Rape Culture, and a New Generation Of Boys Rising


In the wake of the Steubenville High School students who were convicted of raping a sixteen year old girl, the internet has bounced me from blog to blog, from article to article…

I’m overloaded, and raw, and thoughtful, and angry, and strangely stirred.

The internet is on fire and I’m glad.  The term “rape culture” has never seen so much play.  Turns out everyone’s got a lot to say.  Reactions have been divided and loud… but we need reactions – we need discussion, because something that happens as often as sexual assault should have gotten a hell of a lot more discussion a lot sooner.  In fact, let’s all keep talking about it until everyone is so exhausted hearing about it that no one ever rapes again.

There has been a lot of the usual victim blaming in this case, and most of the media coverage has been about the loss of the “promising futures” the convicted boys had ahead of them. The general reaction to the media coverage from the blogosphere seems to be “How did this even happen?” “Glad the rapists will pay for their crime.” and “Holy Rape Culture, Steubenville!”.

Presently, I am struck by the lack of humanizing the young girl who survived the rape.  She was violated, photographed, and then those pictures were distributed far and wide – accompanied by various disgusting jokes.  Whatever trust she had in the world around her has been violently ripped away, and it’s likely she’ll spend a lifetime healing from this.

I, like many, are shocked at the coverage, sympathy, and rallying behind the rapists.  Most of all, I am ill over the arrogance of these football players and those that surrounded them – the arrogance that made them think it was okay to violate another human being the way they did, and the culture that led these boys to believe that what they were doing wasn’t all that wrong – that allowed the complete dehumanization of a young girl.

The rape culture is alive and well.  Women are still often portrayed as objects… to be owned or given… to be controlled.  Objects aren’t human.  Kicking a box is a lot more acceptable to the mind than kicking a person.  These football players were raised in a culture that values violence and aggression in its masculinity.  They were town football heroes – “better than” and “powerful”. They also sadly ended up doing one of the least masculine things there is – taking advantage of the weak.  When they came across a young girl sick from alcohol and barely conscious, where was the masculine urge to protect?  When friends witnessed the violation of this girl, where was the instinct to be brave… to stop it… to fight for someone who couldn’t?

A friend in the Steubenville case on the night of the party fought to take keys away from a friend who was going to drive home drunk.  Moments later he walked in on a naked girl sprawled on the floor being violated and did nothing.

Yes, the rape culture is alive and well, but I haven’t lost hope.

As a feminist and a survivor, I not too long ago realized why I gave birth to boys… and not the girl I always wanted.  Any true change in the rape culture must and will come from the men and future men.  Rape is not a women’s issue.  Rape is a man’s issue.  Trying to teach our daughters not to be raped will never change the culture.  We must teach our sons not to rape.

More and more parents, like myself, are steering away from gender stereotyping our young kids.  I am teaching empathy and compassion.  I am not valuing aggression simply because my kids are male.  I am emphasizing respect for fellow human beings and honoring both (classically defined) feminine and male qualities.  As my boys get older, I’m hoping to foster the knowledge that violence toward another person is usually done by the weak and out of control.

They will know that the strong take care of the less strong…

and that they can never be brave without first being afraid.

They will always know that they are loved, that they are worthy, and that others are worthy too.

They will know that no person is “less than” another because of their color, sexual preference, or gender.

When they are age appropriate, I will talk to them about sex…

and I will talk to them about rape – because the two are not the same…

and some day a very long time from now, I will tell them about what happened to their mother.

I have no reason to be ashamed of it,

and they should have every reason to want to change it.

We can actually teach our sons not to rape.  We can teach them to step up, and speak out against rape (and any other violent dehumanizing act).  The groundwork for human decency starts at a young age.

When you truly see someone else as a fellow human being – as an equal, an act like rape is unfathomable – it doesn’t make sense.

We can teach our children to hold the door open for someone, and to cover their mouths when they sneeze.  We can teach them to shovel snow off of an an ill neighbor’s driveway.  We can teach them to hold a crying friend’s hand.  We can teach them to tell the truth.  We can teach them not to rape.

This past week has brought a slew of blog posts from parents on rape culture and boys… and how to change it.

There is a new generation of boys rising, and mine will be among them.

I believe it is possible that someday…

common sense

and common decency

will be more common than rape.



** Some posts on the subject I recommend:



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Comments (19)

  • Angela 9 years ago Reply

    This is so powerful and wonderful. I too am a feminist & mother to three sons and one daughter. I am proud to join you in raising a new generation of boys. Thank you for writing this.

  • Alison 9 years ago Reply

    Yes, this. I am raising two boys, and I’m raising them to be gentlemen. I’m sick of the BS of ‘boys will be boys’.

    Jenni Chiu 9 years ago Reply

    Yes, “boys will be boys” is such a disservice to our sons. Boys will be what we teach them to be.

  • Arnebya 9 years ago Reply

    Common sense, common decency, and common ground. I want them to prevail. I do.

    Jenni Chiu 9 years ago Reply

    Yes – common ground. Amen.

  • toywithme 9 years ago Reply

    Jenni, thank you for sharing such an important post. Like you, I having been reading non-stop, posts and reactions to the Steubenville case. Most of them are of women sharing their all to similar stories of sexual violation. I’ve been horrified, disgusted, angered and shocked, not only by the stories themselves, but more importantly, by the treatment of these victims of such heinous crimes.

