I grew up in a middle class family and both of my parents worked full-time, but I went to nice private Catholic schools. This meant “regular” suburban kids like me were mixed in with say, the kids of former Bears players. Tradition was big. As were, of course, sports. Get good grades, look nice, say please and thank you, and play hard on the field. (And if you have time, make it to mass.)
In Junior year, we took Health class and that meant that for part of the semester, a class full of only girls sat in a classroom and were taught about health by a gym teacher. We learned about STDs, condoms, and bulemia. Stuff we pretty much already knew about, thanks to MTV and Lifetime. At one point, we had a “specialist” come into the class to talk about sex. Maybe she was a nurse. Or a nun (a sex-talkin’ nun). I can’t recall, but she was old and comfortable talking about sex (so maybe not a nun…). My main takeaway from that entire semester was when she talked to us about pulling out and said, “Remember girls, they always dribble before they shoot!”
Despite a semester of talk about sex and bodily fluids, I don’t remember any mention of rape. If there was, it was brief and it was probably about always watching your drink at college parties, holding it with your hand over the top of it. There was no mention of uncomfortable sexual encounters with guys you really liked, but weren’t comfortable with yet. No mention of predators in popped collars. No mention of the word “consent”.
If “consent” wasn’t the main topic of conversation in our health class, I’m sure it wasn’t in the boys’ health class either.
I knew boys like Brock Turner. Boys that got good grades, excelled at sports, said thanks when Trevor’s mom baked cookies. Boys that threw around “fag”, “queer”, and “pussy”. And this wasn’t all the boys I grew up with, but it was enough of them, because that kind of behavior was expected. Not outright of course, but boys will be boys, right? I knew boys who exhibited rage, who berated their girlfriends in the library, the hallway, the parking lot. Who called “easy” girls whores and sluts, but begged for a handy in the backseat of their SUVs. Boys who got mad at parties and threw handles of rum into the air, with no care as to where it landed. Boys who punched holes in walls. I remember finding this behavior off-putting. I couldn’t forget that kind of behavior, but so many people around me did, or at least acted like they did. “Yeah, that was weird…”
If he gets good grades, has a good swing, is friendly most of the time, he’s fine. Let’s look beyond that violent behavior. Addressing it would be…awkward. And plus, we came from a long tradition of letting boys get all of this out of their systems. As long as they get into an Ivy League or Big Ten school, as long as they become stock brokers or financial analysts one day…
And that is how Brock Turners come to be.
I don’t know that Brock Turner ever threw a rum handle at a party or punched a hole in the wall. But I know that if he had done those things or witnessed those things, he would have believed that’s it’s no big deal and not cause for concern. I don’t know if he called young women whores or if he was a possessive boyfriend. But I know he grew up in a culture that looked away, chalking it up to adolescence. A cocktail of experiences, of passive permissions, must have stirred in his subconscious: women are objects.
Fueled by alcohol, that idea became conscious that night.
15 years ago, my classroom full of girls did not hear the word “consent”, and even worse, neither did that classroom full of boys. I don’t imagine Brock Turner heard it much growing up either.
I think that the fact that this story has gone viral is the only good that has come out of this. I think that this story and others like it are making our society more empathetic and aware, at a time when we desperately need more of both. “Consent” is now becoming part of our cultural vernacular.
But we have a long way to go.