Before I begin writing about my mother, I’d like to talk a bit about a book that I had to read in high school, Candide. Voltaire—author, playwright, philosopher and thinker at large—created this wonderful satire aimed at the church, the Enlightenment and nobility in general. However, what struck me the most about this text was the plethora of violence that jumped off the page like the special effects of Thor… including, but not limited to, an ass-cheek being severed off and a main female character being kept as a sex slave to her captor.
All philosophical subtext aside, I thought it was a great work of the imagination—contrasting gory violence with a fantasy land—until, as the events of this and last year unfolded, I realized that the extreme violence is not a mere flash of imagination. Sure, it might seem naïve to think that violence doesn’t exist; quite to the contrary, I’ve always been aware of its existence. However, the difference between Voltaire’s novel and our world that makes me most uncomfortable is how this violence is ignored, accepted and swept under the rug.
I only knew this violence as fiction because I had first witnessed it as a sort of performance, with actors rather than aggressors and victims. I was 10 years old, searching on the internet for something AIM-related. In a tapestry of pop-up ads, I found one in particular that intrigued me and, clicking a corrupted exit toggle, was led straight to the website. Although I’d already seen Shakespeare in Love, I was still unaware that a market for video-recorded sex existed. The name of the site? Forced Entry… and I don’t think I need to say more.
While I don’t think that a silly fantasy site in which all the actors consent to “act” out a few scenes single-handedly perpetuates the rape culture that continues to plague our society, my internet history obliged my mother to sit me down and have probably one of the most embarrassing conversations that I’ve ever had with her—and a conversation that every child should have with his parents.
As I desperately tried to absolve myself of guilt in explaining how I’d came upon the site, or rather how the site had come upon me, she spoke simply, directly and firmly: “Women are not to be treated like that . Women are just as human as you are and deserve the same respect and freedom that you grant yourself”. She told me that pleasure can never come from rape because rape is an act of control—not love. It doesn’t consist of a man and a woman but rather, an aggressor and a victim. And then, she asked me, “Do you know what virginity is?”
“Um, it’s the first time you have sex, right?” I replied.
“More than that, it’s every human’s possession of their body and choice as to whom they share that possession with. Virginity is how the power of possession reflects personhood.”
Let me just say that again: how the power of possession reflects personhood. She shared with me how rape steals a lot more than just flesh and can scar the victim for life.
A year later, in sixth grade, my best friend and I were having a conversation about our plans for winter break when she told me that she was dreading visiting her family in Utah because her uncle had raped her and her two older sisters. And then she cried in front of me, not because she knew what had been taken from her, but because she was scared. And with the recent headlines of “New Delhi Gang Rape” and “20 Men Gang Rape in Cleveland, Texas,” and the rape of an 18-year-old mentally handicapped woman on a bus in Los Angeles last November, there are plenty of reasons to be scared. The fear is not necessarily of men, nor of rapists, but of the fact that the media ignores the bigger issue with most rape cases—violence against women.
I don’t know why these crimes aren’t taken more seriously in our society. I do have a hypothesis though and it includes the glorification of male camaraderie and “boyishness” that seems to have caused CNN to gloss over the assault committed by Steubenville student athletes and cause universities like USC to look casually on date rape cases and allegations of rape within the college party culture. As in Ancient Greece, this cult of masculinity deems men, especially young men, as fully functional and endowed with basic rights, and proffers women the sub-human, predisposed status of victim. Examples abound in the media, from teaching women how to “avoid getting raped” to making the take-away of the Steubenville rape case an issue of “being careful with what you and your friends put online.”
In a world where the media empathizes with star-athletes-turned-rapists, we do not need more leverage with “gray” areas. Rape is rape, whether you’re drunk or not.
By law, consent under the influence is not consent. And silence is not consent.
But even as I say this, I know it will have little impact on the “broletariat” cult that has become the centerpiece of immediate American culture.
Instead, to the broletariat: would your mother (caretaker) still take pride in you? Do your actions, thoughts and words reflect respect for both women and men?
Role-play aside, this is a serious question that we need to ask ourselves before we can ask it of others. And then maybe, just maybe, the number of good friends of mine who are also victims of sexual crimes won’t exceed the fingers on my hands.
And maybe, just maybe, more sons will learn from their mothers the lesson I learned from mine.