The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures?
Mar. 19 2013
It lasted for hours. The pictures circulated online show the unconscious teenage girl hung like a shot steer between two laughing young men, Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, who were convicted this week of driving her from party to party, raping her, assaulting her, and filming themselves doing so. Videos from the night include an extended tape of a friend of the attackers in drunken spasms of joy about just how ‘dead’ the girl looked as she was handed around. “She’s deader than OJ’s wife!” he giggles to himself as his mates film him. It was sadistic young men like this with whom the mainstream media expressed immediate sympathy following the guilty verdict.
Here, there was no question that Mays and Richmond are guilty: there is enough film, photographic and text message evidence to make the case clear. The arguments in their defence, instead, revolve around the notion that these boys, beloved athletes in a town where football is everything, did nothing wrong when they assaulted their helpless victim. They are tragic heroes who were just having fun, like young men do, and the pictures prove it. Everyone looks so happy. High-profile rape cases have happened in American football towns many times before - remember the cheerleader who was forced to cheer for her rapist? - but Steubenville is different. The pictures make it different. What the Steubenville footage recalls most chillingly is the torture photographs from Abu Ghraib prison almost a decade earlier, showing American soldiers in Iraq smiling chummily around the prone bodies of political prisoners.
Steubenville is rape culture’s Abu Ghraib moment. It’s the moment when America and the world are being forced, despite ourselves, to confront the real human horror of the rapes and sexual assaults that take place in their thousands every day in our communities.
Susan Sontag observed of the Abu Ghraib atrocities that “the horror of what is shown in the photographs cannot be separated from the horror that the photographs were taken - with the perpetrators posing, gloating, over their helpless captives. If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880’s and 1930’s, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree. The lynching photographs were souvenirs of a collective action whose participants felt perfectly justified in what they had done. So are the pictures from Abu Ghraib.”
The pictures from Steubenville don’t just show a girl being raped. They show that rape being condoned, encouraged, celebrated. What type of culture could possibly produce such pictures? Only one in which women’s autonomy and right to safety counts for so little that these rapists, and those who held the cameras, felt themselves ‘perfectly justified’. Only one in which rape and sexual humiliation of women and girls is so normalised that it does not register as a crime in the minds of the assailants. Only one in which victims are powerless, silenced, dismissed. It is impossible to imagine that in such a culture, assault and humiliation of this kind would not be routine - and indeed, the most conservative estimates suggest that ninety thousand women and ten thousand men are raped in the United States alone every year. That’s what makes the Steubenville case so very uncomfortable - and so important.
Here we have incontrovertible evidence of happy young people not only hurting and humiliating others, but taking pleasure in it, posing with their victims. The Abu Ghraib torture pictures were trophies. The Steubenville rape photos are trophies. They’re mementoes of what must have felt, at the time, like everyone was having the sort of fun they’d want to remember, the sort of fun they’d want to prove to themselves and others later. The Steubenville rapists had fun, and they broadcast that fun to the world. They were confident that nothing could touch them, so baffled by the idea of punishment that they wept like children in court.
Pictures don’t just record reality. They change it. They change us as we take them and consume them. It matters not just that we have photographic evidence of a girl being raped, but that someone took pictures of the assault happening to send to their friends as memories of a jolly night gone a bit hairy. The Ohio teenager who is now receiving death threats for reporting her rape is far from the only young woman to have her assault recorded for posterity. In the past five years, rapes and sexual assaults involving one or more attacker or involved bystander stepping back to pull out a smartphone have proliferated. What makes these men so sure of their inviolable right to stick their fingers and cocks into any part of any female they can hold down that they actually make and distribute images of each other doing so? Rape culture. That’s what rape culture is. The cultural acceptance of rape.
The Steubenville rapists claim that, when they drove a passed-out girl from party to party, slinging her into and out-of cars like a deflated sex-dolly and sticking their fingers inside her, they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong. That’s plausible, although it’s no defence. It’s a plausible if, and only if, you have internalised the assumption that women are not real human beings, just bodies to be manipulated with or without consent, pieces of wet and willing meat there for you to use for your pleasure. There’s a word for what happens when one group of people sees another as less than human and insists on its right to hurt and humiliate them for fun. It’s an everyday word that is often misused to refer to something outside of ourselves. The word is ‘evil’.
This particular evil has been rotting at the fractious heart of Western culture for so long that it barely registers as abnormal, and the initial emotion when it is challenged is rage. Rage that anyone dare question the notion that men’s ‘bright futures’ matter more than women’s right not to be attacked and degraded. It’s an evil that believes that men work and play sports and make an impact on the world and women are there to get fucked. America has been raised on that belief, and like any dogma it can turn ugly when challenged. Jane Doe, whose real name was revealed on Fox news yesterday, has been receiving death threats, and so have her family. After the verdict was handed down, the internet lit up with ugly messages of slut-shaming and solidarity with her attackers: “Remember, kids, if you’re drunk/slutty at a party and embarrassed later, just say you got raped!” wrote @jimmyontheradio. Another, @zJosiah, said: “I feel bad for the two young guys, Mays and Richmond, they did what most people in their situation would have done.”
