16th 2011
A few final thoughts on Penn State’s Empire of Rape

Posted under: American history, Gender, jobs, students, unhappy endings, women's history

It’s gratifying to see so many sports writers and other male commentators decrying the culture of corruption that big-time men’s college sports breeds.  Really it is.  However, feminists have pointed out for decades that football teams are dangerous to women and that women get raped and their rapes covered up and denied by these same teams and their all-male, extraordinarily well-compensated leadership. 

But, I guess that’s what women are for:  rape.  Regardless, I’m truly grateful that so many people are eager to take a courageous stand against the rape of little boys.  I just wish they were equally vigilant about the rape of teenaged and adult women.

Once again, feminists will get zero credit for having raised these issues repeatedly about big-time college sports, but this is nothing new.  My students in the History of Sexuality class that I’m co-teaching now recently wrote an essay analyzing Sarah Grimke’s mid-1850s essay “Marriage.”  I’m sure even most right-wing conservatives today would agree with Grimke’s analysis of marriage and her definition of a good, satisfying, and (her words) “holy” union.  Marriage has changed because of feminist critiques of it–but feminists get zero credit for anything we do, ever.  We’re always too shrill, ugly, stupid, angry, militant, racist, bourgeois, and godless to take seriously, don’t you know.


24 Responses to “A few final thoughts on Penn State’s Empire of Rape”

  1. quixote on 16 Nov 2011 at 6:40 pm #

    Crimes against women are almost always the canary in the coal mine. Unlike miners, though, men never get it. Even when they’re the ones gasping for air, they still don’t get it.

  2. cgeye on 16 Nov 2011 at 6:45 pm #

    Note the old cliche: Political suicide, to be caught with a live boy, or dead girl.

    Also note just how much the girl has to go through before her damage is considered politically impactful — and, of course, if the girl’s still alive, she probably consented, no matter what….

  3. Digger on 16 Nov 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    Hypothesis: If the nature of oppression changes (but not the system – I’m thinking racism, patriarchy, homophobia), those who are oppressed by it cannot be given any credit within/by the system for the change, because it gives them agency and credit and acknowledges that there was oppression in the first place. If you acknowledge the oppression, then it becomes harder to keep oppressing…

    But you know, preaching to the proverbial choir isn’t a bad thing either, because it reminds us that we’re not seeing things and not alone. And every once in a while, scales fall off the eyes of others.

    Humorless in Sensible Shoes

  4. New England Nat on 16 Nov 2011 at 7:30 pm #

    Just in case no one has ever heard the particular old cliche cgeye is referring too..

    A dead girl/live boy candidate. A candidate will be elected unless caught in bed with a dead girl, or a live boy.

  5. koshembos on 16 Nov 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    The post and the comments so far do not fit any piece of reality I know. My late parents, born in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, had a well balance life together. Both cooked, both worked in their small business, etc. My kids and my wife’s kids have an equality based life where the wives share the highest priority with their kids and husbands. My department hires women without regard to sex, orientation, age, etc. Women are granted tenure even when I vote against them (based on quality).

    The same is true for my friends and colleagues. If sport is different, it doesn’t make our society violent against women.

  6. Historiann on 16 Nov 2011 at 7:55 pm #

    Well, I think “reality” is highly contingent upon where one sits.

    Allegations of rape (and even very occasionally convictions) against college and pro athletes are legion. Please just google “Ben Rothlisberger,” “Kobe Bryant rape 2003″ “University of Colorado football team rape,” or “football team rape” for a look at other people’s reality.

  7. LadyProf on 16 Nov 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    Really, koshembos, you’re denying that women and girls get raped a lot more than men and boys?

    Nice of your department not to discriminate against women. I can’t say the same about mine or about the many others I’ve observed up close. Are women equally represented in your high-goodies ranks? If not, why do you think that is?

  8. Indyanna on 16 Nov 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    The quote (live girl/dead boy) has been attributed to Huey Long, although he probably stole if from some long-tenured sheriff in a bayou parish, and that guy from an ancien regime intendant in the south of France.

  9. shaz on 16 Nov 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    I have been thinking about this too, since I saw a news commentator call the rape of the boy “grotesque”. Abusive, appalling, yes. But the use of that kind of language made me wonder how much homophobia contributes to the outrage over these specific incidents.

    Abuse of children is horrific. But I, in my cynical moments, think that if teenage girls had been the victims, there might had been rhetoric of “well, she wanted it, she used sex to get privileges/gifts/etc.” Yet even the janitor seeing a boy receiving oral sex from Sandusky hasn’t led to an outcry that the young man was a willing participant. (At least that I’ve seen.)

    So I’m struck, in comparison to many rape cases involving underage girls, that I haven’t seen anyone question if the boys REALLY resisted. Is that undergirded by the heteronormative assumption that of course boys wouldn’t want THAT?

    Don’t get me wrong: I think horror is the appropriate reaction in this situation. I just wish it were a more widespread reaction to rape when young women are involved, and I’m concerned that it could be the right reaction for the wrong reasons.

  10. Susan on 17 Nov 2011 at 12:35 am #

    We not only cannot/should not be taken seriously, but we have no sense of humor. We are supposed to laugh at men’s jokes.
    And what Shaz said.

  11. Z on 17 Nov 2011 at 2:42 am #

    Very good post.

  12. cgeye on 17 Nov 2011 at 5:01 am #

    And the privilege of not seeing discrimination and inequality in one’s small circle is often dependent on either no one reporting such inequalities personally, or a conspiracy of respondents just not bothering to pierce the reality-optional shield that keeps things humming along.

