Amanda Todd. Steubenville. Now Rehtaeh Parsons. When declaring one’s opposition to bullying seems to be the most in vogue catchphrase nowadays, why is the act itself still happening? Why do young people continue to think that assaulting girls, sharing photographic evidence of same to Facebook and then tormenting the victim relentlessly until she takes her own life is within a galaxy’s reach of acceptable? Why are wealthy libertarian op-ed writers continuing to excuse this utterly reprehensible behavior in the guise of “freedom of speech,” “boys will be boys” and “she was asking for it”? Joseph Welch famously brought an end to Senator Joe McCarthy’s career by saying “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” In a similar vein, I am left to ask, “seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?” Truly, what in the name of God has gone cockeyed in the wiring deep in the cobweb-strewn recesses of your addled little misogynist brains? How many more young women are going to have to suffer before you grow your ass up and act like a goddamned man?
I don’t understand it.
I went to my share of house parties when I was young. I was intoxicated at a few of them. I was surrounded by intoxicated women. Some of them were very beautiful, and being near them in that kind of environment would stir the expected physical reaction. Yet never once did I or any of my friends take advantage of a girl in her most vulnerable moment or try to document the act to laugh at later on. No matter what might have been aching down below or how much beer was flowing through my veins I never forgot about the humanity of my fellow partygoers, and never failed to treat them with the respect they deserved. Perhaps it was how I was raised. What I don’t get is why respect for women by men seems to be considered in many circles effeminate; that the way to get on with “the boys” is to describe in nauseating detail the perverse sexual acts one would like to perform on the stunning blonde who just sauntered by (that is, if, in reality, the one doing the boasting could manage to get his pants off before an, um… early finale.) No one is telling any man that you don’t have to enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman or relish the desire that she makes you feel. But you’re not a hulking, lumbering cro-Magnon who has to stick it in every available hole and then publish the evidence to the Internet while your buddies giggle like glue-sniffing hyenas. You are better than that. Despite what you may believe, the brain in your head can actually overrule the one in your boxers. You can tell your pals that “that’s not cool, bro,” and see that the girl who’s had too much to drink makes it home safely and unharmed. You can tell classmates who mock her to shut their filthy mouths. That’s being a man. And I wish so desperately that someone could have been a man for Rehtaeh Parsons.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about International Women’s Day in which I stated that I was ashamed of my gender for some of the things men have done. An anonymous commenter whom I imagine was short of a few IQ points (not to mention the cojones to use his real name) suggested I should seek therapy, and whatever happened to personal responsibility? That is the essence of the problem, right there. We don’t take responsibility for each other. We watch acts of misogyny and femicide on the news and shrug. We let our governments slash funding for social programs that help the less fortunate so we can buy a new iPod with the few bucks we save on our tax bill. We have “professional,” highly-paid mouth-breathers with massive bullhorns like Tom Flanagan polluting our discourse by asserting that looking at child pornography is a victimless crime (because for him it’s a question of individual liberty, or some other “don’t tread on me” bullshit) or Barbara Amiel claiming that had only the girl in the Steubenville case been wearing something like a burqa, the jumped-up little cretins who attacked her might have been able to resist their primal urges. We reduce everything to right versus left and shun compromise and common sense in favor of ideological purity. I am sick to death of society washing its hands of crimes like this one with the cop out that “it’s not my fault.” We are all at fault because we don’t challenge each other to better ourselves. “I’ve got mine, to hell with all of you” is going to be the epitaph of humanity. Homo sapiens may endure for some time yet, but humanity will be lost in a flood of apathy and indecency if we don’t start working to correct this right now. Let’s not lie to our kids that it gets better and then do jack to actually make it better.
As the father of a son on the cusp of his teenage years, when hormones he can’t control start flooding his body with feelings he can’t manage, it is my responsibility to teach him the importance of respect and what it really means to be a man when it comes to how he treats women and indeed anyone who is vulnerable. As long as I’m breathing he will never be one of those fratboy douchebags who would stand idly by while a girl is being violated, or worse, record it and share it with the world. He’s going to be the guy who escorts her out of danger and threatens to kick the ass of anyone who gets in his way. So help me, he’s going to be a crusader for girls and women, the way real men are. And he’s going to pass the same lessons on to his friends and his children and everyone else he meets.
I mourn Rehtaeh Parsons deeply. A light in the world that should have shone for decades has gone out. And I fear that unless we change our ways she won’t be the last. One looks at the U.S. and how even after schoolchildren were massacred by a gunman, outraging the world, they still can’t pass any kind of sensible gun control legislation because of too many powerful people whining about “personal liberty.” In a world where children’s bodies can be shredded by a legally purchased firearm, and where a young woman is driven to kill herself by a pack of hormonal cowards shaming her on social media for something that wasn’t her fault, no one is free.
We should all be ashamed. What the hell is wrong with us?