Lots of sad, twisted things going on in our world lately, but the incident I haven’t been able to forget is the Stanford rape case. Like most of the country, this incident wasn’t on my radar until the victim handed her statement over to Buzzfeed.
If you haven’t read it yet, go. I’ll wait for you.
I read all 7,244 of her powerful words in one sitting, late at night when I should have been asleep. I couldn’t stop, even though at the same time. I could hardly endure the pain of her descriptions. I have never experienced even the fringe of a sexual assault, nor do I personally know anyone who has, so reading a firsthand account certainly stretched my mind and my emotional range:
- The fear caused by not being able to know definitively what happened to you and your body while you were unconscious.
- The bewilderment at putting together the intimate pieces of your story through such public, third-party sources as TV news.
- The anger that a stranger would have so little regard for your body and your livelihood that they’d invade you in a most chilling way.
- The utter disbelief that this same person would spend 18 months and thousands of dollars trying to shift the blame for the criminal act on you.
- The mental endurance needed to keep living.
- The fleeting sense of justice felt when your attacker is convicted by a jury of your peers, only to receive a punishment that doesn’t come close to matching the severity of a detour your life has taken.
- The growing rage that being male, relatively smart, and athletic can excuse you from bad behavior, while being female and drunk will earn you a lifetime label of “victim.”
- The rekindled rage I feel that, much like being “black while driving” gets you pulled over more often in certain communities, being “female while alive” gets us slightly less courtesy, less empathy, less responsibility, and less consideration every time, in every situation.
Here’s where my husband would step in and say, “Stop exaggerating. Females have it good in this country. Women can have nearly any job these days, including combat roles in the Army. We men can barely look at females at work without worrying they’ll call us out for sexual harassment. A woman controls the books at my business, and you make the financial decisions in this house. You females run the world, so stop being a liberal, tree-hugging hippie.”
All of what he says is true. But if girls run the world, why was I not allowed to learn how to drive stick on my family’s VW Beetle, but my brother was? Why were girls who threw perfect spirals and wanted to play football at my high school directed to Powder Puff tryouts? Why did my parents warn me not to stay out late during college—despite being sober, armed with self-defense moves and always with a pack of girlfriends—while their advice to my brother when he went off to school was, “We know we can’t control what you do while away at school, but don’t screw up”?
Why can a man now his lawn shirtless, but when a woman breastfeeds in public, people blame her for being indecent? Why are girls asked to cover up, but still shamed when males cannot handle their beauty? Why are female reporters teased and taunted while on the job, or worse, beaten up by the people to whom they are giving column-inches, and the men in charge look the other way? Why is a female presidential candidate accused of playing the “woman card” and grilled about her marriage, when this country has a history of electing and re-electing men whose personal lives mock marriage vows, laws, and a generally accepted sense of decency, without a second thought?
A male (and many females) will say: Boys will be boys.
When Husband and I were dating and starting to have deeper discussions about our world and our beliefs, he would shrug at news of rapists in India or chauvinistic comments by men whose brains had momentarily stopped functioning, and say, “I guess boys will be boys.” Then I would go Gloria Steinem on him, and point out that having a penis doesn’t excuse you from bad behavior. On the contrary, being in a position of power, whether physically, legally, professionally, emotionally, or financially places even more responsibility on you to act fairly, speak kindly, and live righteously. More eyes are on you and emulating your words and actions. You don’t get to abuse the social contract we’ve all signed by living in this country in 2016 just because you happened to be born with X/Y chromosomes. You didn’t earn that privilege, and you certainly didn’t earn the grace most females will show you even when you say or do something boneheaded because you think your “man card” will let it slide.
Now he says that phrase just to annoy me, but I wish he’d ditch it altogether. Merely repeating it gives it meaning and power, and if you tell yourself something often enough, it can become your reality. “Boys will be boys” is a faux reality to which I refuse to give any air time.
