On Sunday, Trent Mays and Ma'lik Richmond, two football players from Steubenville, Ohio, were convicted of raping a 16-year-old girl and sentenced to serve time in the state juvenile system -- Mays for at least two years and Richmond for at least one. Shockingly, in the press coverage of the event, the media chose not to focus their attention on the horrendous acts that were committed, but on how the convicted rapists -- with "such promising futures... literally watched as they believed their life fell apart."
It hardly needs to be said that the media's outpouring of sympathy toward the defendants perpetuate what has been aptly termed a "rape culture," where rape and violence are accepted and even condoned by society. The sympathy displayed was appalling, and though they are still minors, the moment those boys raped an innocent girl, they forfeited any right to be pitied, idealized as football stars, and viewed as the poor teenage boys who broke down in tears after hearing the verdict. Their actions could never be justified, regardless of the excuses made, and people from around the country have already expressed anger at the way in which the media reacted to the outcome.
Amidst this outpouring of criticism and rage though, I can't help but think about the countless other situations where women have been abused and objectified without invoking the same vitriolic response. Society is saturated with blatant misogyny, but most incidents are never handled properly and are almost always overlooked by the public eye, from date rapes at parties to incidents of unreported domestic violence. Even in mainstream culture, magazine covers flaunt lurid photos of women to attract customers, beauty pageants parade women around like objects to be gawked at, and musicians like Eminem use lyrics such as "put Anthrax on a Tampax and slap you till you can't stand" in songs to appeal to the average listener. All of these things have created and preserved a culture where rape and dehumanization are something familiar and even expected.
The fact is, once we take a step back from the Steubenville case, it's evident that misogyny cuts far deeper into the fabric of our society than in just this one trial. Though rape and violence are the worst manifestations of this victimizing culture we live in, the root cause for these issues stems not from arbitrary violence, but from the misogynistic mindset that our culture perpetuates -- from the way we view, use and present women. At school, I hear students rejoice about "raping" a test, listen to female students calling other girls derogatory terms, and witness male students asking their female counterparts to make them a sandwich. This suppression and shaming has become so normalized that it's entered mainstream vernacular and become a part of the way we speak and view the world. Now, even a violent term like "rape" no longer denotes the unspeakable torment and abuse that the victims must endure, but instead showcases success and domination over something as trivial as an exam.
In short, rape culture doesn't just occur when someone commits rape or condones violence; it occurs every time we entrench the notion that women are objects undeserving of equal respect and dignity. Though the media's reaction in the Steubenville rape case was without a doubt horrifying and reprehensible, in the end, it was just a symptom of a far larger problem pervading our culture: misogyny and the objectification of women. It's only once we eliminate the true root causes of these issues -- once we stop people from viewing women as objects and instead have them respect women as human beings -- that we can truly hope to eliminate the rape culture that we now bear witness to and condemn today.