Proud2Bme | A Message to Men in the Wake of the Stanford Rape Case

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A Message to Men in the Wake of the Stanford Rape Case

By Annie Stewart--It didn’t start there. It didn’t start with an unconscious girl beside a dumpster, as if her body were equivalent to the trash surrounding her. It didn’t start with alcohol at a party—and alcohol is certainly not to blame, nor is party culture or promiscuity, despite what Dan and Brock Turner want you to believe.

It started when the doctor said, “It’s a boy!”

Trigger warning: Descriptions of sexual assault. 
 

A beautiful new life is brought home from the hospital and Mom and Dad must decide how they will raise him, what they will teach him about the meaning of manhood. Tough, strong, dominant, in control, never show emotion—this is what he will learn about masculinity. Perhaps his parents will not tell him this directly, but these are the messages he will consume from the American culture that he will be raised in.

He will continue to grow up. He will receive many messages not only about masculinity, but also about women. He will watch how his father talks about women, and he will model what he sees and hears. He will learn that a woman’s body is a commodity, a conquest, a game to be won, a notch on the belt. These messages will continue to be reinforced his whole life—unless adults teach him a different, better way. If adults do not teach him to look more deeply at the messages presented to him, to pursue what is good and what is honorable, then this young man will model what he sees on TV, online and in the magazines.

Related: Neesha Arter is Breaking the Silence around Sexual Assault and Eating Disorders

He will start to believe that women are objects, to be used and manipulated to satisfy and pleasure him. He will begin to think that he is entitled to a woman’s body, whether she likes it or not. These thoughts will underlie his actions and behaviors with women.

As we have tragically learned over the past week, these actions will have the potential to inflict lifelong trauma on another human being.

There is so much that could be said about the horrific events that we now know as the “Stanford rape case.” We have read the letter from the survivor who no doubt gave much hope, healing and comfort to millions of sexual assault survivors across the globe. We have also read the despicable letters from Dan and Brock Turner.

I will not spend my energy writing about Brock Turner, the rapist, because he doesn’t deserve our time or attention. His friends and family have spent more than enough time talking about him. However, I think there is an important reality that can be gleaned from Brock’s father Dan Turner’s letter—the value of women in our culture; and perhaps most evidently, the value of women’s bodies.

Throughout his letter, Dan Turner painted his son as an intelligent, athletic young man with a bright future ahead of him. He excluded a very important part of his son’s life, however—the fact that his son committed a crime and is a rapist. His letter speaks to exactly what rape culture is: that a man’s future matters more than the crime he committed. And this is the heartbreaking truth that we must continue to fight against—rape is not considered a criminal act when a woman’s body is considered a commodity.

Related: The Secrets That Fed My Eating Disorder

This is why rape culture continues to persist. A woman’s body is not valued, respected or cherished; it is a conquest, a prize to be won. “Men have needs,” we are told. “They are animals; they can’t help themselves.” We are told to dress to attract him but don’t look like you are asking for it. Flirt with him but do not lead him on. And most of all, DON’T GET RAPED.

Be careful with the clothing you put on your body. Be cautious of which streets you are walking down. Be mindful of what time it is. Don’t walk home alone. Don’t park too far from the restaurant. Don’t leave your drink unattended.

I do believe that due to the sad reality of the world that we live in, we need to be smart, savvy and aware of our surroundings. But maybe instead of teaching girls not to get raped, we should teach boys the value of women.

Teaching girls that it is their responsibility to not get raped can create a fear of men, the perception that every man is a potential rapist controlled by his sexual desires. This is one of the biggest lies about sexual assault. Rape has nothing to do with sex and has everything to do with power and control. Sex is the tool that rapists use to exert power and domination over women.

I am not a sexual assault survivor, and I do not pretend to know what that trauma is like. When I write, I am not speaking for sexual assault survivors, and I am not pretending to know what those survivors are feeling or have been through. We can read statistics and hear personal accounts, but we will never completely understand the scope of the pain and trauma unless we have personally experienced it.

However, I do know what it feels like for your body to be commodified. I feel it every time I go running and I turn my music volume up in an effort to drown out the catcalls. I feel it when I am at the grocery store and I ask, “Are you open? Can you check me out?” and he responds “Oh sweetie, I already have checked you out.” I feel it when I sense a strong presence walking too closely behind me on the sidewalk and I am afraid to turn around.

