[trigger warning: Steubenville, a little bit]
A lot of people have a lot to say on the conviction of the two boys who raped a girl in Steubenville. Henry Rollins asked, “How do you fix that?” The “that” to which he referred is:
It is obvious that the two offenders saw the victim as some one that could be treated as a thing. This is not about sex, it is about power and control. I guess that is what I am getting at. Sex was probably not the hardest thing for the two to get, so that wasn’t the objective. When you hear the jokes being made during the crime, it is the purest contempt.
How do you fix contempt for women? His guess was women’s studies in high school the curriculum, comprehensive sex ed, and less objectification of women in the media. “Education, truth, respect, equality—these are the things that can get you from a to b very efficiently.” He’s very close to what the research tells us is the effective way to prevent the not-so-good things associated with sex: infectious disease, unwanted pregnancy, and sexual violence.
The research over the last 30 or so years has told us what we need to do. We do not lack knowledge of what needs to be done, we lack only the political will to do it. Here is what the science tells us to do:
Economic and educational opportunities for women. Give girls in the industrialized west a way to measure their value apart from their sexual desirability to men. Give girls in the developing world a chance to be people, fully accessing the opportunities available to boys.
Comprehensive sex education. This includes contraception, STI prevention, sexual communication, values clarification, and providing opportunities to think about what you want to be and do when you grow up.
Affordable, accessible, effective birth control. For everyone, everywhere. Period. No limits, no barriers, no conditions, no moralizing. Just birth control, because preventing unwanted pregnancy is the best way to reduce abortion.
Media Literacy. The ability to recognize how media can influence our thoughts, feelings, and decisions is a critical element in unshackling young people from the media’s efforts to brainwash them. The media will not change until the audience changes, and the audience changes when they spot what the media is doing, and reject it.
Bystander Education.The Campus SaVE Act in VAWA now mandates campuses to provide bystander education, and for good reason. When people learn (1) to recognize the precursors of interpersonal violence, (2) Effective and safe strategies for stepping forward when they notice those precursors, and (3) a feeling of personal responsibility for keeping their community free of violence, then we have a population of people who can recognize violence, understands that it’s wrong, and are less susceptible to pluralistic ignorance and diffusion and responsibility.
Emotion Coaching, Mindfulness. Teaching young people the skill of moving all the way through an emotion, from intensity to calmness, and the skill of communicating clearly about their internal state with confidence and joy – what I call “staying over your own emotional center of gravity” – will give us a population of people who can tell the difference between what they need and what the world owes them, the difference between what they’ve been taught and what is true. It will give us a population that is emotionally interdependent and mutually respectful.
The more we have of each of those things, the fewer people will be traumatized and the more effective our responses to injustice will be.
Culture change is slow and painful. People resist because they feel “less free” inside new cultural rules than they do in the old cultural rules. They’re not less free, of course – the current rules are just as limiting (probably more so), but, like the clothes you’ve been wearing all day, we get used to them and forget them.
As I say, we lack not the knowledge of what needs to be done, but rather the political will to make it happen.