Nathan Graziano realizes he is a part of the culture that created Owen Labrie. We all are.
I teach high school in New Hampshire—not at the prestigious St. Paul’s Academy where the sordid and saddening events that led to Owen Labrie’s rape trial occurred, rather in a public high school. Still, I know Owen Labrie. We all do.
We all guffed it up while watching American Pie where the boys in the film fervently try to get laid in their senior year of high school. I’m not sure how this is decisively different from “the senior salute,” the wretched ritual where the boys at St. Paul’s try count coupe on younger girls, the ritual that eventually led to Labrie’s indictment.
I don’t know what occurred in that room between Labrie and the then 15 year-old young woman. No one does, other than the two people who were there. I do know that, for whatever reason, what transpired terrified the young woman enough to come forward and speak, something that required an extraordinary amount of courage. Too many women who are victims of rape stay silent for the very reasons we saw: they’re forced to take the stand and succumb to a litigious assault from defense attorneys that only adds insult to injury. This is yet another sad casualty of the Labrie trial.
The problem, however, is systematic and pernicious and roots itself in the way many males view women in this society. Like the boys from American Pie—and I stress that word, “boys”—women are seen as conquests, notches on a bedpost. This is nothing new or novel. In fact, we, as a society, shouldn’t be shocked when boys objectify women and treat them like pieces of meat, something to be devoured then bragged about as their buddies slap them on the back. We’ve created it.
Like I said, we all know Owen Labrie.
Even at St. Paul’s Academy, one of the finest prep schools in the country, an institution where liberal arts, critical thinking and philosophy are stressed; where the students, in many cases, are some of the most astute learners and ambitious minds, this type of abject misogyny and objectification occurs.
But let me step down from my soapbox because I can’t honestly say I haven’t participated in it myself. While I was raised to respect women and their bodies, I’ve been witness to more than a few braggarts, with their thumbs hitched in their belt loops, boasting about their sexual conquests. In fact, I’ve done it myself. In this sense, Owen Labrie is me, too. I’m not proud of it, but now—as a husband, the father of a daughter and a teacher of young women—I have to own it.
Now it is incumbent on me to raise my son and teach the young men in my classes to, quite frankly, cut the shit. If anything is going to change, men need to change the paradigm. I realize that hormones are hard to suppress, and there is nothing wrong with being sexually attracted to a women; however, most of us possess a stronger power to reason and the canny ability to empathize. The stories of our bedroom escapades are not nearly as amusing when it’s your daughter or your sister or your mother or your wife being reduced to an orifice.
I watched the verdict being read in Owen Labrie’s trial. The jury acquitted him of the most serious charge of rape, but found him guilty of three misdemeanors and a felony charge of using a computer to lure a minor. Labrie sobbed as the verdict was read. The young accuser was reported to have cried in the arms of her parents—a considerably different ending than American Pie.
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Photo: Geoff Forester / AP Photo