Responding to evidence that adults around these football players conspired to cover up the shame and the crime of it all, Zirin tackles the social structure framing the story. “Steubenville,” The Nation’s headline announced, “shows the bonds between jock culture and rape culture.”
That is part of the problem: sexism isn’t news.
I want to turn to an anecdote that Zirin recounted in another column, also about Steubenville. Earlier this month he shared a memory of being on a team as a high school student, of being in the locker room when a teammate made a rape-joke. The coach, whom Zirin recalled as a very left leaning and sensitive man, hauled off and slapped the offending player.
In a flash, Coach Dan backhanded Tim across the face. Seeing a coach or adult authority figure hit a 14-year-old, even a huge one like Tim, was shocking enough. Seeing Hippie Dan do it was akin to watching the Dalai Lama stomp someone with his sandals. We all stood there breathless and I’m not sure if Tim or Dan was shaking more. Coach Dan finally spoke and said, “I’m sorry but there are some things you don’t joke about.” He then walked out of the locker room and practice was done. The incident was never mentioned, but Dan was never quite so positive, Tim stopped making jokes and that was the first and last locker-room rape joke of the season. (Steubenville and Challenging Rape Culture in Sports)
Rape isn’t external to patriarchy – it is, in fact, its internal symbolic engine. Sex as violence; sex as dehumanization; sex as the rendering of the other into a thing. This is why the call to teach men “not to rape” is so ineffectual. It is no call to action. It isn’t adequate to the imperative: Rape – because it’s better than being raped. Rape, because that is, in fact, what makes you not a woman. Rape, dare I add, is something that men also do to each other.
In the story Zirin tells, there is no discussion. An action is committed on behalf of that woman. She doesn’t figure in the story; the story isn’t about her. It’s a story about patriarchal authority (good and bad).