Maureen Dowd…gets it right?

June 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Oh, Maureen Dowd. I never quite know how to approach her writing. Occasionally she’s very smart and irreverent in the best way, and at those times her accomplishments as a successful, mainstream female journalist make me proud. More often, though, I accidentally read something she’s written (seriously, I never seek out this stuff) and think: What? Also: Why?

Like this: “Even as he grows arugula in the White House vegetable garden, Barack Obama never again wants to be seen as the hoity-toity guy fretting over the price of arugula at Whole Foods. That is why the president ends up sending mixed signals on food.” …By talking about the nutritional importance of fruits and veggies, and then sometimes eating a hamburger. Or something. Seriously, what? (Sweet Machine had an excellent takedown, which included the delightfully LOL-worthy line, “Seriously, why does ANYBODY mistake MoDo for a feminist, ever? Is it because she is a woman with a job?”)

Or this: “Al Gore is so feminized and diversified and ecologically correct that he’s practically lactating.” What. Can. This POSSIBLY Mean.

But — in true Dowd fashion — I digress.

The point is she had a fairly great piece up yesterday about a truly disgusting group of young men at Landon, “an elite private grade school and high school for boys in [a] wealthy Washington suburb.”

Before they got caught last summer, the boys had planned an “opening day party,” complete with T-shirts, where the mission was to invite the drafted girls and, unbeknownst to them, score points by trying to rack up as many sexual encounters with the young women as possible.

…In The Washington Post, the sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote about the swagger of young male athletes and the culture of silence that protects their thuggish locker-room behavior.

…Jean Erstling, Landon’s director of communications, said…that “Landon has an extensive ethics and character education program which includes as its key tenets respect and honesty. Civility toward women is definitely part of that education program.”

Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.

Wow! It is a surprising day when I concur with Maureen Dowd. But it has come! We are in agreement! On this one, at least.

Average people do not do terrible things of their own volition. I refuse to believe it! I am too much of an optimist. Because let me tell you something: If I believed, as our culture seems to, that men are rapacious beasts whose thirst for violence cannot be quelled, I would have given up on all of this so, so long ago. I would have given up on this blog, on daring to talk and write about sexual violence, on feminist organizing, on having the audacity to travel alone whenever and wherever I please. I would have given up on men, and I would have given up on my own freedom. But luckily, I haven’t. Because I believe that, in the majority of cases (though certainly not all), rape happens because of the intricate process of socialization that teaches boys that rape is okay, or at the very least, not a big deal. This process is part of the enormous and far-reaching tentacles of rape culture, the cultural meme that encourages and condones sexual violence against women.

Most men rape because of opportunity, because someone is vulnerable and because they’ve got an entire culture backing them up, because they haven’t been taught that it’s wrong, because they think — often correctly — that they can get away with it.

As Bernard Lefkowitz painstakingly documented in his book Our Guys, about the culture of a tight-knit New Jersey town that allowed the gang rape of a mentally retarded young woman — by her classmates and childhood friends – not only to happen, but also to be excused: “These Glen Ridge kids, they were pure gold, every mother’s dream, every father’s pride. They were not only Glen Ridge’s finest, but in their perfection they belonged to all of us.” These rapists were not anomalies. Far from it. Indeed, they were the perfect products of our misogynistic culture.

Sexual violence is not a stand-alone problem; it lies on a patriarchal continuum of all the tiny ways we wrong women, all the time, every day, at home, at work, on the street, in the doctor’s office, on the subway, in advertisements, in the classroom, in the courtroom, on the silver screen, all across the infinite internet. When the world treats women like shit, how can we expect our sons and brothers and classmates to learn that it’s not okay to treat women like shit?

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