In Saturday’s International Herald Tribune, Lisa Shannon has a great piece on why excusing mass rape in Congo as part of “their culture” is ridiculous and dangerous. It is hard article to read, for me because I do not like feeling complicit in another person’s suffering, and that is what my culture is doing to another culture.
I believe in looking inward when I look outward. Meaning, when I look at the problems of another country, I challenge myself to examine my own. Notice the log in your own eye if you want to discuss the sawdust in another’s.*
How do we dismiss sexual assault? In white America, one way is the teeth-grinding, rage-inducing excuse, “Boys will be boys.” Those four words have such power: they release the offender from being responsible for his actions, and they completely disempower and silence the abused girl or woman. It’s a get-out-of-jail-free card and duct tape over the mouth in four words, one of which is used twice!
If a boy grabs my ass, “Boys will be boys.”
If a boy grabs my tits, “Boys will be boys.”
If a boy catcalls me, “Boys will be boys.”
Within the anti-sexual violence movement (and any discussion around healthy sexuality), the idea of consent is very central. Speaking from my experience growing up in the American South (specifically Texas), starting at consent is starting a few steps ahead of myself. I have been silenced; I have had my voice taken away; I have lost my ability to consent. The culture of dismissal of girls and women’s accusations of harassment sexual violence, whether my own or another person’s, are part of that silencing. I have had to take many years and many more to come to rediscover my voice and my consent. I know I am not alone.
On the other side of this phrase are the boys. Boys will not always be boys. Boys will be men. What kind of men are we creating when teach them that they are excused from the responsibility of their own actions? When we don’t take the time to talk to them or model for them what behaviors are “okay”? When we show them that women’s voices mean nothing?
We can do better. To change our human culture, we cannot be complicit. Sexual violence is inexcusable, from the playground to the warground. And we are all part of (re)creating our culture, one of respect, equality and joy.
Crossposted at Envision Williamsburg,