Media’s role in rape culture

A month after two Ohio teen boys were found guilty of raping an incapacitated 16-year-old girl last August, the headlines are still sickening: “Gang rape by football stars in Steubenville, Ohio,” “Disturbing video leaked of Ohio high school students joking about alleged gang rape,” “Rape charges against high school players divide football town.”

 

Aside from the crime itself, perhaps what is most scary about this is the teens used camera phones to record the acts, which took place at a house party, and shared the photos and video of the girl among their friends. Much of the evidence used in the case was found through text messages and on Twitter and Instagram.

 

The case shook residents of the town of Steubenville, Ohio, a suburb where football reigns supreme; the two accused teens played on the local high school football team. The laser-focused media scrutiny brought national attention to the accused; some media outlets reflected the community’s attitude toward the teens, touting them as football stars with bright futures and athletic scholarships ahead of them.

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What escapes me is how this culture of rape and misogyny has become so embedded into society, an accepted cultural norm, a pastime to be shared with friends via social media and further perpetuated by other media outlets.

 

As I hope most people realize, violence against women is slipping into mainstream pop culture, be it controversial rap lyrics about drugging women and date rape, or television shows with their male leads partaking in verbal and physical assaults on women. The film industry can also perpetuate this male chauvinism, but I like to believe most people are conscious enough to understand how media can reinforce preconceived attitudes.

 

Take for example James Bond’s character: the epitome of class, good looks and taste. He drives the coolest cars and always gets the girl. I grew up watching the Bond movies, mostly because my brother made me watch them, but not for one second did I question what someone else my age might think having watched the same movie.

 

People can take it any number of different ways. Maybe a person thinks if they act classy, dress well and are charming and respectful towards women, like Bond, they will get the girl. Or perhaps one thinks because they drive a nice car, have money or are revered among their peers they are somehow entitled to women. This sense of entitlement leads to behavior that seems to be more widely accepted as time goes on, and society often lets them get away with it.

 

Justice was served when the teen boys in Steubenville were found guilty of the crimes they committed, but my question is, what influenced them to act like this in the first place? So many communities still look the other way when the cool kids or star athletes misbehave or commit crimes, but there is something larger at stake when we ignore this behavior. We need to focus on what we can do to prevent the behavior to begin with, rather than responding only to the aftermath. Prevention is key.

 

Most forms of media, whether news media, social media, music or film, play some role in creating this facade that reflects what is really happening in our culture, breeding a continual social pressure to act a certain way. Don’t subscribe to it. Realize there are choices: continue with your lame imitation of James Bond, or actually become your own person with your own set of standards, a gentleman perhaps – like James Bond, but better.

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