I’m a white male, age 18 to 49. Everyone listens to me, no matter how dumb my suggestions are – Homer Simpson
Personally, I could not be more privileged. I am a straight white male. If you want to discriminate against me, you’re gonna have to start calling me specky. I am in a good position when it comes to physical traits that cannot be changed. This doesn’t mean that I, or anyone else in my position, or anyone who is in the exact opposite of my position, cannot identify as a feminist. Sure, women have the vote. Yeah, they are allowed to show their ankles now without being labelled too much of a harlot. I can’t, however, think of a year that has passed where feminism has not been necessary; where some sort of activism has not been needed to show that women are still treated poorly, or that women are dictated to about their issues by men, or that they are somehow blamed for things that happen to them.
In 2012, Republican Party member Todd Akin caused widespread outrage when he said, during a political campaign, that women who are subjected to “legitimate rape” rarely got pregnant. According to doctors he spoke to, womens’ bodies can just shut that stuff down. Apart from the bullshit biology education he clearly has, the use of the phrase “legitimate rape” is terrifying. Care to go ask a woman who has been raped if her attack was a legitimate one or not?
Also in that year, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney referred to receiving “binders full of women” when he noticed that his cabinet’s applicants appeared to all be male and he asked for some female resumés. Remember when he was almost president? Jesus.
It’s 2013 now. If 2012 had so much backwardness in it, it was unlikely that 2013 would escape it either. No one could predict just how ridiculous it actually got.
A widely publicised rape case in America involving members of an American football team and a sixteen year old girl was watched closely by the technology-savvy world. The hacktivist group Anonymous and The New York Times played large parts in bringing it to the attention of those online because of the lack of print media attention. As with any story, lots of differing accounts of what actually happened appeared. This is what we know:
Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays, two boys who were sixteen at the time of the event, have been convicted in juvenile court for rape of a minor. Over a six hour period, the female victim, who was incapacitated because of alcohol consumption, was transported from party to party. She was semi-nude, she was assaulted, and one of the boys tried to make her perform oral sex on him. The rape sentence itself came when the judge discovered that the boys penetrated the girl with their fingers, which under Ohio law is counted as rape.
A quick search on the internet will find many other details surrounding the case. The text messages sent between Richmond, Mays, and their friends can even be found. They are horrific. The majority of the case’s evidence came from texts and messages which spread over the course of the night of the incident.
The boys were tried as juveniles. Richmond was sentenced to a year for penetrating the girl while she was unconcious. Mays received the same, with another year on top for dissemination of child pornography, since the victim was under eighteen. It is unyet known if they will be added to the sex offender registry. They may remain in detention until twenty one. I suppose we are to assume that once they have reached that incredibly wisened age, they will not be a threat to anyone ever again.
What does this have to do with feminism? The media’s response to the story. At first, there were talks of a cover-up by the school due to the boys’ promising future as athletes. Then, more shockingly, CNN’s coverage of the sentencing commented on how much of a shame it was that these boys had ruined their bright and promising future.
It’s true. These boys could have progressed to the college football leagues, which Americans take very seriously, and really made a name for themselves. But why did CNN show sympathy and attach a sob story to two boys who treated a young woman the way they did? Yes, if they hadn’t commited all of those atrocious acts, maybe they would be future stars. But it is not the fault of anyone other than the boys themselves that they ruined that, just as they ruined the young woman’s life.
The sympathy and the sob story, as if one needs to be made up or imagined, ought to lie with our Jane Doe. It is awful that a young woman was subjected to what she was. The boys, on the other hand, never even received a strong enough sentence. That is a shame. It is a shame that the boys will not be away from society even longer, because the fault lies with them entirely. It is a shame that parts of the media thought to attach sympathy to two young men who have been convicted of disgusting crimes, yet may not even get their names put on a sex offenders register.
Part of the media’s job is to hold people to account. The court’s job is to uphold the law and sentence perpertrators where it can be proven that criminal activity has taken place. What the media has done is create a name for two criminals, who will be released far too quickly and be far too well known. What the court has done is show that you can commit one of the worst acts a human can possibly do as a teenager and be released by the time you are an adult.
We should never have known their names. We should have been angry that those surrounding the incident never spoke up for the girl. That no one at the parties who allowed these acts to happen never once thought to call the police or a family member, or step in and stop the boys themselves. Feminism is still important in this day and age because what most people take from this story is that two boys with a bright future made a mistake. What actually happened is that two boys ruined the life of a young woman.
As I was writing the original draft of this article, another story broke on this side of the Atlantic. The Sun, that beacon of sanity, ran a double page spread on a young girl with cancer who could not afford medical bills, juxtaposed with a topless model who had received breast implants off the NHS.
Now, there are numerous things to react to there. Angry at The Sun’s sensationalism? I don’t blame you, I often am. Angry at the NHS for prioritising spending in the wrong place? Perhaps you are. But angry at Josie Cunningham, the girl who received breast implants? Steady.
The moral of this story was just how quick people are to hate and spew vile profanities at a media-labelled villain. On the day the news broke, people all over Facebook and Twitter weren’t promoting intelligent debate on the UK health services’ priorities, but calling Josie ugly, and saying the implants weren’t even worth the money. See the problem?
Without any information, people vilified this woman because they were told to. If you dug a little deeper, you would maybe take it back. However, there is never a justification for sitting on some sort of high horse and labelling someone else as ugly just because you disagree with something that has happened that has so little to do with whether or not you find them attractive. It is incredibly backward to judge a woman and somehow connect her worth as a person to that of her appearance. Who cares how aesthetically pleasing you find her? It’s almost a certain that Josie never knew the girl with cancer even existed. If she did, what justification does anyone then have for calling her aesthetically ugly? None. It’s an insult towards a woman; and to treat her as though this woman you see before you is meant to look good to you, because that is the sole reason for her existence is not just an insult to her, but an insult to all women.
There were many things about the presentation of Josie’s story that were delivered poorly. It was likely The Sun’s intention to get a reaction out of everyone. I have no doubt that their website views went through the roof, and any issues with follow up stories likely sold well too. There’s a scandal happening here, but to quickly vilify a woman, and to insult her appearance like it matters at all to another part of the (grossly misunderstood) story is another reason why feminism in 2013 is still as important as it ever was.