Sometimes you need look no further than the boy next door
We are living through an incredible moment in history and revisiting our own history with women’s stories pouring out in response. I grew up in an affluent suburb of Connecticut with an illusion that all was well. My home town had its own resident rapist. And it wasn’t a stranger jumping out of the woods as we were taught to fear. It was the boy next door: handsome, million-dollar smile, prominent family, and wrestling star. The teenage girls whom he sexually wrestled with were in no position but to be pinned. The disconnect between the outer view that this was a safe, friendly suburb and the reality was so divergent, no wonder a real estate agent wouldn’t say, “As long as you are not Jewish, black, or care about the safety of your teenaged girls, this is paradise.”
My parents decided to leave New York City to move to the suburbs because it was safe and had a good public school system for academics. Neither was true. It was all about male athletic prowess and the subsequent free prowling which went along with it. Being smart was not valued. Being kind was not valued. Being handsome and good at sports was valued. And date rape as a term did not exist. It was just a bad Saturday night.
The rapist in my hometown fled the country, and on his parents’ dime, lived the jet set life abroad. He finally was brought back for trial and was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison for the rape of a 16-year-old girl and later pleaded no contest to raping a 17-year old girl four days after the first incident. He was released from prison after a time for good behavior and is now supposedly a sky diving instructor.
Some of the parents in my home town were oblivious to their sons’ behavior, but others were not. A friend of mine, from a big Catholic family full of strapping older brothers, said his father would offer his sons for Christmas either gifts from the LL Bean catalogue or money for their girlfriends’ abortions. The recent film at the Hamptons International Film Festival, Roll Red Roll, looked at a case where star athletes not only gang raped an unconscious girl but horribly joked about it all over social media. Has so little changed since the 1980s? Has it gotten worse?
Our high school yearbook every year was dedicated to a classmate killed in a teenage drunken driving accident. There was, however, no page dedicated to girls who had their own drunken accidents which didn’t involve wrecks but were emotionally fatal nonetheless. Some were consensual. Some were not. An incredible tool which many young people point to for the discussion is a video on YouTube called “Tea and Consent.” In a very clever way the conversation is played out with stick figures with a cup of tea as the metaphor for sex. Just because you make them a cup of tea, you shouldn’t make them drink it, even if they said they wanted it and changed their mind, and unconscious people don’t want tea.
What can we do on our end as women? I have always advocated that a woman own her “yes” as well as her “no.” Don’t be coy. Don’t play a game. Be clear. And absolutely alcohol is a factor. If you go with your girlfriends to a party, stay together and leave together.
As a culture, we could also value smart boys and sensitive boys, and define that being respectful and kind to women is super sexy. I personally am in love with Chris Janson for his country song “Take A Drunk Girl Home”: Take a drunk girl home/Let her sleep all alone/Leave her keys on the counter, your number by the phone/Pick up her life she threw on the floor/Leave the hall lights on walk out and lock the door/That’s how she knows the difference between a boy and man/Take a drunk girl home.
The good thing about the current conversation is the open, graphic, and honest nature of it for women and men and boys and girls. It is a learning moment for everyone.