The following story appeared in Verde Magazine, published on April 9, 2013. The views and opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily representative of that of The Paly Voice or any of its staff members. This story appears on The Paly Voice per the request of Verde Magazine.
WE’VE GIVEN the Steubenville incident nearly eight months of our attention now, through headlines and 11 p.m. newscasts and its very own Wikipedia page. By now we should have addressed every possible concern related to the events of that now-infamous August night.
But we haven’t. Not by a long shot. Because in safe, secure, progressive Palo Alto, everyone’s still thinking, “Sure, it was awful, but it could never happen here.”
Imagine if the whole country thought like that. Imagine a society of passivity and denial, with no real action taken to stop rape from happening. Sounds bad, but this is the reality of rape culture in the United States.
And rape culture, in which prevalent societal attitudes normalize sexual violence, is caused first and foremost by an underlying lack of respect for women.
Of course this is not meant to dismiss the trauma that male victims of rape have experienced. It’s just another harsh reality: 85 percent of rape victims are female.
When rapists rape, they act on a misogynistic mindset, a perspective that helps them justify their horrible deeds. They consider a woman’s body to be public property, intended to serve others, regardless of what the woman herself wants.
For some rapists, this is a conscious thought process. However, for most rapists, and for far too many people in general, this kind of misogyny is completely internalized — and begins early on in life.
According to information collected by the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, 51 percent of 11 to 14-year-old boys and 41 percent of girls think a man has the right to force a woman to kiss him if he “spends a lot of money on her.” 87 percent of boys and 79 percent of girls of the same age group believe that rape is acceptable if the man and the woman are married.
Much more frighteningly, a survey of college-age men revealed that 35 percent of them would rape someone if they were guaranteed not to get caught.
Misogyny has become a constant force in our day-to-day lives; this is true for both the nation and the forward-thinking community of Palo Alto High School, even in seemingly innocuous ways.
Take Spirit Week. Everybody loves Spirit Week! The costumes are always fun, the floats impressive and Facebook gets flooded with pictures that we’ll look back on fondly for years to come. Spirit Week is a grand old time, and nobody wants to mess with it — except me.
For every year that I’ve attended Paly, I’ve heard spirit cheers that blatantly bully and slut-shame not only entire classes, but also specific individuals within those classes. And it’s no coincidence that the targets of these cheers are almost exclusively girls.
“Six hundred likes, that’s a crime/Try putting on clothes next time,” read one of the more memorable chants on the Class of 2013 Facebook page last November. My personal favorite comment on that thread was when someone pointed out that we probably shouldn’t be calling the underclassmen “skanks” because it would make us lose points. Apparently, the real-life implications of women-hating slurs don’t matter too much, but God forbid we place behind the juniors in Spirit Week rankings.
All in good fun, though, right?
It’s not entirely my classmates’ fault. They don’t know what they’re doing wrong because no one has ever explained to them the consequences of internalized misogyny. I really shouldn’t blame them for conforming to standards (no matter how skewed) set by the society in which they’ve grown up.
But the fact is that as long as we continue to objectify, insult and demonstrate a general lack of respect for women, we maintain those problematic standards. Our thoughtless comments perpetuate misogyny, which perpetuates rape culture,
which perpetuates rape.
What if you could prevent that? While open discussion is critical in achieving this goal, as is fair portrayal of rape and its perpetrators in the media, here’s what nobody has told you yet: you can prevent rape.
You can prevent rape, and you don’t even have to volunteer for any program or arm yourself with pepper spray. Keep your comments to yourself. If they are derogatory to women in any way, and do your best to call out anyone you see or hear being misogynistic, even if they’re trying to be funny. This includes women in the kitchen jokes, “dumb blonde” jokes and, very obviously, jokes about women getting raped (I’m looking at you, Daniel Tosh).
It doesn’t matter that we live in Palo Alto, where we’re all supposed to be so socially aware as to have transcended this entire conversation. It doesn’t matter if you believe you’re being ironic or post-feminist or whatever you think gives you license to not respect women. If you’re helping to keep misogyny alive and kicking, you are supporting rape culture. You are making it possible for the monsters who commit rape to get away with it, and you should be worried about that.
Stop trivializing rape. Stop making excuses. Recognize that treating women like inferior beings is not okay, and that rape is not either. It’s that simple.
If you or someone you know has been sexually abused, you don’t have to keep quiet.
Get help by calling RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE,
the local YWCA of Silicon Valley’s crisis hotline 650.493.7273 or
Adolescent Counseling Services at 650.883.4244.
“You can’t tell me I wasn’t raped” by Lisie Sabbag
From a different perspective: a discussion with Paly guys by Lisie Sabbag
Taking it Seriously: Ever made a rape joke? This column is for you by Savannah Cordova
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For a copy of the letter sent to faculty before the release of this issue, click here