Steubenville: Women Aren’t Completely Off the Hook

Mar 23, 2013 by

If I’m going to be honest, I wasn’t paying any attention to the Steubenville trial until Monday when the internet LIT UP with fury about CNN’s questionable reporting – lamenting over and over about the poor boys with such promising futures and hardly a mention of the girl who had been violated.  Since then I have had ample opportunity to litter my mind with the horrible images, texts and acts performed that night.  It’s nearly more than any woman, and certainly any mother of a boy or girl, can bear.  There have been amazing, thoughtful, brilliant posts about how to help our boys not become those boys.  There have been amazing, angry, brilliant posts about how sick we are of women being blamed for a man’s inability to make good decisions when aroused.  And some beautiful guidance ,directed at our sons, about how to be the hero. I applaud those moms, and so many others, for coming up with straight forward solutions that can make a real difference in all our children’s futures.  And they are right, we have to start by having honest, thoughtful conversations with our sons about the great men they want to be in this world, and how they can be that man.

But there’s a problem.

I think there’s another important discussion that we’re missing.  An essential one, really.  Isn’t it about time for women to get real about how we really feel about each other?  Because we are contributing to this culture of misogyny.  We are doing it with our purchases, with our catty, gossipy “girl talk”, with how we talk to and about ourselves.  Let’s face it, by any objective measure our culture does not like women.  And you know who really doesn’t like women?  Other women.

We objectify ourselves.

We buy beauty magazines filled with images and products designed not to make us feel good, but rather to make us feel inferior.  Page after page of impossibly beautiful women, altered and adjusted to pixelated perfection by photoshop masters.  Leaving us aching to be more, only to turn the page and find a product promising to make us “more”.  For a cost.  We are objects of desire, and we are buying and selling ourselves, willingly.

We buy gossip magazines and watch reality television.  We decide a perfect stranger’s worth as a human being, based solely on half told stories by people who don’t even have a hand in the game.  They are observers, as much as we are, but they narrate the tale and we buy the story.  You might see tabloids as an equal opportunity offender, but let’s be honest.  We aren’t tearing Matt Damon to shreds because he puts on a few pounds after having some kids.  Nor are we buying celluloid to gawk at Arnold Schwarzenegger for having gone too far with the plastic surgery.  But if you are a woman in the spotlight, you’d better not step out of the tight little box we’ve made for you, lest you become an object of scorn.

We slice and dice each other over our most personal decisions.

So you chose to be a stay at home mom?  Well, don’t you worry about what kind of example you’re setting for your daughter?  You aren’t “Leaning In”.  You aren’t contributing to society.  Let’s be honest, you’re just throwing your life away and taking the rest of us back to the stone ages.  Toiling away at home, doing crafts with your kids, cooking and housekeeping for your husband, giving up your earning potential.  And when your husband leaves you for a younger model, won’t everyone just be saying, “Told ya so”?  You should really be sensible and maintain your earning potential.  Just get off your ass and get to work.

WAIT.

So you chose to go back to work after your children were born?  How can you go back to work with a 12 week old baby at home? Wasn’t that hard for you? Don’t you worry that your kids won’t think they’re important to you?  I can’t imagine letting some stranger parent my children for me.  Let’s be honest, you obviously didn’t really want to be a mother.  Your kids are just little trophies you show off to your friends, but they aren’t really yours in any meaningful way, just biologically.  You probably shouldn’t have had kids if your work is so important to you.

WAIT.

So you made a conscious choice not to have a family?  What’s wrong with you?  No.  Seriously.  What is wrong with you?  Did you have  a really bad childhood?  Are you some sort of pathological narcissist?  Do you just hate kids?  Everybody likes kids, so there must be something really broken inside you.  I guess it’s good you’ve got your job, but let’s be honest, we both know that’ll never be enough to fill the void you’re living with.

Any of that sound familiar?  It should.  This language isn’t exactly hiding in the shadows.

And how is that any different from:

That girl shouldn’t have gotten so drunk, It’s her fault. If she’s going to dress like a slut then she’ll be treated like one.  She went up to his hotel room, what did she think was going to happen?  She wasn’t wearing any underwear, clearly she was open for business.  She gets around, it’s a little hard to believe she’d say “no” to anything.

NOW STOP.

This is not the shit men are saying about us.  This is the shit we are saying about each other.  How often do you hear men sitting around gossiping about each other, nit picking the flaws of the guy who isn’t there, or the one they saw on TV or in a magazine?  But get a group of gals together and sooner or later we will get around to the business of second guessing and dismantling anything from clothing to the most personal decisions of friends and perfect strangers.

While it’s absolutely true and essential that we need teach our sons not to objectify women, don’t we need to start by not doing it ourselves?

The solution isn’t easy, but it is pretty simple.

Flip the Script.

We have been living by a set of rules generated by men and perpetuated by all of us.

Stop believing that empathy is a weakness. We are hardwired to be nurturing, compassionate beings and it’s about time we started acting like it. Empathy was in short supply for every single one of those boys in Steubenville. When they saw, or even heard, about what was happening to that girl, silence was the closest thing to an objection anyone offered.  So DON’T BE SILENT.  Speak up and counter hurtful comments with words of  kindness.  Hateful talk flourishes in dark and hushed corners, shine a little light of compassion on it and that little monster will slither back to it’s nasty little hiding place.

Let’s show our sons and daughters how to see the whole woman, the whole human, and not just the easily picked, low-hanging fruit of her flaws.  We can certainly start with ourselves, being our own champions and cheerleaders and showing our children how to love themselves by loving our own selves.  Then pay it forward.  Rather than looking for what’s broken in others, look for the good, the positive, the interesting and the beautiful.  Fill your life with goodness by noticing it in the people around you.  It is a gift that comes right back to you by releasing you, little by little, from the fear of being broken.

Perhaps we observe a choice that is so bad we aren’t doing ourselves or our kids any favors by pretending it isn’t happening.  I think it’s okay to acknowledge choices we don’t agree with, but I also think it’s possible to do that without devaluing another person.  Talk about why that decision would not make your own life better, or even make it worse, but follow it up with a blessing for the person who’s having to live in it.  Wish them well, either privately or in person.  Hope for them that their life will someday be filled with the happiness and beauty that is in yours, and be grateful for it.

Recognize that we live in a culture that behaves as though a girl’s entry into womanhood is somehow intrinsically naughty.  We do not have to accept this as a truth.  A girl blossoming into a sexually appealing woman is nothing more than nature working it’s magic.  Darwin at his finest.  That is not to say we have to accept overly sexualized images of teenage girls as the norm, but perhaps if we simply acknowledge the inherent beauty of these young women for what it is – a natural part of moving into womanhood , rather than shaming them as though they were Eve incarnate taking a bite from the apple right before our very eyes, they (we) will not be quite so quick to hand over our power to others for “safe” keeping.

Finally, this is not a Men vs. Women issue, so practice your kindness and compassion without a gender bias.  Demand it of your friends and encourage it in strangers.  We can all be a part of making a better world, but it cannot happen without a conscious and consistent effort on all our parts.

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