The Steubenville case is important, because it highlights the power of socialization. We, on average, have been socialized to blame the victim, question the validity of rape claims, and place on “trial” the morality of someone who “puts themselves in that situation.” Most often, we vilify and shame women for “enticing” rape. We hypersexualize women and young girls from Halloween costumes to music videos. The actions of Trent Mays, 17, and Ma’Lik Richmond, 16, illustrate what can happen within that context. Understanding that doesn’t give them a pass for their behavior but it does put in context the outrage following the accusations, trial and verdict. What they did is egregious. Yet, there is a way in which many feel their actions were harmless, the fault of a promiscuous, out-of-control girl. The rules we have created make it easier to talk about what she should or should not have done, what she let happen, rather than the power that our society bestows upon those boys to think of her as less than, a thing to be violated for their pleasure. On what planet are the actions of one being the fault of another. That logic would be akin to saying Jeffery Dahmer’s victims made him cut them up. Shame on them for looking so yummy. Seriously? We want to attempt to go down that road? Yet we do. And, I believe this case has created some cognitive dissonance highlighting how we are socialized into gender roles and the embedded power dynamics.
This case is an opportunity to reflect on the importance of teaching the relationship between choices and consequences. You make a choice, you better be ready for the consequence- good or bad. Saying sorry doesn’t change the fact that you engaged in the behavior, and shielding people from the reality of their choices hinders their ability to develop into a full citizens– it blunts their ability to develop a conscience/moral compass/sense of right and wrong.
The incident has pushed me to think critically about how I raise my sons to accept the consequences of their actions. It might seem unrelated, but we have recently created a list for “opportunities for commission” at our house. It’s a list of activities that completed to our satisfaction, carry with it monetary reward. Both boys were working hard this weekend to earn their money. There were a number of work times the three year old was playing rather than contributing. Rather than say something in the moment, because I had previously explained 1) that the money would only come after work, and 2) that no one was going to be forced to work, I let him play. He’s three and definitely has the attention span and energy of a three year old. After he and my six year old finished for the day, the six year old earned $3, and the three year old earned $1. The three year old cried, pouted, declared that life isn’t fair. I reminded him that focusing on work rather than play is what brings money, that as he gets older it will be easier to stay task, and that I was appreciative of what he did complete. I wanted him to realize his actions yielded specific results. If he wanted more money, he could work harder, be more focused on folding towels rather than throwing them. But if he were unhappy with the consequences, he should reflect on his behavior rather than waste his time being angry with me.
Some people might say that I am being too uptight, but I would rather take these dynamics seriously now than be sitting in a courtroom ten years from now. It’s never too early to teach about consequences. Respect and consent do not follow far behind. We have all sorts of consequences for violating the rights of others. Yet, if we fail to allow reality to teach our children—whether it’s through time out, loss of privileges, or lower commission—we miss an opportunity to set the stage for when the stakes are higher.
I’m not saying it’s easy to hold these young men accountable for their actions, but there’s no other way out. To excuse their behavior would be to blatantly sanction the mistreatment and hypersexualization of women that fills our society. When given such a clear example of the product of those dynamics, these perpetrators and their supporters sound a lot like my three year old. They need to reflect on their behavior rather than waste their time being angry at the woman who was assaulted. Choices, consequences.