A few weeks ago, I said this about Hollywood’s defense of Roman Polanski:
What message does it send to our sons when the rape of a young girl is dismissed as something that is not that bad? What message does it send to the would-be Donalds of the world? To the would-be Roman Polanskis? To all the boys and men (and, yes, perhaps, women) who would grab and grope and hurt and rape, and to all the boys and men who wouldn’t? That sometimes, it’s okay? And that even if you wouldn’t do it, you shouldn’t necessarily condemn someone who does grab or grope or rape… who? Your sister, your mother, your wife, your lover, your daughter, your child?
I could not have imagined, when I wrote those words, that one might also have added this suggestion: that it’s okay to stand by and watch as a young girl gets gang-raped.
I don’t know if the boys who stood around and cheered while their schoolmate was gang-raped this past weekend were paying attention when the glitterati lined up to defend Roman Polanski for anally raping a thirteen year old, but in a way, it doesn’t matter. Regardless of whether one can point to a causal relation between the Polanski case and the terrible story of a homecoming celebration gone horrifically wrong, they both stand as evidence of the same thing: ours is a culture that has not done enough to demonize rape. A culture that refuses to fully deplore child-rape, a culture in which people make apologies for ‘misunderstood’ rapists, a culture in which teenage boys think that it is entertaining to participate in gang-rape: this is rape-culture, people, and it is sickening. Sickening.
As I said a few weeks ago, raising a daughter in such a culture – a culture that does not take the exploitation and abuse of women and children seriously (need more proof? Check out Gore Vidal’s comments on the Polanski case) – is a terrifying thing. But what is equally terrifying is the prospect of raising a boy in this culture. How do I explain to my son – how do I get him to really, really understand – that sexual aggression toward or sexual exploitation of women is deplorable when so much in our culture asserts that it is not? When women regularly appear in music videos and movies and video games as sexual playthings? When sexual conquest is presented, in the same media, as an enterprise that is by turns cool or funny but almost never troubling or problematic? When people still whisper and chuckle about assaulted women ‘asking for it’? When violence against women is a regular occurrence on primetime television? When leading figures in pop culture dismiss the seriousness of the rape of a thirteen year old? When a group of boys (and girls?) think it’s okay – fun? awesome? cool? – to stand around and watch a girl get gang-raped?
How does a mother fight against these messages? How does she assert – against the onslaught of visual and aural media telling a different story – that these things are horrible, terrible, wrong? How does she raise her son to respect women, and to deplore disrespect toward women in all of its forms, when so much of popular culture seems to snicker at the very idea behind her back, when it nudges and winks and whispers to boys, to her boy, that this whole thing about respecting women and girls, this whole story about how it’s wrong to make them do those things you want to do, this big idea that they don’t want it and it’s bad to force it and it hurts them and it’s wrong blah blah blah? Is just a bunch of crap. How?
How do we fight this? How? How do we stop this, here, now? How do we raise our own sons to be warriors against this? How do we make sure that they never, ever, ever stand in such a crowd?