    In the end most of these posts gather sympathy, a thanks for sharing their difficult story and a cry for justice. What is lacking however, is an option for change. Thank you for giving your readers that.

    Below is a little excerpt from a comment I left on another post. Funny how I stumbled upon you right after posting this.

    “The “boys will be boys” mentality can be changed. It can be changed starting now, with each and every young mother out there. We are raising the next generation of men and women. We can teach, guide and inform them. It is time women world wide unite for the right to be safe.”

  • Alexandra 9 years ago Reply

    Ah, we woke up with the same driving agenda.

    This has to stop. We don’t treat people as if they’re nothing.

    We are all human beings and anyone who is blind to this fact needs to be re taught, in some way that makes sense, to break through with the excuses they’ve been given, the entitlement, the reward for whatever superiority and hubris they think places them above others.

    One household at a time. I tell my boys, they are made stronger for a reason, and that reason is not abuse. I can guarantee that. It is to lead, to protect, to drive away danger.

    Say it enough times to them, enough times to where they hear it when your voice isn’t around any longer, and it becomes their truth.

    I love you, Jenni.

  • Kim @ Mama By The Bay 9 years ago Reply

    Jenni, thank you so much for your thoughtful take on what we CAN do to help our sons, and for your kindness in linking to my article on HuffPost. I love what you said about how if we can teach our sons to cover their mouth when they sneeze, shovel the driveway, etc then we can teach them not to rape. It makes teaching them about sexual responsibility a TASK of parenting. I like that you framed it that way, because it makes it sound a bit less scary. I feel fortunate to be part of a community of parents who are all doing such hard work 🙂 Thank you!

  • Marta 9 years ago Reply

    This, “There is a new generation of boys rising, and mine will be among them” is exactly how I feel. We have the power to talk to our children and to steer them in the right direction. In fact we have the obligation to do so. I hope more mothers are out there thinking about this. More fathers too. It starts with us.

  • Mia 9 years ago Reply

    Unfortunately I think that part of the “lack of humanizing of the victim” is due to the system that is set up to protect her. She is not supposed to be pictured or named in the press and the perpetrators are. We are such visual beings. Nothing we read or hear can override what we see. And we see the young men (who I have no sympathy for) in the media coverage. We see that they are young and human and fallible. We don’t see the girl who was assaulted. And if we are not capable of conjuring her and all that happened to her, then the boys become more real in our minds, maybe even more human and sympathetic to some. I’m not suggesting that any victim of rape should have to make herself know to us so that we can humanize her. But I still think it’s a source of this disparity.

    Jenni Chiu 9 years ago Reply

    Yes, I believe you’re right on this one. Perhaps it is other survivors who are speaking up that are helping to humanize her.

  • thedoseofreality 9 years ago Reply

    So well said in every way Jenni. I honestly cannot imagine where we are headed as a society when our children do not attempt to save someone from harm. And this case has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have a very long way to go in regards to rape.

  • Marie 9 years ago Reply

    Very powerful post! It has been so disturbing to hear the media express how sorry they are for those two boys. Not just disturbing…disgusting actually. I like what you said about knowing the reason you had boys. They are lucky to have you!

  • Jessica Smock 9 years ago Reply

    Thanks for this, Jenni. The whole situation had left me feeling so sad and so hopeless about our culture’s relationship to gender, sexuality, and aggression. I hope so much that the way that we — those of us with sons — raise our boys will change things going forward. But I think we also have to work to change the culture that we live in, as much as we can. I don’t think it’s enough to raise your boys well. We also have to try our hardest to make changes in the wider world.

    Jenni Chiu 9 years ago Reply

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Dana 9 years ago Reply

    Well said, Jenni. I will do everything in my power to insure that my son will be one of the new generation of boys.

  • Andrea 9 years ago Reply

    There are so many disturbing issues that arise from this entire case. I can’t believe that folks sat around and laughed and took pictures. What’s funny and photo worthy about any of this? It’s disgusting and super immature. I know they’re kids, but my goodness, so they have any sense at all? Ridiculous! #sitssharefest

  • Dani Mae 9 years ago Reply

    It’s not just this generation. It’s men in general.
    I’m an exotic dancer and my target demographic is men over 50.
    I can’t count how many men have shoved their hands in places they weren’t supposed to be…even after it was made clear that it was not acceptable.
    Then men are married…they have kids and grandkids.
    They are probably “good” men in every other aspect of their lives.
    But because I work in the adult industry I’m a thing. A product with no feeling or human traits. There, only for them to use. They see nothing wrong with their actions.
    I have a boy and a girl. They will both be taught that rape, sexual assault, and harassment is wrong. If they see it then they need to say something. If they commit an act like this I’ll have them put in jail myself. It’s just not acceptable and it’s scary to me how many men of all generations think that it is ok to force himself on a woman because “she asked for it” or “she got drunk” or whatever other idiotic reason they have.
    Sorry for the rambling comment….this whole thing just sets me off.

  • Simply, Jenni, well-said. It truly disgusts me to see just how inhuman these football players became. The breakdown is, obviously, at the society level. The boys need to be punished for what they did, surely. Those who knew it was happening & did nothing need to be punished. But something needs to be done, radically, because there is no way, in a civilized society, that the chain of events that unfolded in Steubenville can unfold as they did.

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