I’m not angry at Husband or any male for not seeing their privilege. It’s hard to understand that you are privileged because you are male when you’ve lived that way your whole life. When you grow up the favorite son, or the only son, and are given special treatment from family, friends, teachers, coaches, clergy and society, it’s natural to think you’re special. Brock Turner wasn’t a moral-less monster before he raped this woman. But he did think he was superior because over the course of 19 years, society told or showed him: You are special. You are strong. You are in charge of your life and your world. You deserve the best. You da man!
Growing up female, I received some of those same messages. But I was also told to smile. Look pretty. Watch out. Back down when someone bigger than me wants a confrontation. Ignore catcalls; they’re just being boys. Work hard, because girls have to prove themselves. No, it’s not fair, but that’s the way it is.
I refuse to accept the way it is. And I’m tired of boys being boys, and getting away with it. Brock Turner will survive jail. He’ll have some trouble finding a home and a job he likes thanks to the requirement that he must register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, but he’ll find some empathetic male landlord who doesn’t care that he was once convicted of rape. This landlord will say, women are fickle creatures anyway, and my buddy was once accused of rape by his drunk coworker who was embarrassed that she hooked up with him. He had to leave his job AND find another girlfriend! What a wench.
Brock Turner will find a male employer who will give him a job because “20 minutes of action” shouldn’t define him for life. Males define themselves by their ability to provide, and some guy will take pity on Brock’s legally impeded ability to do that.
(Why are males remembered by their work and their ability to provide, while females are remembered for how they looked or what happened to them? Females account for 40 percent of all heads of household in the U.S. When do we get to partake in this good ol’ boy treatment?)
Husband is sympathetic in this way because he has had personal experience with irresponsible women falsely accusing his employees of sexual assault and other misdeeds. He knows the women were lying because he witnessed his employees at work during the times the girlfriend says the crimes happened. So who’s to say that women are always right, when some men are the real victims of women who “cried rape”? (We did discuss that in the Stanford case, multiple witnesses and a jury decided that Brock Turner is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Period.)
Husband has also been on the receiving end of alcohol-inspired advances by females he didn’t want to associate with. He handled it by staying next to his friends (witnesses) and keeping his hands in his pockets because he wasn’t interested, but also because he did not want to be falsely accused of mistreating her. He brings up a valid point for us females: Clamoring for justice and being honest about your actions and intentions in a situation are two sides of the same coin.
Maybe Brock should be able to move on and re-enter society as a productive citizen, but the 20 minutes he inflicted on his survivor won’t move on from her memory. Those minutes will define her any time she enters a party. They will define her any time she wants to be intimate with her partner. They will define her if and when she becomes a parent, and tries to explain why she is the way she is to her teenage children. They will define her any time she sees pine needles on the ground.
So I ask my husband: How should a female avoid being raped? He considers this, and replies: Be aware of your surroundings. If you go out with friends, watch out for each other. Don’t drink too much. Don’t dress too sexy. Don’t go off on your own. This world can be a bad place, and there will always be bad people wanting to do bad things to others.
On the surface, he gives common sense advice. And truthfully, if I had a young adult daughter, I would counsel her the same. But I still refuse to accept that we will always live in a world where boys will be boys, and girls will always have to go out with their figurative shields drawn and ready, unable to do what they want with themselves because someone will always be lurking, ready to pounce on an opportune target. Getting drunk, while not the healthiest or safest thing to do, isn’t a crime. Flirting, and then changing your mind, isn’t a crime. Going to a party where you don’t know many people (but hope to meet some new friends?) isn’t a crime. Rape is a crime. In the words of the Stanford survivor: “Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away.”
Husband’s male privilege isn’t obvious. He and I share household responsibilities. We have regular discussions to check in with each other and ensure we’re both happy and satisfied with the way our life together is going. We grew up in the same socioeconomic class. I attended higher-ranked schools than him. I earn more than him. But he wasn’t expected to change his last name when we married. And when I took his, he didn’t have to take a day off work to wait in line at several government offices to update a few pieces of paper. His name will always be correct and current on his diplomas. Our children will bear his name. His male privilege is subtle, but very much real.
No one cautions a male against taking a midnight walk around his neighborhood if he feels like it. No one disapproves if he decides cleaning his “bachelor pad” is not one of his favorite hobbies, and he’s not going to do it. No one thinks he’s intrusive or aggressive if he speaks up in a meeting to voice his opinion. No one warns him to watch his drink at a party, lest he wants to wake up the next morning in a strange place with his clothes missing and in need of a rape kit.