    As when Obama’s men (and women, in their mandatory Daily Show-style defense) insisted that not one women of that administration faced bias in either access or opportunity. If only the czar knew….

  13. Katherine on 17 Nov 2011 at 5:17 am #

    On the subject of women being humorless, I wonder what readers thought of the NYT article yesterday on women’s humor, and how rape figured prominently as a topic of several female comedians?

  14. cgeye on 17 Nov 2011 at 5:20 am #

    And, yeah, the commentat’s horror as the Live Boys involved is purely homophobic, instead of merely compassionate. I would assume said commentators have both daughters and sons that they care about, thus an assault on one would be an assault on all… but who’m I kiddin’?

    They laugh as the drop-the-soap jokes, then recoil at what that means for a young boy being groped by an old, unattractive man. The stereotype of teh gheys as hot!young! males works against Sandusky — not only is he a troll, he’s the guy who=s supposed to maintain the standard about weeding out effeminate men from sports. He’s supposed to be the gatekeeper of homophobia, and in a way, he still is.

    And as assault victims, boys matter more, of course — not men, because Real Men Don’t Get Raped, and the entire culture conspires to unman those who are. I’m still darn grateful that defense counsel hasn’t brought out the race card (i.e. the sexual looseness of African-American males, as seen in their ), but no doubt they will, along with the classism .

    As the State College fascist community comes out of shock, they no doubt will reach for the tools that weekly demonize other schools for daring to compete with them — we haven’t begun to see the fireworks, yet. If we weren’t resigned to see the same hubbub result in the same lack of change, those fireworks would be something to look forward to. As it stands, a lot of good families who trusted this athletic conspiracy to help their families step up will see their reputations as damaged as those who dared the Catholic church on its practices. Is it too much to ask that the NCAA, while besieged by player compensation lawsuits, take this cause on a public relations repair project? Of course it is…

  15. cgeye on 17 Nov 2011 at 5:58 am #

    … and ain’t it peculiar that those Hott Girl Comediennes of Today focus on mocking rape victims, not perpetrators? Guess they know their audience — manly men who aren’t about ordering their very special lady a Rohypnol cocktail at the Chuckle Hut.

    But, of course, if a comedienne told jokes from a feminist standpoint, she wouldn’t be right for Date Night, eh, boys? And she absolutely wouldn’t be funny.

  16. Historiann on 17 Nov 2011 at 7:09 am #

    Katherine–I saw “The New York Times Has Female Trouble” by Mary Elizabeth Williams at yesterday. I recommend her commentary as well as the links she rounds up for us.

  17. Perpetua on 17 Nov 2011 at 7:45 am #

    @H-ann – I saw the salon piece as well. The NYT really exemplifies the “liberal men are misogynist, too” argument. I know we’ve talked here at length about it’s style-section coverage of teh ladiez and their wacky issues.

  18. AG on 17 Nov 2011 at 8:23 am #

    On this subject, NYU historian Jon Zimmerman’s Nov 10 op-ed is worth reading.

  19. truffula on 17 Nov 2011 at 8:52 am #

    I’d just like to say that I am sick to death of liberal males who spout platitudes like “sexism is just not part of my world.” Well it is part of my world, jerk, and your failure to see sexism is part of what carries it forward. The silver lining, I guess, is that these pronouncements make it easy to tell who is not my ally.

    On the topic of the post, what shaz said.

  20. Emma on 17 Nov 2011 at 10:54 am #

    What Shaz said. To which I’d add, the outcry over this is way, way over the top for any number of reasons, but most relevantly as Shaz and Historiann have pointed out, because of the lack of response to rape of women and girls by coaches and manly sports stars.

    While the rape of those boys is awful, what’s really grotesque is the rape culture that produced those rapes and every other rape. But, by painting Sandusky’s actions as grotesque aberrations by a sick person who was negligently left to wander around aberrantly raping boys, the reaction leaves the system intact and ensures it will continue in its many hyrdra-like forms.

    I think Paterno should’ve been fired. Not because he turned a blind eye to Sandusky, per se. But because he clearly turned a blind eye to the rape culture that allowed Sandusky to rape those boys and very likely resulted in many, many rapes all over PSU campus by his players over the course of his 63 year association with PSU.

  21. fannie on 17 Nov 2011 at 11:10 am #

    “Marriage has changed because of feminist critiques of it–but feminists get zero credit for anything we do, ever.”

    What?! But I thought Dan Savage was single-handedly redefining marriage. /snark

  22. E. Goldman on 17 Nov 2011 at 11:16 am #

    I am really grateful for this post and for (most of) the comments on it.

  23. Claire K. on 20 Nov 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    And now an article on how sexual assault is worse for boys than girls: I don’t want to ignore how homophobia compounds the shame around sexual assault, but this story does seem to play into the idea that once we acknowledge sexual assault happens to boys we have to emphasize that it’s worse for boys, that assaults on boys really matter, unlike assaults on girls which are only natural.

  24. Historiann on 20 Nov 2011 at 3:21 pm #

    Claire–thanks (I think?) From the lede in the linked story:

    When the abuse began, Paul Treml was 14 years old, a schoolboy athlete, 5-feet 6-inches tall and 115 pounds.

    His abuser, he said, was a decade older and seven inches taller, a hulking ex-college athlete who almost made it to the pros and who ran the youth sports league in Treml’s Pennsylvania hometown.

    Wow–ABC is saying that rapists rely on a size and age advantage as well as greater social authority? I’m sure that women victims of rape will be completely blown away by this insight. (Speaking as a woman who’s about the same size as Treml when he was 14, I find it kind of fascinating that his size is highlighted in this story.)

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