Yes, it is possible to feel a sick spasm of pity for these young men whose tears in the courtroom were described at such melodramatic length by major news outlets. It is possible to feel pity for those who do violent acts, who hurt and shame others simply because they know nobody’s going to stop them and it seems like fun. Young people can get carried away in times of war, and here I include what we must surely think of in these circumstances as a gender war, especially when they’re on the winning team - and these boys were used to winning. Young people get carried away. But not always. And that ‘not always’ is where pity stops like bile in the throat.
In every situation where atrocity is normalised, in every death-camp and gulag and apartheid city, there are those who refuse to participate. The soldier who ignores the kill order. The prison guard who walks away. The families who risk their safety to shelter refugees. The men and boys who see rape and violence occurring and have the courage to say ‘stop’.
We have sympathy for those who lack that sort of courage only because we worry, even the best of us worry, that there might be circumstances in which we, too, would overlook evil. That’s the question facing every man and not a few women in America right now as the enormity of rape culture begins to dawn. It’s a question of cowardice, and of character. Something is going on - the casual rape and abuse and dehumanisation of women and girls, and some men - that’s so monstrous that to take its magnitude seriously would implicate a great many of us. The question is whether we have the courage to face it - this time.
Those attacking the Steubenville Jane Doe online, defending her rapists, lamenting the destruction of their ‘bright futures’, are cowards. They are cowards who are afraid of what will happen if systematic injustice is acknowledged, and human history is crawling with their kind. Right now that cowardice is being weaponised and used against women and girls, used to shame us into silence, to stop us from speaking out about rape culture as we have just begun to do in an organised fashion. So many of us wonder whether we would be brave enough to stand up in the face of evil. Whether we would allow it to continue or join in the rage. Well, this is the moment. This is our test. Anyone can be outspoken about Steubenville after the fact. The question is: who will stand up when the next Jane Doe is attacked, without expectation of thanks or acclaim, at risk of derision and ostracism or worse, and speak out about all the other Steubenvilles that are still taking place, and will continue to until enough people say ‘stop’?
Well, this is the moment. This is our test. Before another Jane Doe gets hurt, before more young rapists can tearfully claim they “didn’t know”, it’s on us all - men and boys and everyone who loves them - to stand and be counted.
Before we had low-rise, straight-leg, skinny, selvage, stretchy, resin-coated, lotion-infused, or mom jeans, there was simply jean—the fabric. The name likely originated from gênes, referring to Genoa, Italy, where sailors wore a twill blend of cotton, linen, and wool that came in a variety of stripes and colors.
Today’s jeans are made from heavier, all-cotton denim woven in a combination of indigo-dyed vertical yarn and” natural horizontal yarn, resulting in the fabric’s white-speckled surface and pale underside. And although the original name for denim came from Nîmes, France—as in, de Nîmes—the fabric was most likely first produced in England.
Once the United States emancipated itself from British rule, the former colonists stopped importing European denim and began producing it themselves from all-American cotton, picked by slaves in the South and spun, dyed, and woven in the North. The Industrial Revolution was largely fueled by the textile trade, which almost singlehandedly upheld slavery. When the cotton gin mechanized processing in 1793, prices, already subsidized by slave labor, dropped dramatically. Cheap goods drove demand, and a vicious cycle ensued. In the period between the invention of the cotton gin and the Civil War, America’s slave population shot from 700,000 to a staggering 4 million.
After the Civil War, companies like Carhartt, Eloesser-Heynemann, and OshKosh slung cotton coveralls to miners, railroad men, and factory workers. A Bavarian immigrant named Levi Strauss set up shop in San Francisco selling fabric and work-wear. Jacob Davis, an entrepreneurial Reno tailor, bought Strauss’s denim to make workingman’s pants, and added metal rivets to prevent the seams from ripping open. Davis sent two samples of his riveted pants to Strauss, and they patented the innovation together. Soon after, Davis joined Strauss in San Francisco to oversee production in a new factory. In 1890, Strauss assigned the ID number of 501 to their riveted denim “waist overalls.” The Levi’s 501 blue jean—which would become the best-selling garment in human history—was born.
