What's in a Name? "Brock Turner," "Entitled White Kid," & "Rape Culture"

Take a moment, if you will, to think about your own responses to those three names or labels in the title of this piece. What emotions come to the surface for you as you consider each of them? What assumptions and images do they each evoke?

You know a handful of facts about his life, but do you know, actually know, Brock Turner? You may know an allegedly "entitled white kid," but is that all there is to that person? If you are like many people I know, you are somewhat scared by, and thus leery of discussing, what "rape culture" is and refers to.

The number of Facebook posts, blog posts, and editorials circulating in the aftermath of Brock Turner's sentencing this week is somewhat overwhelming. I take that to be a good thing: people are not pleased and are speaking up about it. Yay for freedom of speech!

Cultural and social change happens through being informed, so why not try to learn something new, here?

I have tried to affirm those who shine a light on the painfully deep, and pervasive role that racism plays in Brock's sentencing. If you know someone who thinks that race is not an issue, here, then perhaps ask them to consider the emotional (and, trigger warning, somewhat vulgar) reactions from otherwise eloquent and reasonable people.

I'm not here to determine whether or not Brock is an "entitled white kid," though I will note that his socio-economic status and skin color have, by definition of how race and class play out in this country, afforded him open doors that he just might take for granted. What he might think he can "get away with" is likely quite different than what people of color think for themselves. Having access to one's own, chosen attorney is a privilege not afforded to many people in his seat.

But if you know anything about me and the kinds of things I write about, you know that I am most interested in having you consider that final label: "Rape Culture."

is grounded in several harmful, misinformed (usually subconscious) beliefs:
  1. Men and women are not, in reality, of equal worth (this is the foundational belief that upholds patriarchy in any culture); thus,
  2. It is okay for men to behave in dominating ways over women: physical, emotional, and sexual control and abuse are their prerogative. Thus,
  3. Women's bodies are not fully their own, but can be (and are) regulated and used by the men around them.
  4. Men are "more violent by nature" than women, so we ought to expect them to act out in such ways, from time to time.

One of the main reasons talking about rape culture is difficult for so many people is that it touches on deeply held, religiously endorsed (by at least the three global monotheistic religions) ideas about gender norms.

Here are few basic examples of widely held beliefs about gender; I'm sure you can come up with many more:
  • "If you're a 'real man,' then you would _________."
  • "Men don't cry."
  • "Boys will be boys." [alarmingly often used to excuse men who behave irresponsibly]
  • "Women are too emotional."
  • "Girls aren't gifted in STEM fields."
  • "Don't throw like a girl." (said most often to males)
  • Putting someone down, but considered more egregious when done to males, by calling him/her/zir a slur for a female (bitch, slut, whore, c*nt, p*ssy, etc.). There is a stunning amount of power and misogyny in the basic idea that shaming a male is so easily done by calling him a female. Why isn't that considered a compliment? Think about it.

In an excellent, concise piece posted June 2nd, Joanna Schroeder outlines six ways we (in our parenting/our media/our assumptions about relationships/our gendered beliefs about males & females) contribute to rape culture.

As Schroeder's piece suggests, these seemingly innocent elements are just the tip of the iceberg. But this list helps put the situation in perspective: rape culture does not happen in a vacuum, overnight, so we have to be actively conscious to change what has developed. We might also want to take a look at the various sources, texts, doctrines and beliefs that we treasure that, unfortunately, help to maintain and perpetuate such a social climate.

What I'd like you to consider is how early, and how often, you and those around you in your community might be unconsciously perpetuating specific gendered expectations of young people. The thing is, laying the foundation for a rape culture happens through thousands of subtle and not-so-subtle comments made, standards set, and behaviors encouraged.

And this, my friends, is what is at the heart of Brock Turner's choice to rape someone. He embodied a set of beliefs about himself and women that came together in a horrific act of violence, one that, for his victim, will last the rest of her life.

So, let's be clear about a few things:
  1. Brock and his father have still yet to name that Brock has raped someone (#2-4 above).
  2. The deferral to pledge to talk about "sexual promiscuity" and "binge drinking" is a powerful tactic on their part, though I do wonder (in a related tangent kind of a way) if these two men aim either of these lenses at Brock and his victim, equally. But the main point, here, is that neither of these rather important issues (binge drinking and unhealthy/unsafe sexual practices) are at the root of why Brock raped someone.
  3. Brock Turner raped someone (#1-4 above).
  4. Brock Turner had no ethical or moral grounding that included treating other humans as humans, at all times, period. If he did, then he would not have raped someone (#1-4 above).
  5. Brock Turner raped someone....
  6. Now Brock's father can identify with millions of parents who have had a child do something "out of character," or something that does not define that child, through-and-through, yet whose act is still something criminal that needs to be addressed. Maybe this incident will have people seeing humans, not skin color, when someone is accused of a crime. Perhaps I'm naïve. Hopeful, but likely naïve on this one.
  7. Brock Turner raped someone.
  8. Alcohol did not cause Brock to rape someone. His own view of women, as objects, things to be taken and treated as he wishes (#1-3 above), is what caused him to rape someone.
  9. Brock Turner raped someone.
  10. If you're uncomfortable with seeing "rape" so many times in this list, then good. That was part of my point. The whole event started with Brock's decision to rape someone.

How does anyone - Stanford undergrad, University of Virginia football player, or blue collar worker next door - get the idea that raping someone is... a good idea? Is okay to do? Is something she was asking for?

Please. Can we discuss this element of Brock's case? Will you rise to the occasion, not be frightened by a name, "rape culture," which understandably sounds scary? Will you take seriously what is happening, and choose to talk about it; understand it; change it?