So, you're sick of hearing about rape culture and the war on women? God, so am I.
I was hoping we had left all those pesky conversations behind once the election was finally, mercifully, over. I thought that maybe, just maybe, all the anti-choice, anti-woman rhetoric was just an overblown conservative response to what looked like a near certain democratic victory. I was hoping that we, as a country, were better than that. That maybe we could start to focus on other things, like passing common-sense gun laws or making sure that the President has a cabinet so that he can, you know, run the country.
I was wrong.
I want to write something like, "here we go again," but the truth is, it never really stopped.
Because two weeks ago Arkansas legislators overrode a veto by a democratic governor to pass what was then the most restrictive abortion law in the country. The law bans abortions after twelve weeks and mandates an ultrasound for women seeking an abortion. Rejecting decades of Roe v. Wade precedent, the Arkansas law defines viability not as the ability of the fetus to live outside the womb, but rather at the arbitrary date of twelve weeks.
The Arkansas law held the illustrious title of "strictest abortion law in the country" for nine days before another state claimed the crown.
Last Friday, North Dakota passed a law outlawing all abortions where a fetal heartbeat can be detected which, for some pregnancies, can be as early as six weeks. Deciding that he knows more than actual doctors and the Supreme Court of the United States, a sponsor of the bill said in a discussion before the vote that "We all know the significance of a heartbeat. It is the universally accepted biological proof of life." The bill, along with another one outlawing abortions for genetic abnormalities and gender selection, overwhelmingly passed.
Not one single voice in the North Dakota legislature spoke out in opposition. The bills will now go to the Governor, who has not indicated whether or not he will sign them. But the truth is, I'm not sure it matters whether he signs them or not. Because if they don't get enacted this time, they will be proposed again next term, and in the one after that. Because the burning desire to limit the freedom of women to make choices about their own lives and their own bodies knows no bounds.
If that was all it would be more than enough. But that's not all.
Because on Sunday the sentence was handed down for the two teenage boys on trial in the Steubenville rape case. If you're not familiar with the case, allow me to summarize. Ma'lik Richmond and Trent Mays are football players in Steubenville, Ohio. In 2012, they were arrested and charged with raping an unconscious 16 year old girl at a series of parties in the summer of 2011 while their friends - male and female - stood by and watched. They took pictures and videos of the rape, and shared them through social media and a series of text messages. It took a full year from the rape for any charges to be filed because the incidents were covered-up by police and the local football coach in order to protect the football players.
On Sunday, both boys were found guilty of rape. And the punishment for their crimes? A maximum of three years in a juvenile correctional facility.
We could debate for hours whether the sentences are harsh enough. Whether doing time will rehabilitate these boys who so obviously have some serious emotional issues. Whether the boys should have been tried as adults. Whether our justice system is actually just. But, well, criminal law has never been my strong suit, and there are more important things to discuss, like the reactions of the media and the various parties involved in the case.
In their first coverage after the verdict, CNN lamented the death of the "promising futures" of these "star football players" and "very good students." They spoke to an legal expert who discussed the severe ramifications of the boys being labeled sex offenders for the rest of their lives.
When their fate was read, the boys broke down in court and tearfully apologized to the victim's family for taking pictures and sending them out.
Even the judge himself used the verdict as a cautionary tale about the dangers of overuse of social media.
Something seems to be missing here, no?
Why was CNN carrying on about the loss of the boys' bright futures, when what they should have been talking about is the absolute horror of sixteen year old boys raping sixteen year old girls? Why were the boys apologizing for taking and sending pictures when what they really should have been saying was "we are so terribly sorry we raped your daughter"? And why was the judge discussing social media when he really should have been talking about the travesty of sexual assault?
I think everyone is getting the story wrong.
This story is about two boys who raped an unconscious girl. Who violated her in the most heinous way one can be violated. This story is about rape. And I don't think there is any message to be taken away from the Steubenville rape trial other than the message that rape is wrong. Rape. Is. Wrong.
More and more it seems like we are living in two worlds. The first is a world where women run countries and Fortune 500 companies. Where women are earning more than half of all college and graduate degrees, and control nearly sixty percent of the wealth in the United States. Where women can choose when and whether to "lean in" and "lean out." Where girls dodge bullets and bombs to get an education, and where we teach our daughters that they can be whoever they want to be.
The second world is a far different place. The second is a world where women are told by the states when and whether to have children. Where women are forced to submit to an invasive procedure before obtaining a legal abortion. Where a sixteen year old rape victim is the one ostracized from her community, rather than the ones who raped her. Where we are more concerned about the future of the rapist than we are about the rape victim who will live with the memories of the attack for the rest of her life. Where a man is aggressive but a woman is a bitch. Where a candidate for the U.S. Senate thinks there is a difference between "legitimate rape" and other kinds of rape. Where women are paid less than men for equal work.
And until we figure out a way to live wholly in the first world, we, as a society, have failed.
I'm sick to death of talking about the war on women, and I'm sure that you are too. But I'll keep talking about it anyway, because that's the only way things will ever get better.
And they must get better, because I'm not so sure how much farther we have to fall.