Men, it’s well past time that we stop tolerating our culture’s attitude on rape.
I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. I believe her when she says, when she was 15, a then-17 Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her.
I do not excuse his behavior because he was “young”; at 17, he was old enough to be tried as an adult. Trayvon Martin, who will forever be 17 now, was tried as an adult by George Zimmerman and executed for the crime of walking while black.
I do not excuse his behavior because “boys will be boys” and, besides, “What boy hasn’t done this?” I will not lie: I was sexually active in high school. Teenagers of all gender identities are often curious about sex. But I never used force. I never used coercion.
I will also not claim that I have never been sexually inappropriate. I have made major mistakes in my life. But those were not “boys will be boys” moments, those were moments when I was wrong, moments I regret deeply.
Sexual activity is normal among teens. Rape is not. Assault is not.
I am a parent of a young boy who is charging towards his sexual years. He is nine now, the age for us to be sitting down and having conversations about consent. He still thinks the entire idea of sex is disgusting, but I know that won’t be for long. I have maybe four years before that changes.
Right now, while his conscious mind is avoiding sex, his unconscious mind is collecting information about his role as the man he will become, and his interactions with the girls-to-be-women he may partner with. He needs positive messages about the importance of consent and respect. He needs strong messages about the importance of empathy. He needs to understand the long cultural history of misogyny, and the current cultural zeitgeist of men suppressing themselves and each other. I want him to be a leader among men in changing the toxic pool of masculinity that leads to violence, shame, suicide, and misery.
He doesn’t need the President of the United States to be shaming rape victims with comments about it couldn’t have been that bad.
I am a high school teacher. I have seen teenage girls being pinned against lockers by boys, and being pulled around by the hair and the neck by supposed boyfriends. I have heard boys making vile and sexist comments, as the other boys laugh and girls slide down into their seats, heads down, cheeks flushed. I know that I have seen victims of sexual assault who are too frightened to tell anyone about it.
Girls don’t talk about it because they’re afraid of how they’ll be seen. Will they be shamed? Will they be accused of having liked it? Will they be questioned about what they were wearing, what they were doing, why they were there in the first place?
When bad things happen to us, it’s common for us to wonder what we did to bring it on. This is true regardless of what the bad things are. Each of us need to understand that sometimes bad things just happen. We can’t get there if victims won’t even talk about it.
Donald Trump has suggested that the attempted rape couldn’t really have been that bad because Dr. Ford didn’t report it at the time.
Women don’t talk about sexual assault because the misogynistic culture tears them apart for being victims of it. They don’t talk about sexual assault because rape conviction rates are appallingly low.
In Alaska, a man who admitted that he kidnapped a woman, choked her until she passed out, and then masturbated on her face was given a sentence of “time served.” In California, a man who pinned a woman down behind a dumpster and was caught assaulting her spent only months in jail, and appealed that on the grounds that he only meant to grope her, not rape her.
Men, if you thought that announcing a crime would only result in your public shaming, of you having to live the act over and over, of you living in fear of further retaliation from the criminal, while the criminal is given a pass and, at worst, a slap on the hand… would you say anything?
Sexual predators feed on that fear. They groom that fear. They revel in that fear, knowing that they can take what they want and that culture as a whole will just shrug it off.
Like all men, the President of the United States should be using his platform to speak against that fear, not to give it fertilizer to grow further. He should not be questioning why Dr. Ford, at age 15, did not file a police report.
Men, all men, we need to speak LOUDLY against this barbarism. Enough: This is enough. We have had enough.
Make sure the girls in your life know that you do not support this moral atrophy. Create a space for safety, realizing that even with that space, the cultural weight against speaking out is very heavy. Don’t take it personally if you’re shut out.
Make sure the boys in your life know that sexual force is not a proper route to manhood. Do not allow the mindset that “boys will be boys” and that boasting of sexual conquests is a healthy part of growing up. At the same time, be honest, not shaming. Empathize that boys are receiving the message elsewhere that manhood is about dominance. Help boys figure out how to oppose that paradigm in constructive ways.
Sex should be a loving act between mutually consenting people. Force and coercion have no place in sexuality. Drown out this poison; it is the only way to rid our society of it.
Men, if you cannot find your own words, use mine by sharing this. In the last months, and especially in the last few days, I’ve seen far too many women carrying the burden of responding and explaining, while too many men scroll past silently.