Monday, March 25, 2013

Rape Culture/Bullying Culture

Their coverage of the rape conviction of two Steubenville, Ohio high-school football players has landed CNN in a world of trouble. Because they had footage of the two young men bursting into tears and no such shots of the victim, whose identity has been shielded, the network decided to play for sympathy for the criminals. Anchor Candy Crowley said how moving and emotional it must have been for these two with such promising careers ahead of them to have it all ruined. America's reaction was swift and sure, Candy and the reporter at the trial--female also--were lambasted by viewers for seeming to show sympathy for the rapists and none for the victim. To be cynical, it was because they had no pictures of the victim, so in order to be warm and fuzzy, the CNN crew worked with what they had.

During the next few days, cable TV and the blogosphere exploded with outrage and the phrase "rape culture" was used innumerable times. What CNN did was unintentionally send the message that what the two young men did--taking advantage of a weaker person so drunk she couldn't say no--was no big deal. That is a furthering of rape culture, meaning boys will be boys and society will tolerate aggressive sexual behavior among males. Rape culture says that men getting their impulses met is more important than protecting their victims--usually women, but sometimes other males as well, as in the case of Penn State and the Catholic Church. The football team, the priest's sanctuary, the barracks is a sacred place and if once in a while, some members of this holy club act out and hurt people, sweeping it under the rug is the solution. The Oscar-nominated documentary The Invisible War demonstrates that rape culture is pervasive in the American military and the recent scandal surrounding the outgoing Pope does the same for the Catholic hierarchy.

This trend extends itself to schoolyards as well. I call it bullying culture. While not as extreme as rape, bullying operates on the same principal--humiliating someone weaker than you and getting away with it. Victims of bullying are told through the non-protection by adults who are supposed to look out for them, "This is a part of growing up. Boys will be boys. Just ignore them and it will be fine." Bullies are basically told "Go ahead, pick on a little kid. No one's going to stop you. Have fun." Rather than concentrating on ending this behavior, picked-on kids are told "It's gets better." All those PSAs and videos from celebrities are saying "There's nothing that can be done to stop these monsters from beating the crap out of you or from them taunting you. So just hold on until you get out of high school."

All the bigots like Michelle Bachman trying to stop anti-bullying programs are just as bad as the rape enablers who tell us the frat, the church, the army are sacred male spaces and must not be violated by pesky do-gooders. "Do you want boys to be girls?," Bachmann famously asked. No, I want boys and girls to stop being told it's natural to torment anyone, either sexually, verbally, or psychologically. Then it really will get better.

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