THE BLOG

Sexual Violence Is Not Inherent in Men

03/25/2013 12:03 EDT | Updated 05/25/2013 05:12 EDT
AP
Trent Mays, 17, left, and co-defendant 16-year-old Ma'lik Richmond sit at the defense table during a recess of their trial on rape charges in juvenile court on Thursday, March 14, 2013, in Steubenville, Ohio. Mays and Richmond are accused of raping a 16-year-old West Virginia girl in August of 2012. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, Pool)

The news of late has been dominated by stories of rape. Seth MacFarlane has gotten some bad press (which is good press) in part because he roasted Jodie Foster for baring her breasts in the gang-rape scene of The Accused; meanwhile two gang-rapes and an attempted rape have been reported in India, and rape convictions have "ruined" the lives of two adolescent football stars in Steubenville, Ohio.

I've been wondering about the internal motivations of boys and men who rape vis-à-vis the nature-nurture debate that dates back to antiquity. Plato thought behaviour is innate while Aristotle said no, experience shapes who we are. Today science believes that as much as biology determines the societies we create, societies in turn can alter our genes. Psychiatrist Daniel Siegel defines 'interpersonal neurobiology' as a phenomenon in which the lifelong development of our nervous systems depends both on our personal relationships as well as interactions with our culture.

Thus rape as a popular activity for men in cultures as different as India and America is said to stem from sexual differences based in biology reinforced by social circumstances in which they're encouraged to flourish. While the incidence of rape isn't universally and symmetrically distributed across all cultures of the world, many of us live in male-dominated societies where boys learn that sex is one way to be a man, and a vagina is "the box a penis comes in."

One of the reasons behind why the media focused on the "ruined" lives of the Steubenville rapists and ignored the suffering of their victim is this: we think she asked for it and doesn't deserve our empathy. She should have known better than to get drunk and lose consciousness at a party full of boys who, being victims of their inherent need for sexual violence, can't be blamed for being male. Besides, she had a reputation for promiscuity and so invited the boys to "come in her box." At least that's what many tweeters thought, male and female.

True, some are being punished for expressing themselves, but their punishments only validate their opinions, living as we do in 'horizontal societies' where the cynicism that pervades online opinion-making views authority as corrupt and illegitimate. Legal censures then are treated as validations. The so-called 'democratization' enacted by the Internet means anyone's opinion is valid online, and the more offensive it is, the more publicity one earns. This seems to be the end-goal of virtual democracy.

As the Seth MacFarlane debacle shows, today we hunger for giving offense. We gorge on others' weaknesses then spit them out for others to chew. The level of audacity and insensitivity of the jibe is directly proportional to the amount of fame one acquires. Those in the media who expressed indignation over "We Saw Your Boobs" only heightened MacFarlane's celebrity and increased the value of his multimillion dollar brand. Giving and taking a certain kind of intelligently reasoned offence is considered essential for the healthy functioning of democracy, but since it keeps getting harder to offend people and easier to make them laugh, we may see this as a sign of our rotting minds. Television shows, movies and other forms of popular entertainment say worship the body and treat the mind as an afterthought.

Just below the surface of society's consciousness, a sense of the inferiority of females reifies the ubiquity of misogyny, the cultural expression of an underlying belief in biological destiny. Armed with this ruling ideology justified on the premise of an unalterable human nature, we see the Steubenville girl not as a victim but as a criminal who used her male accomplices to help her commit a crime against herself. Such reasoning helps explain why so few rapes are reported and even fewer end in conviction.

Seth MacFarlane, Internet thugs and the Steubenville rapists forge part of the ongoing misogyny in popular culture that implies rape is a legitimate form of masculine self-expression, embodied in the destructive forces of nature, the cruelty of which spawned the male animal.

CNN's Steubenville Coverage