Monday, July 8, 2013

Man Up. Or Else.

While driving a lot less media coverage than the Steubenville case, the sexual assault of a young man by other members of his high school wrestling team, and the reaction to it, is perhaps important for us to examine.

While "Rape Culture" is generally perceived to be a particularly literal front in the "Battle of the Sexes," Abigail Rine makes the point that victimizing someone weaker than ourselves, and reserving sympathy only for those who behave in a manner that we find to be appropriate transcends male-female relationships. Or sex.

In 2007, Dana Lynne Snyder was charged with telephone harassment against Brett Karch. Karch was a member of Snohomish High School's Marine JROTC program. He was injured when a cannon that was fired before football games and to celebrate home-team touchdowns exploded, shattering his leg. Concerned that the cannon tradition would be halted, people began phoning and visiting the Karch home, threatening retaliation if they cooperated in the investigation of the incident. Once the incident began to blow up on the internet, "[t]he mayor and school district superintendent later spoke out, saying most people were unaware of the severity of his injuries, or his emotional distress."

While not quite a classical blame-the-victim response (I'm unaware of anyone who claimed that Karch "had it coming.") the similarities are there - anger at a victim for jeopardizing a town's image of itself, and officials stepping in to downplay, rather than deplore, the behavior.

The Karch case bears a much greater resemblance to what happened in Norwood, Colorado than directly to Steubenville, but I think that Rine is correct to link all such actions into a broader culture of enforcing gender stereotypes with the threat of violence, especially in cases where deviation from those stereotypes is perceived to carry consequences for the community. As she concludes we live in "a world that polices the boundaries of gender to the detriment of all."

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