The Steubenville Case – When Will Women Start to Matter?

In the aftermath of the trial of Richmond and Mays, Megan Carpentier writes in yesterday’s Guardian, “Rape is unique in US society as a crime where the blighted future of the perpetrators counts for more than the victim’s.”

Indeed, this is an apt observation, given the sickening way in which CNN, among others, reported on the verdict two days ago. Given the anger this had sparked on blogs and other social media, you’ve probably come across it by now, but just in case you haven’t, here’s what CNN had to say about Mays and Richmond’s being found guilty of rape:

Reporter Poppy Harlow: “I’ve never experienced anything like it, Candy. It was incredibly emotional, incredibly difficult even for an outsider like me to watch what happened as these two young men that had such promising futures — star football players, very good students — we literally watched as they believed their life fell apart.”

Anchor Candy Crowley: “A 16-year-old just sobbing in court — regardless of what big football players they are, they still sound like 16-year-olds. When you listen to it and realize they could stay until they’re 21, what’s the lasting effect, though, on two young men being found guilty, in juvenile court, of rape, essentially?”

Legal expert Paul Callan: “The most severe thing with these young men is being labelled as registered sex offenders. That label is now placed on them by Ohio law…That will haunt them for the rest of their lives.”

Poor, poor rapists. What an unfortunate fate to befall them. Only, it wasn’t misfortune, it wasn’t bad luck that led to the blighting of their “promising futures”. It was their actions, and their responsibility, when they noticed a drunk girl throwing up by the side of the road, and instead of helping her, decided to rape her and take pictures of her for laughs with the boys. Sure, 16-year-olds sobbing in court might be an emotional sight. But what about a 16-year-old who wakes up one day to discover that she had been raped while unconscious the night before? To see pictures and videos of her violation and abuse flung about on social media? To see her rapists and their friends laugh and boast about it? To be humiliated and mocked by people she knows, and even people she doesn’t? To have people call her a liar and a whore, and threaten to hurt her for reporting the crime? What’s the “lasting effect” of that?

While the Steubenville case has garnered widespread media attention, the spotlight has been turned on the jock culture in Steubenville itself, and particularly the high school. Yet as we know, what goes on there — the star status of the football team, the impunity they face for their actions, the disrespect they show towards women — is merely a microcosm of what goes on everywhere else in the world. And it isn’t just male athletes, of course. Male politicians, male CEOs, male media hotshots, any man in a position of power can use and abuse women with relatively little censure. The public rushes to defend them, to sympathize with them. The woman must be lying. She must be doing it for financial gain, or for revenge. Did he hit her? She must have pushed him to it. We’ve heard it all before. And now, even when the rapists have provided heaps of evidence of their crime, in the form of photographs, videos and bragging text messages, some people, including the victim’s own friends, still find it reasonable to label the victim a liar, and media outlets still find it so tragic that the criminals have been made to answer for their crime.

From rawstory.com

From rawstory.com

It sometimes absolutely staggers me just how little women matter in society. This is one of those times. Shakespeare’s As You Like It contains the famous lines — “All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players.” Perhaps less poetically, but more accurately, I would say that all the world’s a stage, and while the men are players, women are their props, to be adored as possessions and prizes, or despised and used as cheap, worthless trinkets.

Women matter, for we are human too. Is that so difficult for society to grasp?

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The Pampering Trap

An extremely pervasive idea exists in society— that women are to be pampered, especially by the men in their lives. Everywhere you look, adverts for flowers, chocolates and jewellery encourage men to ‘pamper her’, ‘spoil her’, ‘indulge her’, and even on International Women’s Day yesterday, which originated in 1909 to promote gender equality, my Facebook feed was full of friends and acquaintances talking about what they, or someone else had done for IWD, which usually boiled down to (you guessed it) giving/receiving flowers, chocolates or cards, stripping the day of all political meaning.

spoilhervalentines

From Pajamagrams

Indulge-Her-1

From indulge-her.com

pamperinginajar

But what exactly is wrong with pampering? Isn’t it simply showing your loved one how much you love them? Well, yes and no. First, let’s look at the definition of ‘pampering’ so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘pamper’ as follows:
a. to treat with extreme or excessive care and attention
b. to gratify, humour.

And here are the synonyms—cocker, coddle, cosset, dandle, indulge, mollycoddle, nurse, baby, spoil, wet-nurse.

Finally, who are most often the objects of pampering? Babies… children… puppies… and women, of course.

Indeed, there is nothing wrong with the act of pampering or being pampered per se. But when it is tied up inextricably in the arena of gender roles within a romantic relationship, then we have a problem. You see, despite advertisers’ overwhelming efforts to convince women otherwise, being locked into the role of the pampered is markedly disempowering. It presupposes a fragility and helplessness on our part, and our happiness depends, not on our own actions, but on what is done to us. In short, we are once again the object, not the subject, and heterosexual relationships are sold to us as ‘Man and his cherished possession’. The word ‘humour’ in the definition is also telling of the power imbalance inherent in the act. All throughout history, women have been expected to obey and follow their husbands’ desires, and men encouraged to ‘humour’ their wives’ supposedly unreasonable but adorable whims.

Sadly, whenever women rebel against the perception that they need to be treated like precious gems or delicate glass, and proclaim themselves to be independent of men, that too is treated as a caprice, declared by a woman who doesn’t quite know her own mind. The sentiment is neatly summed up in this comic I found bobbing around Facebook:

pamper

By Tatsuya Ishida

Haha, get it? Women don’t really want to be strong and independent, we just say we do! We do want a man to just take care of us, but we won’t admit it! Hahaha! Haha!

Ugh.

Two points need to be made, I think.

Firstly, yes, many straight women today do seem to desire being looked after and ‘spoilt’ by their man. And many women do enjoy the feeling of being kept and provided for, even in a submissive capacity. But does that mean that women have a natural and biological desire for this? Or could all the messages she’s heard in her life, both subtle and explicit, telling her that a man shows his love by showering her with gifts, by giving her flowers, by being overly protective of her—in short, by treating her ‘like a porcelain doll’—have anything to do with it? I believe that it isn’t the pampering itself that women desire, but what it means. And what it means, we are told, is that he loves her.

Secondly, the sentiment portrayed by the comic above is often thrown in women’s (especially feminists’) faces. So you want to be independent? Great, I’ll slam the door in your face then! I’d help you with those heavy bags, but aren’t you a strong, independent woman? Not feeling well? Don’t expect my sympathy, I thought you were an independent woman!

It’s ridiculous that this even needs to be said, but when feminists object to women being placed on a pedestal and treated like we’re weak and ineffectual, it doesn’t mean that we want to be treated badly. We still expect you to be a decent human being. And being a feminist doesn’t mean we think women are, or should be, invincible. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t need help or care when we’re ill. It just means that we’re human, no more and no less than that.

So please, let’s all love and respect each other like fully-grown human beings, and stop the damaging narrative surrounding relationships between women and men.