I read a story today by Kathy Dobie for GQ about the 11-year-old girl who was raped by 19 or so men ranging from ages 16 to 27 in Cleveland, TX. The crime as an isolated incident? Heinous, and as an isolated incident reeks of the sexism some of us have numbed ourselves to over the last few decades. As I dug further in the story, I saw the rapers exemplified this country’s culture, which perpetuates the perception of women as objects for a man’s pleasure. Not only did these young men believe they did nothing wrong (they all pleaded not guilty despite the plethora of video, photo, and first-hand accounts as evidence), they had a whole community who forced themselves to believe they did nothing wrong because it was their own. We definitely see elements of racial conflict here, as we see Black men and boys raping a young Latina girl.
But fuck that. It could have been any girl with any group of guys. It’s still rape.
Our culture gives too many passes to people we prize in our communities or feel like “they looked after us.” (Yes, I’m referring to athletes and fraternities in college, to start.) Some of this comes from the backlash of centuries of people treating people unlike them as sexual objects. We can discuss colonialism, the theory of manifest destiny, slave labor, and undocumented servitude under this huge umbrella. Yet, the only way some of us think they can combat these societal tragedies is to find someone (or ones) to oppress as well. We have underground cultures where women let men “run trains on them” for quasi-protection, or see themselves having to “give it up” just on the threat of physical and mental abuse by other means.
Men, if we don’t respond to this in clear terms, we are part of the problem.
I’ve never known rape first-hand, but I’ve known harassment vicariously from people very close to me. Rather than focus on the victim / survivor, I’ll focus on those who perpetrated these acts. I’ve heard of men who slap women just to gain some control over them through fear and escalated violence. I’ve seen men who pretend to love their woman, but leave tire-streak scars on their otherwise beautiful and fragile appendages. I’ve seen men psychologically abuse women who they know they can do that to because of their deteriorating health, and she stays because she feels she has no other alternative but to continue getting abused in this manner. I’ve heard men tell other men to serve up concoctions of local anti-depressants and Nyquil with Kool-Aid served in a red cup to a woman who, unbeknownst to her, will fornicate with this man whether she wants to or not. I’ve waited for police officers and judges to make proper judgements on cases like these, only to tell their local newspapers that, because the woman didn’t come naked, scarred, and intoxicated with hallucinogens on her breath as evidence of the acts, her case has no validity.
Before I continue, some men might already think that I’m some sort of apologist, and that, realistically, there are women who “look for trouble.” They dress a certain way, act a certain way, and don’t say “no” when offered sex. There are women who go to clubs under-age and get in because of how they look and the people they see. They’ve already developed a reputation in their neighborhoods for promiscuity (whether it’s false or not). If they continue down that path, they’re bound to be raped. That’s where I hold a mirror to their faces and alert them to their own fallacies. How do we still live in a country that focuses intently on the abused and not the abuser?
How does “what a person looks like” constitute
tolerance permission for rape? Before we look at a person’s form or dress, look at the person’s soul. Too many women I know experienced trespassing of their persons at a young age from people within their families. Some went on to become very successful in their own right, others not. Unlike the narrative that’s often told about women who get abused early in their lives, many of them actually lead normal lives. Some of them might be your best friends, your closest colleagues, your current lover, your parent, your wife, and, in some cases, your current students.
There’s a reason we have laws against this sort of stuff, because, if we look at this idea of consent, it’s the understanding that the person with whom you’re about to have consensual activities with mostly acknowledges the consequences of crossing this threshold with you. They have an understanding of their bodies in general, and, until such time, our society ought to set boundaries on our boys and girls (with or without parents). Little girls, by such definition, can’t consent to this sort of activity, and women, upon arriving at the ability to consent, should have the choice as to whom they let within their gates.
Without caveats. Otherwise, “no” is “no.” And if you think the opposite of “no” is silence, you’re dead wrong.
Mr. Vilson, who isn’t a lawyer, but hopes this made sense to people reading this before I calm myself down now …
p.s. – I do acknowledge that rape happens with and across other gender types, but I just wanted to hone in on this one, because we still don’t talk about it enough.