The Thoughts We Feed Our Sons
Yesterday, the two 16-year-old football players accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville, OH were found guilty. As the blogger Black Girl Dangerous (BGD) has noted, the mainstream media has reacted to this by sympathizing with the rapists and bemoaning how this has ruined the rapists’ lives, at the girl’s expense. BGD writes,
Elevating the experience of these boys above the experience of their victim is not okay.
But, you know what is okay? Also feeling sorry for these boys.
Not in the way that CNN did it. Not at the expense of the girl who was raped by these boys. But including these boys in our feelings of sadness is okay.
I, unlike many people reacting to today’s verdict, am not just thrilled to death that two 16-year-old boys are going to jail. What they did was terrible. There is no excuse. They have to be two seriously fucked-up kids to have done what they did. But what I know for damn sure is that jail does not fix broken people. It only breaks them harder.
Watching this case and other cases like it is hard because on one hand, rape is inexcusable and the rapists should be held accountable. We should not forget the pain and suffering of the girl who was raped. On the other hand, as BGD notes, watching two more black boys get sent into the Prison Industrial Complex, knowing “they will not likely emerge from prison as two well-adjusted men who respect women and understand that sexual assault against them is not okay”—is also difficult to live with.
I think of the ways our society socializes us into genders, starting with parenting, role models, mass media, the education system, and more, and what I learned about how a man should look, act, and think. Though it is slightly different for each man in the US according to culture and circumstance, it generally looks something like this—emotionally illiterate and with an unearned entitlement to take up space by speaking and acting unilaterally. Those of us who are men need to take responsibility for this socialization, not just in ourselves, but also in others around us, as well as the ways it is institutionalized in our society, the ways conventional masculinity are celebrated and rewarded. Not only is it an extremely limited way of being a human being, but its expression as rape and other forms of violence—from domestic violence and homophobic murder to cowboy capitalism and international war—favors death, not life. As individual men, we may not act these ways and may even be critical of conventional masculinity, but we are part of its fabric and actually benefit from it.
Lastly, I think of the October 24, 2009 Richmond High School gang rape where a 15-year-old girl was repeatedly beaten and raped by a group of males—ranging in age from 15 to mid-20s—in public on a school campus, with numerous witnesses who did nothing to stop it. In trying to make visible the socialization men receive, I offer this poem, which I wrote a few days after October 24.
The Thoughts We Feed Our Sons
for the Richmond High School gang rape victim
Oct 24, 2009
manhood is a mountain is lone
rock on a ridge unshaken iron
hard or wanting to be
we men fear being unmanned
drunk on flesh games
mad dog king cobra red dog
street pack howl mob man
hood border patrol
thug up together conscience unconscious
the hardest manner we take
colt 45 steel reserve man
handle vacancy tear and fill
beat-beat-beats and mimes
beat men beating other men
beating b_____s beating f__s
beating i______s beating terrorists
how does it feel
to treat me like you do
when you’ve laid your hands upon me
and told me who you are
richmond : rich mountain of oil refineries
child of white house gangsters unending
we ask for sweet apples
from where we’ve planted lemons
and i thought i was mistaken
and i thought i heard you speak
tell me how do i feel
tell me now how should i feel
but a man can be a weeping
willow supple hip swaying meadow
uncurling from chest ripple listening
softer and stronger than any steel
we can be golden gangsters of sweet
cupcakes filled with poetry
puppy pile pirate with
fierce love warrior double-click option
a seed is a fruit
is a thought we feed our sons :
the unsprouted gift