We have seen much — and much-deserved — criticism of the mainstream media coverage of the Steubenville rape verdict. Some reporters, notoriously, have focused on what “good students” the convicted young men are and what “bright futures” had been squandered by their actions. While these may have been misguided analyses of the verdict, the outrage stems from the fact that such comments are part of a broader social narrative.
The lack of discourse and concern for the future of the Steubenville victim points to a deeper social problem; it’s a double-down on blaming the victim. Even identifying her as the “accuser” positions her as the one who was imposing upon her assailants. The reality is that her future and her life have been tragically altered by the actions of several boys. She deserves the love and compassion of us all who hope for a just and loving society.
The future of the perpetrators was tragically altered by their own actions. They must own that.
For those of us looking at this case from afar, disconnected from the emotion of the Ohio courtroom, we must resist lamenting the future of the perpetrators and consider their past if we are to make sense of this case and prevent it from happening again. Yes, these boys deserve our compassion and hope for a better future. However, we should not sympathize with the consequences of their behavior, but for the condition of their humanity that led to their actions. We must be honest in our recognition of the culture in which so many boys are raised and nurtured. As a society, we continue to teach boys that girls and women are “less than,” with language and attitudes that challenge and encourage masculinity through threatening and degrading comparison to girls and women (“you throw like a girl,” for example).
Further, very often the role of girls and women is ornamental to, or in support of, the male experience. In many contexts, sports cheerleaders, swimsuit models, and the like reinforce the deeply-held assumption that women’s social, and often professional, roles are subservient to men. The disparity in wages, especially in an economy that many men view as a meritocracy, is a glaring example of cultural patriarchy in which the goals and aspirations of men are seen as more noble and superior to those of women.
Those of us concerned for these young people, both victim and perpetrators, have a moral obligation to recognize how the messages of our culture are manifest in the behavior of high school boys at a party.