The American Culture of Sexism

The recent case of a 16-year-old rape victim in Steubenville, Ohio has the entire country talking. After drinking to the point of blacking out at a party this past August, the 16-year-old was fingered by two prominent high school football players, with others taking videos and pictures as it was all occurring. She woke up the next morning completely naked, in a house she didn’t recognize, and without her cell phone to contact anybody.

Since then there have been a string of shocking actions taken to help the perpetrators, not the victim: two of her own friends testified against her, as CNN noted in a recent article, saying “One witness, a 17-year-old, testified the alleged victim told her she believed she had been drugged the night of the alleged assault, an allegation the witness said she did not believe because the girl ‘lies about things.’ ” There is reason to believe that the football coach knew about the assault early on, but did not report it to authorities, which he is required by law to do. He has declined to comment, but considering that the high school team has won nine state championships, allegations of covering up to protect the team have been coming forward. Furthermore, two other girls in the town are facing charges after making death threats towards the victim on twitter, one saying that she would celebrate the verdict of the trial “by beating the s— out of” the victim.

A picture taken of the victim that night that was posted on the internet.

At a first glance, this case is incredibly shocking. The threatening, nasty attitudes towards a victim of sexual assault are intensified with the use of social media and national attention. In reality, while this case is extreme, it is ultimately a reflection of the sexist culture that still exists in the United States.

Women are merely objects to be admired, criticized, and acted upon in a sexual manner. Alex Blimes, editor of Esquire UK, recently confirmed what many people are thinking when looking at women on the covers of magazines:

“I could lie to you and say they’re interested in their brains as well, but on the whole, we’re not. They’re there to be beautiful objects. They’re objectified.”

This attitude has greatly affected both men and women’s treatment towards women. With this mindset women exist to please men, disregarding any of their own desires in order to do what’s best for the guy they’re with. Women who act or dress in an openly sexual manner are called sluts, whores, hoes, etc., while there isn’t even one word equivalent for men engaging in the same activities.

Despite the many advancements made for women’s rights in the past decades, women are still often viewed as only needing to please men,becoming objects for them to admire. Nothing made me realize this more than the UW-Madison Confessions page on facebook, which has now become the biggest college confessions page with over 20,000 likes. In the beginning I thought it was pretty funny as people admitted embarrassing moments, drunk escapades, and secret crushes. But both the confessions and the comments below them quickly made me realize that we still live in a very male-dominated world due to both women and men’s comments. Whether or not all of the confessions are true, the comments below them and the number of likes they have reflect people’s real views on women’s roles in society. Take a look below (warning- some of the language is vulgar given that it consists of other people’s comments on the internet):

To be fair, not all confessions on the UW-Madison page are this bad. But there are enough sexist comments, confessions, and likes to demonstrate that even college students have clear views on women’s place in society. While there are also confessions about guys who walked girls home rather than sleep with them, and of girls who had their nights made by respectful guys, the amount of times that girls call each other sluts and that guys comment on girls’ asses in yoga pants far outweighs that (PS- props to the girl who made the comment about guys sitting with their legs open! It made me laugh and is a great response).

While the rape of the 16-year-old in Steubenville was due to a multitude of factors, a fantastic CNN article sums up the impact that culture can have on sexual crimes:

“In 2011, a study by the American Association of University Women found that girls in grades 7-12 were far more likely than boys to experience sexual harassment, including rumors, both in person and online. And Leora Tanenbaum interviewed 50 girls and women for her book, “Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation;” all of them told her girls, far more than boys, were at the forefront of the slut rumor mill

We must talk to girls about their responsibility in situations like this. If we want to prevent another Steubenville, we need to teach children from an early age about gender-based violence. The word “slut” is not just an epithet; it is a word that has given adolescents permission to abandon and hurt each other when a girl needs support most.


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