Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Behind Closed Doors

Trigger warning – I'm going to talk about some of the things you hear about in graphic detail every time you turn on the news lately.

When I was a young man living in Seattle in the 1980's, one of the things us leftwingers were protesting was a police program put into effect known as Weed and Seed. The idea of the program supposedly involved having more police and more proactive police programs in the highest-crime neighborhoods, which they had on a map. The program was just a fig leaf for increasing police harassment of people of color as far as we could tell. This seemed evident especially because the highest-crime neighborhood in the city was not on their map.

That neighborhood was frat row in Seattle's University District, near where I lived. In this neighborhood, the rate of sexual assault was something like 3 times higher than anywhere else. This was certainly common knowledge on the left in Seattle, among my friends back then. But for some reason this wasn't the big concern for the Seattle Police Department at the time. Having grown up in the suburbs of the United States, we all knew why – it was nothing new.

The revered members of society where I grew up – the society of high schools across the United States – were male football players. Not just sports players, but American Football in particular – the most brutal, thoroughly male-identified of team sports. They were the local stand-in for the armed forces, essentially. Going to pep rallies – a school-wide religious event focused on worshiping the school's football team – was how you supported the troops on a local level. And it of course came complete with a mandatory rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner.

When the entire football team was caught peeing on the walls inside a suburban home where the entire football team was attending a party, circa 1983, there was talk of suspending the team, or maybe the entire football program, but it never happened. Their entitlement was almost absolute. These boys could essentially do no wrong, and their weekly outrages were constantly reinforced by a stream of movies such as Animal House – which, let's not forget, became a TV series as well as a movie. I remember, I watched it when it came out, like most everybody else I knew in Wilton, Connecticut back then.

This kind of behavior wasn't unique to football players and frat boys, but it was certainly more prevalent in those circles, and more accepted. I didn't have any friends in that crowd in high school. My interactions with them were limited to being shouted at as I walked past them in the cafeteria, for some offense related to my effeminate appearance or political buttons.

I knew a boy who played football, in the rural neighborhood in northwestern Connecticut where I spent almost every summer of my youth, though. We didn't have much in common and didn't hang out much, but there were only a few kids around on the mountain, and we all came from out of town, or in his case, out of state. As summer kids who didn't go to school in the area, we barely knew anybody else, so we still found ourselves spending time together pretty often.

I hadn't seen this boy in years, since we were both prepubescent. Then years later I saw him one summer when he was visiting the mountain briefly. For some reason he started telling me about what he said he had very recently done back in his home town. I assume he was telling the truth, because it's very hard for me to imagine why anyone would brag about such a thing. He said he had been at a party in some suburban house where another high school student, a girl, had drunk too much alcohol and was passed out on a bed in a bedroom.

He told me he went into the bedroom, pulled her clothes off, and raped her. I don't think he used that word, but that's plainly what he was describing. Having sexual intercourse with a sleeping girl he didn't know, obviously very nonconsensual sex by any conceivable definition. He then went on to laugh about how hard it was to put her clothes back on. He talked about how much he needed to accomplish this task, in order to try to hide his crime, though he also didn't use that word.

I don't know if he expected some kind of solidarity from me, but I thought he might have been looking for some kind of empathy or understanding. All I could think about was what a horrible thing that was to do to someone. But it seemed so unreal at the time, and the people involved so distant, in some other state, an unknown victim to me, and an assailant I barely knew. I knew many such stories – mostly about fathers who beat my friends, their children. There were many fathers like that in the suburbs of Connecticut. I knew not to tell adults about any of it. I don't know why I knew that.

But I eventually forgot about the story, and I don't think I told anyone about it until last week. I remembered it because of Dr Ford's Senate hearing, and now it's all I can think about. I wonder who that girl was, on the other side of the country from me, in some other suburb I had never been in, that sounded a lot like the one where I grew up.

And now here I am, a middle-aged father of a 12-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy. I heard a sexual assault survivor on the radio talking about how completely most kids lack any kind of education in the concept of consent and other essential things they need to understand well before they ever become sexually active. As a parent, it seems to me that the best thing we can do, overall, is to raise kids in a way that they know they matter deeply, and everybody else does, too. We need to break this cycle that continually produces more male violence. This will require completely transforming our schools and just about every aspect of so-called “popular culture” that is shoved down our throats daily by the rape culture that produced those scenes in Animal House and other movies that have been in the news so much lately.

And we also need to raise powerful, self-confident, compassionate, loving children who grow up to be self-confident, compassionate, loving boys, girls, and others. If you're a parent of children of any gender, I recommend Naomi Aldort's book, Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves.

Behind Closed Doors

You're on your own, you understand
Although you're sitting in front of me
The world's big, the world's beautiful
There's so much for you to see
There are good people everywhere
Who are kind to their neighbors and friends
I hope you meet all the best ones
However, in the end

All I know for certain is
Whatever lies in store
The best and the worst things happen
Behind closed doors

You're on your own, I can't protect you
I can only hope I raised you well
So if you're in a situation
You might have the wherewithal to tell
Is this good? Is this exactly
What I really want to do
Because what you want is what matters here
And I hope you know that's true (because)


You're on your own, along with billions
Of people trying to find their path
Some are raised in loving empathy
But there are many reared by wrath
There are those like you, for whom the Planet Earth
Is a wondrous place to share
But there are many who seem only
To have learned how not to care


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