrible and despicable act performed by immature unformed teenage boys who will pay dearly in ruined lives. The girl hopefully will get over this experience in spite of the publicity and the folks who will tell her it’s OK for the rest of her life. And I pray to whatever God there is that the message every teenager takes from this tragedy is that it’s wrong to treat any human being as horribly as what this poor girl endured. But I’ll bet what they are really saying to each other is: Don’t post that shit on Facebook! Because I would like to believe that all men are not such animals. But from my observations, if given the opportunity, that is the way to bet. And that goes for the Adorable ones too.


    • jespo says:

      By all means, do not have a medical condition that causes you to pass out in front of strangers, or become suddenly ill and pass out in front of strangers. Someone might confuse that with passing out because of being shit faced or some other avoidable condition and become confused by it. You might be accidentally raped in the confusion. If one’s ability to not take advantage of another human being is defined by the culpability the victim has for their present state I would say one’s morals and ethics are demonstrably lacking if not present at all. Yes, it’s common sense for anyone to not get shit faced in public, but leave it at that and don’t drag a red herring around. If you’re the type of man to become influenced by the man next to you in a public setting, dare I say you’re not the man you think you are and should be held accountable for your actions. As far as what ‘confuses’ men, the mixed messages ‘men’ receive via media…that was their parent’s job to teach them what no meant. If they don’t know, their parents messed up big time, not the man in the tv on the wall.

  2. Stevie says:

    What do you expect in a culture that routinely accepts immoral acts? Watch T.V. or the movies.

    If you don’t want to get raped, don’t get so loaded you can’t function. If sober, get a gun and keep your finger on the trigger and shoot anyone who tries to rape you. That’s NO with meaning.

    Reality…..women are designed to be on the receiving end of sexual encounters. Nothing is going to change that.

    • jespo says:

      Wow…if the women you’ve known are ‘meant’ to be on the receiving end of sexual encounters I’ll wager there are a handful of unhappy unsatisfied women walking around…and you’re wrong…women ARE changing that, you just refuse to accept it.

    • Gram says:

      Ew, gross, what a psychotic comment! Women are designed to be on the receiving end of sexual encounters? What if we go into the schools and teach young girls that?

  3. Christiana Gaudet says:

    Wow. Stevie, I am assuming you are a heterosexual male. I feel so sorry for any woman with whom you have a relationship.
    The idea that women should have to resort to violence to defend themselves is appalling. The idea that you see sex as having a “receiving end” is terrifying. Please, please get some counseling!

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