In a media landscape where sexist hit pieces on powerful women are common, “appealing” profiles are especially insidious. But objectification is not a compliment, even when well-intentioned. Old habits die hard for men who have been raised to believe what they think about a woman is the most important piece of information they can relay. But ogling isn’t journalism, and until some men learn as much, we’re going to be stuck with a media that’s more Peeping Tom than press.
If female sexuality is muted compared to that of men, then why must men the world over go to extreme lengths to control and contain it?
Are we really that surprised that these two young men didn’t think their actions were wrong? Videos of young men running up to women they don’t know just to grab their ass or stomach and run away are played for laughs on shows like Tosh.0. (The show is run by a comedian who garnered tremendous support after he “joked” about a woman in his audience being gang raped.) A “funny” montage of women’s breasts shown at the Oscars included rape scenes. We have handfuls of qualifiers—date, legitimate, forcible, gray—that we throw in front of “rape” because we want to know if an assault was a “real” rape or one of those non-rapes Republican politicians keep talking about.
If a woman doesn’t say “no” to sex, is that the same thing as saying “yes”? That’s the question at the center of the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial that began this week… To defense attorney Walter Madison, who is representing one of the accused men, consent is not an affirmative “yes.” He told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that what happened wasn’t rape because the young woman “didn’t affirmatively say no.”
But the absence of a “no” is not the same thing as the presence of a “yes.” And until American culture and law frames sexual consent as proactively, enthusiastically given, there will be no justice for rape victims.
As you continue to grow up, you’re going to have plenty of opportunities (too many) to laugh at women’s pain, embarrassment or the sexual harassment and assault we face. These moments will define you. Will you laugh along? Share a video, like a status, laugh a joke? Or will you say ‘no’, tell a friend that’s a fucked up thing to say, and walk away?
We live in a country where a videotaped gang rape can result in a hung jury, where jokes about raping a woman are still considered hilarious and where the seriousness of sexual assault is so minimized that writing a research paper on rape is actually considered a reasonable punishment for attackers.
When you speak up about any sense of unfairness or injustice, you’re told that you’re overreacting, you’re too angry, too silly—shut up already. It takes a tremendous amount of fortitude to be able to live in this world as a woman, let alone a woman who wants things to change.
And that’s what was so remarkable and emotional about the Beastie Boys’ feminist turnaround. Maybe your father says sexism doesn’t exist and your boyfriend disrespects you. Maybe you have to deal with assholes on the subway who rub up against you every day and laugh when you yell at them. But listening to this band that you love so much say that your pain is real, that the world is fucked up and that they are not going to participate in actions that hurt you anymore because they care about you—it was the overwhelming feeling of being made visible. They were sending a clear message to their female fans: this isn’t okay, we have your back, we’re sorry.