What I’ve Learned About Rape From Serena Williams.
By: Eris Zion Venia Dyson
Late last night I read Serena Williams’ comments in Rolling Stone on the Steubenville, Ohio rape case:
“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”
- Rape is your fault if you’re 16 years old girl.
- Rape is your fault if you’re drunk.
- Rape is your fault if your parents didn’t teach you not to take drinks from other people.
- Rape is your fault if you’re too intoxicated to remember it.
- Rape could possibly be your fault if you aren’t a virgin.
- Rape isn’t a position you should put yourself in.
- Rape is only a problem if you were “slipped something” …that’s different.
The rape and sexual assault of women in this world has been a tactic of war and control since the beginning of time. Our bodies politicized. We as women are constantly guilty for being women, for being beautiful, for being afraid, for being drunk, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Search for one woman that was “asking for it” …and you’d have a snowball’s chance in hell. Williams’ statements hurt plenty of us to our core.
We live in a world where we question the attacked instead of interrogating the attacker. When other variables are added like student-athletes, socioeconomic status, or race… it becomes shame storm for women and girls who shouldn’t dame to even share the same social space with males if they don’t chose to comply. As women we are given the daunting task of reminding the world that our vaginas, breasts, and backsides aren’t to be infringed upon without consent. But yet here we are again defending our bodies, brains and hearts from the other half.
And when a woman utters statements like this… we are particularly perplexed because one ought to assume that this gender construct we’ve been forced to live in should offer up some understanding; even if Williams’ had never been on the receiving end of assault or rape. Silly me for making the assumption that she’d champion us in this fight towards equity. For every woman who has ever revealed their rape/molestation/sexual assault/domestic violence to you, there are several more who keep that story tucked far away from sight just to walk through this earth with the hope of feeling some sense of normalcy.
We carry these burdens little to no relief. We look our attackers in the face (sometimes every day for years on end); we watch them have children of their own while praying they never have daughters, we forgive them in hopes of forgiving ourselves. We have nightmares, flashbacks, and get ridiculed for having trust issues. But we’re “lucky” right? As Williams said… “It could have been much worse.”
After the pushback from the comments she made Williams’ issues an ‘almost apology’ that stated:
“What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me. I was deeply saddened. For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused. I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.
I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child.”
The difference between the tone in this statement and the tone of her Rolling Stone quote speaks volumes. First and foremost… the then “girl” is now a “rape victim.” The victim’s assault is now regarded as a “horrible tragedy” whereas before “she shouldn’t have put herself in that position.” This ‘almost apology’ reeks of internalized patriarchy. Williams is refusing to take ownership of her statement by insinuating that her words were misconstrued to say something that she didn’t mean. The author of the article, Stephen Rodrick, assures that the interview was taped, and that those were her comments.
Looking back to Serena Williams’ cover for the Body Issue of ESPN Magazine in 2009, I wonder how times someone uttered that she or the other six (6) women pictured in the article “asked for it.” How long and uncomfortable was the scantily clad walk from the (un)dressing room to the photo-shoot? How many eyes scanned her athletic body in hopes of giving her what she must want for not being modest enough to know any better? The fact is… plenty of people teach their daughters to cover their bodies, regard themselves with respect, and to avoid compromising situations; while we teach our sons that “boys will be boys.” Until we are willing to teach all of our children that no means no we will continue to perpetuate this cycle of shaming. It is a responsibility for all of us to champion.
I am reminded of the Zulu proverb “Ubuntu” which simply says: “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.”