There was a protest outside of the country jail in California last week when former Standford student-athlete Brock Turner was released after serving 3 months of his 6-month sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on campus. That protest centered largely on the judge responsible for the lenient sentence who protesters are trying to get removed from the bench. These types of actions have been occurring since Turner’s sentencing.
The protests have moved east, but they look a little different. Outside of the Turner family home in Dayton, Ohio where Turner will be on probation and have to register as a sex offender, which news reports say he has yet to do, are armed protesters. Armed with guns. There are signs as well calling for Turner’s (and other rapists’ ) castration.
Where to begin?
First, as I have noted previously, this is not a Title IX case. It is, however, a case of a violent athlete and the privilege conferred by being an athlete (and, in Turner’s case, a white, class-privileged athlete). It is relevant because athlete privilege often affects how Title IX procedures are carried out (or not). Also, given reports about Turner’s behavior coming from female members of the swim team, there was probably a Title IX case in there if someone had chosen to pursue it.
What I am more interested in regarding these protests is the violence of them. The threat of personal harm, all extralegal, is disgusting. Turner did something horrible and disgusting; so did the judge that handed down the 6-month sentence. Protesters with large guns and signs suggesting that Turner should be raped or castrated do not make any of it any less disgusting. They do not right the wrongs.
Are the protesters suggesting that vigilante justice is more fair than the system to which Turner was subjected? I know there have been a lot of superhero movies this summer, but the romanticization of vigilantism is just that, romanticized. And it is without context–especially historical context that includes its use against racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. Vigilantes have used guns and castration and rape to keep people in their place when they thought the law was not doing enough or that these extralegal actions could serve as a warning.
So why these actions?
It goes beyond vigilantism. These protests and the symbols and words being used are a means of reifying a masculinity that is still violent and still sexually violent. In other words, it is not questioning the level of violence in our society, it is suggesting that certain forms of violence are more acceptable than others. Castration is sexual violence. The rape of men is sexual violence. Guns are symbols and weapons of violence. And they are all about the power of men. What these protesters are suggesting is that their form of violence, encouraged by state-sanctioned gun use in the form of Ohio’s open carry law, is real masculinity. Turner’s form of violence–sexually assaulting an unconscious woman–is not a proper display of masculinity. Slinging a semi-automatic across your body and standing watch outside the home of a convicted rapist is an acceptable use of violence, based on these displays.
This is also about class and class-based masculinity. To some people, including those standing outside his house, Turner is not doing masculinity in an acceptable way. His class privilege, his sport (swimming), and the nature of his crime all contribute to the perception that Turner is not the right type of masculine. Hegemonic masculinity, how it is created and embedded in society, is on display on that sidewalk.
Amid all this violent masculinity, where is the concern about the woman who was raped? About women who are and will be victims of sexual violence? Where is the challenge to rape culture and to the culture of violence more generally? It is missing. It is all missing from that protest, which is sadly ironic but very much proof that this is not about the sexual violence perpetrated against women.
There are no apologies to be made for Brock Turner, and he has already been granted too much leniency. His enactment of violence and the protesters’ enactment of violence are both tied to violent masculinity, and violent masculinity is at the heart of rape culture.