I haven’t written anything on the blog for ten days. Its not for want of subject matter. The depredations of Boston certainly call for comment but the last post is all I feel compelled to say on the subject. There’s been another story that has caused me deep reflection and its about a much more common crime. Its the news of a young girl named Audrie Pott who committed suicide after several friends raped her when she got drunk. I should add the perfunctory adjective “allegedly.” The details that have been in the news are still being sorted out but they remind me of people I know and have known.
Here are some preliminaries leading up the the anecdote I’d like to relate.
I can understand the shame Ms. Pott was suffering from personal experience. When I was in grade school my family had so successfully inculcated the shame of nakedness in me that I often thought about how I would have no choice but kill myself if ever I lost a suit when diving into a public swimming pool. I was sure I could never face the ridicule afterward. Ms. Pott had another reason besides public humiliation for committing suicide – betrayal. She was raped by several boys she thought to be her friends. Apparently they not only took advantage of her but passed around pictures of their triumph. Someone even memorialized the night with a permanent marker comment for her to find written on her body when she woke up.
There is a sort of age old contest between the genders. It often rears itself as in a recent Zits Comic strip where a member of one gender comments that they just can’t understand the opposite sex. In some cultures mere befuddlement is compounded by a severe segregation of the genders resulting in utter mystery between the sexes.
In the porn saturated modern world there isn’t much mystery left about sex itself but most folks would probably agree with the Zit’s character. I don’t really buy the claim that the sexes are inscrutable to each other. Other than a slightly different set of hormones and reproductive systems that force humans to pursue different sexual strategies I don’t find women that much different than men. Perhaps that is the work of my Mother.
Mom used to sit and talk with me about people we knew, family, friends, neighbors and how they behaved and for what reasons. She was twenty years older an it was very enlightening. When, the Equal Rights Amendment, neared ratification I rooted it on. It made sense to me even though I was a little queasy at the thought of women in combat. I may have regarded women as my equal but my Mother and also insisted that I practice the elements of chivalry. Before the Prom she reminded me to always to shield my date by walking on the street-side of the sidewalk. Its something I still do 45 years after the prom.
I’m not sure when I realized just how pathological males could be about females. I knew that in America there were shotgun marriages and that losing one’s virginity was regarded as a triumph for men but a disgrace for women. This made no logical sense to me even though I understood that it came from long centuries of cultural practice. There was a long history of the fallen women, the floozey, or, in modern parlance, the skank. These were/are women fit to have sex with but not fit to be seen with in polite society or God forbid marry.
A fellow a year behind me in high school eventually joined my college fraternity. I liked him very much. He was a very smart fellow and would eventually go off to the East to get a law degree. I remember the night my impression of him changed forever. There was a party at the fraternity and as usual an odd assortment of people had showed up to drink beer and socialize. Konner (not his real name) was drunk. One of his old classmates, a girl I’ll call Tawnyea, was at our party. I had always like Tawnyea. When I was a senior we had been in a rather informal class together where the teacher often left the room for extended periods of time. his absences afforded us a chance to goof around. She like to dance and I recall that on a couple occasions she would do the Charleston and would successfully cajole me into joining her until our teacher returned to class.
I went to a couple parties with underclassmen during my senior year and found myself playing Spin the Bottle – the kissing game. I enjoyed kissing the girls at random. Tawnyea was an enthusiastic kisser. It was all in good fun and perhaps I took a big brotherly attitude toward her.
At our fraternity party Konner pointed Tawnyea out to me with an encouraging snear. “I fucked her,” he told me. The sneer lent credence to his claim even though boys were as infamous then as now for embellishing their sexual exploits. He urged me to pursue his old conquest and the contempt he expressed for her made me angry. Whether the two of them had had sex or not Tawnyea was the chum I’d hoofed it with in our old high school journalism class.
I wasn’t sixty-two back then so I bit my lip rather than express my disapproval. Instead I bore a grudge against Konner from that point on for Tawnyea’s behalf.
The following year a bunch of us from the fraternity went out on the town and ended up at the City’s semi-strip joint. Konner was with us and glowered at the scantily clad young woman who was gyrating suggestively to the rock music. He walked up close enough that he could have put a dollar bill in her bra but instead he spit on her as she danced on the stage. When Konner was sober he was serious minded, bright and likable. Booze let a repulsive side of him out into the open.
The following night was our fraternity meeting. We always concluded our meetings by taking turns telling jokes or twitting each other about the past week’s activities. When it was my turn to add some levity to our meeting’s conclusion I let my most passive aggressive self fly. I joshed about how Konner had spit on the stripper. If there was any laughter it was weak and embarrassed. It was a cringe inducing story and I meant for my fraternity brothers to cringe despite the hale, hearty and good-natured face I wore as I spoke.
After the meeting Konner accosted me away from the other fraternity members and angrily told me that there was nothing funny about my story and that I had embarrassed him grievously. I listened impassively but didn’t apologize. He was right. I had meant to embarrass him and was glad I had succeeded.
The Konner’s of this world are still with us. Some of them are lawyers, doctors, teachers, generals, and United States Senators. They exist in all nations of the world. I remember a poll I read in a news story thirty years ago. Something like one in four men, or maybe it was 2 in four, admitted that they would rape a girl if they thought they could get away with it. Guess what? Back when I was a kid being raped was so humiliating that women (or men) rarely complained. Those one in four men had very little to worry about.
Among the pictures that haunt me is one of a beautiful young Chinese woman, girl really. She is naked and tied to a chair. The photograph was taken by one of the dozens or scores of Japanese men who had just raped her during the infamous “Rape of Nanking” just prior to the Second World War. The japanese soldiers organized raping parties. This victim is staring hard into the camera with a piercing and accusatory gaze at the craven Japanese Konner behind the lens. I wish that Ms. Pott had been fortified with a little of that Chinese girl’s venom. Had she been she might not have become one of today’s headlines.