I felt when I was walking from my car to a restaurant and this man was blocking my way and said, “Hey hottie, you’re not allowed to pass until I get a kiss.” I crossed the street, pretended to be talking on my phone, hands shaking in fear that he was going to chase me and demand a lot more than a kiss.

I am not equating these experiences with sexual assault. What I am saying is that the commodification of the female body is real—I feel it every time I leave my house and make my way in the world.

Where do we go from here? That is the question, a question we need to continually ask ourselves as this story fades away and other unspeakable tragedies take its place. I have never seen a rape case garner as much attention as this one has. Rape cases rarely go to trial, mostly because prosecutors know what an uphill battle they are. Furthermore, many women do not even report the crime because of the re-victimization they will have to endure when testifying at a trial. They know they will have to defend themselves, and that they will be asked intrusive questions about their pasts that have no relevance to the actual crime committed.

When there is a rape case in the news, I often find myself having to describe what rape culture is, explaining, “No, it is never the woman’s fault.” But I’ll hear, “Well, there are two sides to every story,” or, “Maybe she was drunk and she was flirting with him.”

Related: 7 Body-Shaming Phrases to Cut from Your Vocabulary…and What to Say Instead!

This case, however, has awakened people’s minds and hearts to the unjust way many rape cases are handled. People are angry, and they want to funnel their anger into positive change. They do not want the Brock Turners of the world to get away with another horrific crime. They want to ensure that no other woman will ever have to write a letter like the survivor did. How do we fix rape culture? We need to get to the root of problem, which is the way boys have been conditioned to think about women, sex and entitlement.

It all starts with how we think, because out of our thoughts flow our actions, behaviors and beliefs. It is essential for parents—particularly fathers—to make it a priority to teach their sons about respect, value and consent. Hold them to a high standard—teach them to respect themselves and to respect others, not because they are women or men, but because they are fellow human beings.

Each and every day, we as women fight against a bombardment of messages about the food we consume, the calories we burn and the clothing we put on our bodies. We do not need men to remind us that our worth comes solely from our bodies. We already know that, because the media reminds us of it daily. We need you to listen to us. Listen, listen, listen to our experiences, and do not utter a word. We need you to stand with us, and when other men utter misogynistic, disrespectful statements, do not be silent. Silence is deafening; to be silent means that you are letting the Brock Turners of the world have the last word. 

Please also know that despite what the media tells you, you do not give us our sense of worth and value, but you can affirm it. I have known many truly wonderful, good men throughout my life. In their presence, I always felt valued and appreciated; not because I am a woman, but because I am a fellow human being with passions, intelligence, opinions and gifts to offer the world.

Men, I am sorry you have been lied to—just like as a woman, I have been lied to. We have all been deceived by the guise of “masculinity” and “femininity.” I am not a weak, fragile creature who needs your protection, nor am I restricted to nothing more than my hips and breasts and butt and legs and face. I am not someone who believes in gender roles, period, so I will not tell you what a “real man” is. I will tell you what we should all aspire to be: people of strength, dignity, courage and love. People who stand up for those who have been victimized. People who take full responsibility for their actions no matter the consequences.  

It didn’t start with an unconscious girl beside a dumpster, and it certainly will not end there. We will never know her name, but she will forever be engraved on our hearts. She will be our motivation and inspiration to keep fighting for survivors of sexual assault, no matter what. To those who have not and did not get justice, we mourn with you. To those who will be processing their trauma throughout their whole lives, we stand with you. To those who have yet to come forward out of fear and shame, we are here with you.

Call 800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
 

About the blogger: Annie Stewart is a graduate student at Portland State University's School of Social Work. She is especially interested in walking alongside those who have experienced loss and trauma. As an eating disorder survivor, she is passionate about encouraging individuals to have a healthy, loving relationship with food, exercise and the body. A few of her great loves: talking and engaging in everything social justice, strong black coffee (accompanied by a good book), Thai food, exercise, nature photography and traveling. Most importantly, she finds great joy in telling her story in the hopes that it can be a beacon of light on someone else's road to health and healing.

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