Editor's note: Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary appears on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and is republished by SDGLN, The Ocean Beach Rag and The Progressive Post. She was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize while working for the North County Times.
Of the many things I’ve learned since traipsing off with my book bag and lunchbox to return to full-time studenthood, none is quite as dismaying as the persistence of the rape culture that pervades U.S. media and, hence, the daily lives of media consumers.
Rape culture is so pervasive, it seems innocuous to many and is ignored by most, except some in academia and alternative news media — and, of course, those in rape and domestic violence programs. Oh, and in the psyches of the culture’s victims.
Rape culture was first named 35 years ago, when I fancied myself invincible and, hence, dismissed it. But rape culture has continued to provide succor to attitudes that condone rape and violence against women and girls (and, actually, any perceived minority), that promote the normalcy of rape and violence, that contrive humor from rape and violence, that all too often result in blaming women and girls for their rapes and the violence perpetrated against them.
If you think this particular cultural phenomenon is simply a figment of feminist imagination, take a gander at the article I found in March 9 edition of The New York Times, while waiting for my Chemistry for Idiots class.
The article reports that 18 males have been charged in the rape of an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas. The suspects are 27 years old to middle-school age. Some of them apparently were so enamored of the alleged assault that they taped it and distributed the video, which ultimately led to the charges — and, one would think, makes them difficult to refute.
Yet The New York Times article, by James C. McKinley Jr., with reporting by Mauricio Guerrero, poses the question: “If the allegations are proved, how could [the neighborhood’s] young men have been drawn into such an act?”
“Drawn” is an odd choice of words for the journalists to have used and for their editor to have approved. Odd, because the word suggests that the suspects did not make the decision to rape the 11-year-old girl, but, rather, were somehow compelled by an external force to rape her.
In essence, The New York Times has suggested that, even if any of the suspects are found guilty, they are not responsible for the 11-year-old girl’s rape.
If not the suspects, who then is responsible?
Well, the article goes on to report that “[r]esidents in the neighborhood … said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said.”
The paper does not mention that the vast majority of television shows, advertisements and magazines targeting the victim’s age group — from “Hannah Montana” to “Teen Vogue” — encourage such behaviors, representing them as the norm.
Nonetheless, with this deft reporting of unattributed hearsay, the paper has provided the answer: The New York Times has implied it is the victim’s fault.
An 11-year-old girl, using the force of her appearance, her makeup and dress, her choice of companions, “drew” a gang of men and boys into raping her. That’s rape culture.
But it is unacceptable to blame a victim for her or his rape. Blaming the victim is never OK. Ever.
If you find this article dismaying, write to The New York Times ombudsman, Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane, at email@example.com and let him know. Although he found some fault in the article, he only went so far as to say that it “ lacked a critical balancing element.”
In a similar but more insidious vein, I learned in a Women’s Studies class about Comedy Central’s attempt to capture the 16- to 35-year-old male audience by promoting the comedy of Daniel Tosh. Here are a couple excerpts for your edification:
Excerpt 1. My sister’s off the charts. I play practical jokes on her constantly, though. I got her so good a few weeks ago. I replaced her mustard spray with silly string. Anyway, that night she got raped. And she called me the next day going, ‘You son of a bitch. You got me so good.’
This riff was well into a Tosh routine, a point at which, if he had exposed his penis to pee on someone in the front row of his audience, plenty of people would have laughed. A skilled comedian can elicit a laugh from some folks at just about anything.
But there is nothing funny about rape. Rape is never funny. Ever.
Excerpt 2. ‘There’s no excuse for domestic violence.’ It sounds like a challenge. I mean does everything have to be so black and white in this Kindergarten country of ours? ‘There’s no excuse for domestic violence.’ What if you go home from a long day of work, and your wife has drowned two of your kids? She’s about to dunk the third one. Can you run over and pop her then? ‘Unfortunately no; there’s no excuse. You’re gonna have to let her drown that third one.’
Now, Comedy Central is home to such progressive comedy as John Stewart’s “The Daily Show,” and the juxtaposition of Tosh and Stewart is certainly a contrast — enough to cause whiplash.
But there is nothing funny about domestic violence. Domestic violence is never funny. Ever.
If you find Tosh’s humor dismaying, send Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless an e-mail and let her know: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. While you’re at it, copy Steve Albani, head of corporate communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you find yourself sitting with someone who laughs at a joke about rape or violence against women and girls, consider telling him or her it’s not funny.
I find being an old student is mostly a blast, but watching young people accept hate as humor — hate that targets most of them — that is heartbreaking.