The Systems Failed

I’m really disturbed by the Dan Turner assault. Disturbed is the best word I can think of. It’s on my mind a lot, like a problem I need to solve. I keep looking for more information, as if something will come to light that will explain how this happened. His image, and her words play over and over in my mind. I can only come up with one thing.

All the systems failed.

The most obvious system is the judicial system. It failed the victim. The punishment does not fit the crime. Brock Turner serves maybe 3 months in county jail, and he’s home by fall. A blip on the radar of his life. The victim, even if she could snap her fingers and be fine today, has already suffered longer than that just going through the court process. And she isn’t fine today. She will carry this with her for the rest of her life.

The judicial system also failed every black man who is serving years and years for the same crime Brock Turner committed. Or every man, primarily black but not all, who committed non-violent crimes but are still serving longer sentences than Brock Turner got. There has to be some sense, some consistency to how these sentences are doled out. The system failed the young black student who was wrongfully convicted and served five years for a rape he didn’t commit.

Other systems failed, too. As a parent, I do believe that Brock Turner’s parents are devastated. Being a parent is hard. The idea that your child, despite your best efforts, can grow up and commit a crime or hurt another human being is terrifying. But it happens. Having read Dan Turner’s letter, I do not think he is handling this appropriately. Despite not knowing the Turners, I can see where they may have created an environment of irresponsibility and lack of accountability. But no parent wants this for their child.

When I hear about a tragic situation, often my reaction is to look for the thing that separates myself from the people in the story. What is it that I do, or can do, to make sure that doesn’t happen to me or my family? It sounds selfish, and maybe it is. But I also think it’s a pretty normal response.

When I first read about this story, I didn’t put myself in the victim’s place. I put myself in her parents’ place. And there is not one thing they could have or should have done to prevent this from happening to their daughter. Not one. There isn’t much information about the victim or her family out there, rightly so. But to assume that there was anything she or her family could have done differently to prevent this attack is like saying she has some responsibility. She does not.

As parents, the system failed.

There is a much larger system that failed. A system so big and ubiquitous that most of us don’t even know we’re a part of it. There is a system of gender bias in our culture that operates at every age, in just about every environment. Unless we are proactively working against it, we are most likely contributing to it. That system fails our children all the time.

It begins when our children are babies. Girls get pink which is delicate and pretty. Boys get blue which is strong. Girls get dolls so they can be nurturing and kind. Boys get monster trucks and rockets so they can be tough and rugged. Girls are rewarded for cooperating and working together. Boys are rewarded for athletic ability.

When a boy pulls a girl’s hair, the girl is told that it’s OK, it’s his way of telling her that he likes her.

As they get older, girls are told to watch what they wear because some clothes may be distracting for the boys. They’re told that they don’t want boys to “get the wrong idea”.

Girls are bombarded with hundreds, maybe thousands of messages a day about beauty, make-up, how they should look, what they should wear, what size they should be, what they should eat, what will happen if they aren’t beautiful and thin, and of course, what they should buy so they can become beautiful and thin. They see aisles and aisles, and whole stores dedicated to their appearance, and almost none for boys. They watch their mothers take an hour getting ready putting on make-up and doing their hair, while their father spends 15 minutes, max.

They quickly learn that the boy who gets lots of girls is considered cool, but the girl who is with lots of boys is a slut. And nobody challenges this because the last thing any parent wants to or even knows how to do is talk to their 15 year old daughter about owning her sexuality.

All of this comes together to create an environment where subtly, or not-so-subtly, young women are present for the pleasure of young men. Young men are supposed to conquer young women, as many and as often as they can. That’s the product of the system.

That is not to say that all young men are rapists. Obviously not. But we can not ignore the fact that we are living in a system that, left unchecked, does not create equality between the genders.

In some cases, that system fails miserably and painfully. Brock Turner is one of those cases.

Parents, we have to talk to our kids. We have to do things differently. No, it is not OK that a boy hit you. Boys do not hit because they like you. No, no, no. No, it is not your responsibility to make sure that a boy is not distracted by your breasts in class. No, no, no.

We have to talk to our sons. We have to teach them about gender equality. We have to point out how the media portrays men and women differently, and we have to teach them to know that it is wrong. We have to teach them that feminists are not just women. We have to teach them that “no means no” is not good enough. You need a yes. Every time. And if she is not able to say yes with a clear mind, the answer is no. That is their responsibility.

The systems failed this time but we can do better. If we are all disturbed enough, the systems can change.


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