Boys will continue to be boys if we continue to put them on the offensive and girls on the defensive. Ann Voskamp wrote a beautiful piece about this phrase: When the prevailing thinking is boys will be boys — girls will be garbage. I wish all men would read it and understand that the best way for females to avoid being raped is for all men to take responsibility for who they are and who they want to be.
What really worries me is the attitude of “boys will be boys” is still trying to force its way to the surface of the Stanford rape case, and is still accepted in the shadows of our outrage over male privilege. Read the letter Brock’s father, Dan, wrote to the court, and tell me he doesn’t believe his son might be a teensy, tiny bit wrong, but Brock should totally be excused from punishment because he had such a bright future, he doesn’t like to eat manly steaks anymore, and he’s my son. And in Dan Turner’s mind, sons just can’t be forced to ruin a family’s legacy over 20 minutes of action. Never mind that his survivor’s sense of self was ruined in those same 20 minutes.
I worry that my husband, for whom “boys will be boys” is a cute, nostalgic value that conjures up relatively harmless memories of skateboarding shenanigans and camp-outs spent pulling Little Rascals-type pranks on fellow Cub Scouts, will carry this attitude forward to the next generation. That he’ll plant this theme in our kids’ brains when they’re forming their value systems. That when he does, the craziest thing they’ll do is run their cousins’ underwear up the flagpole. But later, when they’re teens and young adults, they’ll think another human is theirs to play with, and they’ll commit an act that isn’t covered by “boys will be boys” in the eyes of the court. Then all I have taught them about kindness, respect, justice and faithfulness will be for naught. We will have tried to raise our kids the exact opposite way Dan Turner raised his, and we will have failed because we let a contrite, outdated theme seep into our family values.
Here’s what I want my husband, and all males, to know about rape, and treating women in general:
- If a male forcibly hurts a female, it is never the victim’s fault. Was she wearing a short dress? Who cares? That dress didn’t physically force you to drop your pants. Was she drinking? Doesn’t matter. Contrary to popular belief, you cannot, in fact, blame the choice to commit a barbaric act on the alcohol. Was she flirty, talkative, and charming, but didn’t actually say yes to tea? Then it’s not her fault. It’s the perpetrator’s.
- A woman is the only one who should be making decisions about her body. No man has the right or privilege to block her desires about her health. Do you want to share with her your scientific-based research about how to take better care of the human body? Fine. Do you want to give well-meaning advice based in scientific fact about what she can do to improve her health, or what she can do to avoid certain illnesses or conditions? Great. Do you want to offer a religious or value-based perspective on bodily care? Go ahead, but if she chooses not to follow your same path of enlightenment, leave her alone. A woman’s body, like anyone’s body, is our foremost, precious, life-giving possession. Sometimes it’s the only thing we can control. Don’t assume you know what’s best. Even if you see her wasting away, if she doesn’t want your help, you must let her go. She may have reasons for her level of self-care you don’t understand, but your lack of understanding doesn’t make her wrong. Leave the female body alone.
- Women are capable of doing everything males can do. So treat her as your equal in every situation. There’s no longer room for your paternalistic, patriarchal ego in this world. Oh, you can bench press more than the average female? A woman can birth a baby better than the average male. Let’s call it even.
- Most females will be honest with you, so until you can prove they are lying, believe them. A faux rape victim doesn’t write a passionate 7,244-word victim’s letter. That amount of writing requires the type of endurance that only comes from raw emotion and real experience.
- If we have sons, boys will not be boys in our family. Boys will become men, and real men love their neighbors as themselves. They speak kindness and treat everyone with fairness. They love Jesus and strive to follow His word. They do not view females as weak, silly, inconsequential, fickle, nags, wenches or objects for pleasure, even in a joking sense. (Females will not joke about males being male, either: Fair is fair.) Boys will be men.
This world sucks sometimes, but we’re not going to shrug and just move on. Boys will become men, and females will continue to speak up as needed.