Vagina talk; or, How a picture of a sloth made me want to vomit

Hello, Internet, it’s Tuesday, March 19th, and I’m feeling a bit sick.

Here’s why: a 16-year-old child in Ohio was drugged and raped by at least two other children in August 2012. Two high school aged boys were found guilty of rape (and one of what amounts to child pornography) and sentenced to ONE WHOLE YEAR in juvenile detention, plus – OH NO! – they will be tagged as sex offenders, and that’s going to follow them around for the rest of their lives.

Well, people are up  in arms. Twitter is on fire with people shaming the victim for being “too drunk” and “asking for it”, or demanding that she be brought to justice for under-age drinking. And this, unfortunately, is what we’ve come to expect from Twitter: people typing before they think, summarizing their gut reactions into 140 characters or less and standing by them with the conviction that if they believe it, it must be true. I don’t spend time on Twitter for the same reason that I don’t read the comments on news articles: the overwhelming hatred and anger that spread themselves across the internet – due to either seeming anonymity or easy access to a soap box – is just too depressing.

But then. The media. Even the media we got used to trusting. Not Sun News. Not Fox. CNN.

You can watch CNN mourn the lost futures of these two promising young rapists here.

CNN: what are you DOING?

At least, generally, the media have the sense not to openly blame the victim. But they do not have any trouble excusing the rapists.

OK, I think, all in a day’s rantings. I have gotten myself good and worked up over the tweets that a blogger has selected and republished, privately consoling myself that most of the tweeters can’t even use the English language properly. I will read a few more, unrelated, articles, and then I will go to sleep. After all, it’s a school night.

Then, I come across this:

yuck b'y

It is just lingering on my Facebook news feed, waiting to pounce on my poor, unsuspecting faith in humanity.

Who posted this atrocity? My 12-year-old cousin.

My cousin is not stupid. He is not mean. He is not disrespectful. He has good parents and a good home and he does well in school and has a lot of friends. He is EXCELLENT at football.

He is just… 12. And somewhere along the line, he has picked up on the fact that boys are meant to find this kind of thing funny. And he hasn’t lived enough life yet to personally know about the effect that rape can have on a victim.

A few days ago, I was asked if I had ever been kissed by someone I really wished hadn’t kissed me. The man who asked me is an adult, the father of an 11-year-old girl, and he was honestly shocked to hear me first laugh, and then try to explain how much being casually assaulted is a part of life for a young woman, and how we all develop our own limits and gauge each situation.

As a for-instance, I told him about one gentleman who I had served at my last restaurant job: he and his friend had come in and spent almost 3 hours there, casually drinking their way through a few of bottles of wine and some shots, and on their way out, he had insisted on having his picture taken with me. I agreed, because taking pictures with and for customers is just part of the job when you work on the waterfront, and when he stood up and leaned on my shoulder (and I mean really leaned, as he was quite drunk by this point), he took my face in his hand and turned it towards himself, then kissed me on the lips.

“Did you hit him?” asked my friend, and when I answered “no” he wanted to know why not. And why I will concede that some of it had to do with not causing a scene, a great deal more of it had to do with self-preservation: drunk or not, this guy was much bigger than me, and a great deal less predictable. The safest, most reliable thing for me to do was to make a face at his friend to indicate that I was not happy at all, and allow that friend to bring the situation to an end on my behalf.

This is not out of the ordinary for me, or for many women. It happens in customer service scenarios, but also in bars, at parties… just about anywhere one could use “Sorry, I’m drunk” as an excuse. It is just part of the – admittedly broken – culture we live in.

Being kissed or fondled by a drunk stranger is a fairly minor symptom of this culture. Being rufied and raped by your high school football team is a major one. But being dragged through the mud for “asking for it” in the media – social AND professional – adds insult to injury in the most unnecessary way… surely we can raise our children to think differently?

Those kids in Ohio ARE sex offenders, and deserve to be on that list. They were promising young football players… right up until they decided to drug and rape someone. Now, they’re felons.

Last Friday I agreed to be part of The Vagina Monologues, a show that’s been produced countless times, always as a benefit: the financial benefit of an organization that deals with violence against women, and the cultural benefit of the artists and audience members, who are forced to become more comfortable with female sexuality by the show. Today, I have a renewed sense of purpose going into this production. While plenty of progress has been made since Eve Ensler first performed her monologues in 1996, there are still miles to go.