“I expect something like this from Fox News, but CNN?” – Facebook commenter on my feed.
[Trigger warning for discussion of rape.]
This article has been all over the place in my news feed, with an appropriate amount of outrage. The CNN response was deplorable. To me, though, the reaction from CNN speaks to a much larger, much more horrible, much more insidious problem than rape apology.
Candy Crowley, the CNN news reporter, was in the room when two young men came to the realization that “my life is over.” She watched as those two boys, seemingly not so different than any other teenagers with their strange mixture of bravado and vulnerability, fell to pieces. As much as I think the reporting, with sympathy towards rapists and hardly a mention of the victim, is disgusting, I understand it. If you’ve watched the video of Ma’lik collapsing, maybe you understand it, too.
The news anchors didn’t watch Jane Doe’s life get ruined, but they were there at the very moment when the boys’ worlds came crashing down. The boys really thought, up until the minute of their conviction, they did nothing wrong. Crowley watched something that we normally only see in horror movies – in a matter of seconds, somebody’s entire life changed in a horrifying way. Crowley’s response was natural. No matter how terrible their crime, witnessing that moment – the complete breakdown of somebody’s world – touches the core of anybody’s humanity. It was hard for me to watch, and I am disgusted by those boys. It was still hard to watch.
The worst part of the CNN coverage is not the rape-apologizing. The worst part is that that moment, the world-crashing-down moment, exists at all.
That our culture is such that two football playing teenagers carried a lifeless body from place to place, posed with her, raped her, broadcast pictures of her, bragged about their semen on her, pissed on her, and were proud of it. That they were so sure that what they did was okay – better than okay, hilarious and awesome – that they wanted it documented and shared.
That even after the story went viral because of how awful it was, even after the entire world reacted in horror and disgust, even after facing the victim’s mother – they were surprised to face consequences. They really expected the judge to punch them on the shoulder, give them high fives, and say with a smirk, “You really gave it to her good.”
For what they did, they got a shockingly small consequence because of their ages. And even this, the fact that they have any consequences at all, that other people weren’t cracking up at their antics – this small consequence was still earth shattering to them. They fell to pieces because through it all, they were so sure of the rightness of their actions that any consequence was shocking.
The main problem isn’t that news anchors felt sympathy for a couple of teenagers in a heart-wrenching moment; it’s that the moment was heart-wrenching in the first place. They’ve been raised in a culture where this type of activity is not seen as violence, it’s seen as a drunk bitch asking for it, or it’s seen as boys being boys, or it’s seen as something a swaggering football player has the entitlement, if not the duty, to do.
I’ve seen over and over again the comment that the rapists aren’t sorry for their crime, they are sorry they got caught. This strikes me as true, but part of that responsibility falls on us. They aren’t sorry for their crime because they didn’t think it was wrong. They don’t see it as violence. They don’t think drunk people, especially drunk women, especially drunk pretty women, are people at all. They’ve been taught to believe this. By us.
By every last one of us who has ever told a rape joke, or laughed at a rape joke, or not spoken up when somebody else told a rape joke. That’s what this whole thing was, right? An extended rape joke, with the punchline posted across social media for everybody to laugh at. They’ve been taught these lessons by every one of us who has ever said a woman in a short skirt is asking for it, or that a woman who is drinking is asking for it, or that a woman who is flirting is asking for it. They’ve been taught these lessons by every one of us that has ever suggested that men shouldn’t be expected to control themselves, that it’s the woman’s responsibility to not be tempting, that men can’t help it. These boys were just acting in a way that our culture encourages boys to act. They learned quite well that rape is funny, that women are asking to be fucked, that real men can’t control themselves. They did just what we asked them to do.
Yes, feeling pity for the boys adds to the problem, but focusing on the pity doesn’t get to the root of the problem, which is that here were two young men who broke down because the consequences that they are faced with were so out of left field. They expected to be heralded as heroes, and in a way, the very culture that taught them how to be men has abandoned them.
I will admit it: I feel some pity for the rapists. Not a lot, because what they did was so over-the-top awful and disgusting that it’s hard to see them as humans. But the way they publicized their actions says to me that they really did not have a context with which to work – that they have been failed by the culture. We’ve taught them that rape is funny, that bitches are less than people, that manly men do manly things to passed out girls.
Apologizing for the rapists is wrong. Focusing on the tears of a rapist and ignoring the victim is wrong. Talking about how their “promising lives” are ruined is wrong. Also wrong, though, is ignoring the fact that they have been raised in such a way as to believe they were acting appropriately. We can’t wash our hands of this, the rapists have been caught, they’ll go to jail, the problem is fixed. The root of the problem lies in our culture, in our speech and actions, in the way we teach kids to treat each other. It was hard to watch them break down in court. It is harder to admit that we, too, are culpable.