I will post again, before long, about the things that are making me happy despite all the world’s bad news. This is not that post. I’m angry, and I’m going to say it.
I’m angry because convicted rapist Brock Turner, despite being let off with a wrist-slap, still believes he’s being unfairly persecuted and is appealing his conviction. Evidence against him is overwhelming, he hasn’t been punished nearly as harshly as he deserves to be, yet somehow he feels victimized — no doubt a by-product of being raised by a father who refers to the rape as “twenty minutes of action” that shouldn’t spoil his son’s bright future.
I’m angry because even though two football players in Steubenville, OH filmed their sexual assault on an intoxicated girl and posted their video on social media — pretty damning evidence, nay? — people in their community still found a way to blame their victim, i.e. if she hadn’t been so drunk, the boys would never have given in to the temptation to assault her (an assault that included urinating on her!). I’m angry because when news outlets reported on the boys’ sentencing, they expressed far more sympathy for the rapists than for the victim.
I’m angry because after serial rapist Bill Cosby’s conviction and sentencing, his publicist has the almighty nerve to call his infamous client the victim of a “sex war” and even to compare him to Jesus Christ.
I’m angry because TV writer-producer Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s article in the Hollywood Reporter, describing accused sexual harasser Les Moonves’ vendetta against her, offers an illustration of the power of predatory men to silence women’s creative voices. A similar article by Cassandra Smolcic in Variety details how her “dream job” at Pixar Studios quickly turned into a nightmare when she realized head honcho John Lasseter was apparently incapable of treating female colleagues and employees with respect and unwilling to let them make any real creative contribution.
And finally, I’m angry because I’ve learned that something called the “Renate Alumni” existed once at Georgetown Prep. This may not serve as conclusive evidence that Judge Brett Kavanaugh is guilty of rape — some family members are fully convinced the allegations against him are false — but this and other yearbook references do offer some strong evidence of Charlie-Sheening. Charlie-Sheening may not be against the law, yet I would argue it is an evil in itself, malum in se, because at its root lies the idea that girls and women aren’t people whose thoughts and feelings matter. Instead, they’re things, life-sized dolls who exist for the benefit and the pleasure of boys and men.
And there it is — the blindness at the heart of all that’s making me angry. All these stories together add up to one thing: girls and women don’t matter. They’re not important. Their value is less than the hopes and dreams of a Brock Turner or a pair of Steubenville, OH football players. It’s gotten so bad that some have even started suggesting that boys, particularly of high school age, are natural sexual predators, that when a boy snaps a girl’s bra while she’s putting her books away in her locker he’s just “being a boy” and it’s pointless to expect better behavior from him. The onus isn’t on boys to shape up; it’s on girls to smile and put up with them.
But are we really prepared to accept that treating girls like objects is “normal” behavior for boys? Honestly, what does that say about boys, and by extension the men they become? That they’re naturally beyond the reach of common decency once hormones get involved? If I were a man I’d be outraged by these assumptions. I’ve known many gentlemen of honor in my life. One raised me. Another married me. I’ve been friends with many of them. I know what good men are like. They’re comfortable enough in their own skin to resist any and all pressure to prove themselves “manly.” They don’t feel the need to make themselves strong by rendering someone else weak. They keep their expectations high, both of themselves and others.
If we expect less and less of each other,that’s just what we’ll get.
And that’s why I’m angry. It’s why a lot of people are angry.
But now comes the question: what are we going to do about it? Anger can be the most useful feeling in the world if it leads us in constructive, not destructive, directions. But if we let it fester and turn inward, we’re lost.
If we want things to change, if we don’t accept that How Things Are Now is the natural order, first we need to figure out where the problem comes from. In this case, I’m very much afraid there is no quick fix. It’s not simply a matter of changing a law here or there, but of changing, over time, the way we think and perceive each other. Attitudes may be so ingrained that today could be a lost cause. Tomorrow is all we have. We need to think about what we want our tomorrow to look like.
A future where men and women like each other, respect each other, work well together and value each other’s contributions, and see each other as distinct individuals rather than as part of a monolithic, incomprehensible Plural, is good for everyone. Male, female, nonbinary, straight, queer, cis, trans, white, black, brown, theist, atheist, liberal, conservative — everyone. To achieve that highly desirable end, we need to build up future generations’ capacity for empathy, and one of the ways we develop empathy is to practice looking at the world through the eyes of people who are “not like us.” The clearest and most obvious way to gain that experience is to read. The link between reading imaginative literature and developing empathy once moved Percy Byssche Shelley to name poets (and by extension, all writers of imaginative literature) “the unacknowledged legislators of the world” (A Defence of Poetry).
Our hopes for future generations, then, ride on whether, and what, they grow up reading.
Acclaimed fantasy author Shannon Hale recently Tweeted that when she gave a reading from one of her Princess in Black books, she was asked, in all seriousness, “When are you going to write books for boys?” — the implication being that because most of her work features female protagonists, boys couldn’t or wouldn’t enjoy it. (My husband read Hale’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World- a novelization of SG’s origin story– before I did, and laughed long and hard as he followed the adventures of superheroine Doreen Green. Trust me. I was there.) There it is again, the same sad song: “stories about boys are for everyone, but stories about girls are for girls only.” This supposed truism has always bothered me, and I’ve railed against it in previous blog posts. But recently, since I’ve been angry, I’ve seen even more clearly how much is riding on our willingness to move beyond that idea.
When we read from the perspective of a character in a well-written short story or novel, as we share that character’s experience, we come to know and understand that character as a person with a mind and heart. Even if we dislike that character and/or disagree with their actions, for a little while we’ve felt what it’s like to be them. If boys routinely avoid all fiction that asks them to share a girl’s perspective, wouldn’t this compromise their learning to perceive girls as people with stories and journeys that matter?
Every time a parent tells a librarian or bookseller, “He won’t read books about girls,” or “He won’t like it if it has a girl on the cover,” the likelihood goes up that Charlie-Sheening, or worse, Brock-Turnering, will be a big part of life in years to come.
Stories affect how we see the world, how we see ourselves and others, and how we interact with others. The power of stories just might be what saves us.