Initially, jeans were proletarian western work-wear, but wealthy easterners inevitably ventured out in search of rugged cowboy authenticity. In 1928, a Vogue writer returned East from a Wyoming dude ranch with a snapshot of herself, “impossibly attired in blue jeans… and a smile that couldn’t be found on all Manhattan Island.” In June 1935, the magazine ran an article titled “Dude Dressing,” possibly one of the first fashion pieces to instruct readers in the art of DIY denim distressing: “What she does is to hurry down to the ranch store and ask for a pair of blue jeans, which she secretly floats the ensuing night in a bathtub of water—the oftener a pair of jeans is laundered, the higher its value, especially if it shrinks to the ‘high-water’ mark. Another innovation—and a most recent one, if I may judge—also goes on in the dead of night, and undoubtedly behind locked doors—an intentional rip here and there in the back of the jeans.”
FRED KOREMATSU (1/30/1919-3/20/2005) was a Japanese-American who resisted internment during World War II. The ACLU picked up his case as a way to challenge the legality of internment; Korematsu was charged and convicted of violating military orders.
Not until much later in his life was Korematsu’s name cleared and his cause vindicated. After uncovering new evidence that reports from the FBI saying Japanese-Americans posed no threat had been suppressed, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, saying “In the long history of our country’s constant search for justice, some names of ordinary citizens stand for millions of souls. Plessy, Brown, Parks…to that distinguished list, today we add the name of Fred Korematsu.”
Late in life, Korematsu also spoke out against the U.S. government’s practices at Guantanamo Bay and other sites, saying that if we learn anything from his story, it should be that imprisoning people without charge merely because they “look” like an enemy, and helped write amicus curiae briefs filed in cases against the federal government on behalf of U.S. citizens held at Guantanamo.
Simon Mann Says He Was Asked to Help Start the Iraq War
Simon Mann is a British mercenary, most famous for his failed 2004 coup attempt against Teodoro Obiang, president of Equatorial Guinea. An ex-Special Forces soldier, Simon cofounded the private military company Executive Outcomes, which at its height in the mid-90s ran two African wars and used oil money to fund a full-on air force and thousands of private soldiers.
In 2004, after pocketing millions fighting rebels in Angola and, he says, protecting a free election in Sierra Leone, Simon’s luck ran out. He’d been hired to fly to Equatorial Guinea with 69 South African heavies, capture the airport, and escort an opposition leader to the presidential palace. During a layover in Zimbabwe to collect guns and refuel, he was busted.
He ended up in Chikurubi Prison, one of Zimbabwe’s nastiest, before being extradited to Equatorial Guinea four years later. There he spent a year and a half in solitary at Black Beach prison, one of Africa’s nastiest, before being pardoned. Simon has written a book about his adventures, there’s a movie in the pipeline, and he’s working on a novel he wrote in jail. Between all that, he spoke to me about coups, spies, and kick-starting the Iraq War.
Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone.
VICE: The world of mercenaries is a pretty murky one. How did you get to the top of it? Simon Mann: Not on purpose. I left the SAS in 1992 and joined an oil company that had one project in Soyo, Angola. I went into the office one day and they said, “This is it; we’re fucked.” UNITA rebels had gone back to war, against the treaties they’d signed, and had captured Soyo, ending our business. I suggested that we retake the town. Two months later, we did. Then the government asked us to take the whole country back. We said “Yep, but it’s going to cost you.” We eventually had 2,000 men under contract and a turnover of $19.5 million every nine months.
A nice little earner. Then you went to Sierra Leone? Yeah. The Sierra Leoneans asked us to go diamond mining there, but there was a problem: a really bad war. So we told the president we’d help him if we could get help applying for a legal diamond concession. It cost us millions to keep fighting, but our money was coming from the war in Angola, which is what made us different from other warlords—we were reinvesting in Africa. Just as we were leaving, the president asked us to stay and secure the election, so it was us—not the UN—who protected that election. We kept asking, “What kind of fucking mercenaries are we?” We were the nicest, most well-behaved bunch ever.
Simon in Namibia, 1993.
Weren’t you also asked to help kick start the Iraq War in 2002? Yes. Someone who said he was friends with the American neocons asked me to come up with ideas to get the war kicked off. The first was to pick an Iraqi city away from Baghdad, go there with a rebel force made up of 6,000 Iraqi émigrés, take the city, then say, “Yah boo” to Saddam. That would have forced him to come get us and be zapped on the road by the UK and US, or let the flag of rebellion spread.
The second was far more criminal. We wanted to buy an old rust-bucket ship, sail it to Karachi, load up secretly with some weapons-grade uranium, or whatever, then sail it into the Gulf with a motley crew, including me. We’d then leak our presence to the Saudis, get the navy to intercept us, sink their ship—hopefully without killing anyone—then sail into Basra. The world would have gone nuts and we’d have had an excuse for war in Iraq.
That’s pretty scandalous. Well, yes. We actually got feedback saying that they liked the ideas, but not me. I believed them.