The Rapey Boy of 21st St

He wants it intensely. No matter how many times you say “no” or try to push him away, he keeps coming back, holding your leg, pressing himself against you. He has needs. How can you be so cruel as to deny them?

Readers may be relieved to know at this point that I am not describing a human assailant or an even slightly traumatic experience. Rather, I am talking about my puppy’s desire to get on the couch with me.

Perhaps it’s because we adopted our puppy around the time of the Stanford rape case that these ideas became linked in our minds.

I certainly don’t mean to trivialize rape by making this connection. In my mind, rape is as serious a violation of another human as murder, and in some ways it’s worse – after all, the murder victim doesn’t have to live with what’s been done to them. But I do want to emphasize the commonplace attitude that makes rape possible.

After all, what is rape, at heart? It is an insistence on satisfying one’s own desires at another’s expense and without regard to their wishes, or in some cases (offering tea to an unconscious person) consideration for what their wishes might be. While most people draw the line far short of this extreme and limit themselves to petty selfishnesses, the attitude is fairly prevalent in innumerable small and not-so-small ways.

  • The person who frequently (and only) throws large, loud, “y’all come” parties even though their spouse is uncomfortable in such gatherings and would prefer to have a smaller group for dinner.
  • The company that, desiring to increase its profits, secretly cuts corners and reduces quality/safety while charging their customers the same (or higher!) price.
  • The nosy parker who asks prying personal questions despite the question-ee’s obvious wish not to talk about it (and perhaps even their explicit request to “drop it”); or the gossip-monger who gleefully spreads an embarrassing story.

In each of these cases, the one being done to would say “no” if they could, would put a stop to the situation if they could. If their wishes were as important to the doer as the doer’s own desires.

I don’t mean, of course, that every other person’s desires should always take precedence over our own. That would be ridiculous and impractical (and would, in this context, negate the whole concept of “consent”). Frequently, one person’s wishes do have to “win.” But we all know, if we stop to think about it, the difference between selfish insistence and healthy compromise.

In the weeks since beginning this post, we’ve been working with our puppy – repeating and enforcing the “no,” trying to make him understand that “no” is a word he must respect. He’s improving. He’s quicker to obey the command “off!” and more frequently deterred by a warning look or voice. Not always, but he will get there. He will learn that he must respect our wishes. He does not know it yet, but only then will compromise be possible.

With regard to the Stanford case, I find myself blaming Brock Turner’s dad just as much as Brock Turner himself. Not because Dan Turner was directly involved or because parents are responsible for their children’s actions (they’re not). But because he clearly shares the entitled and entirely self-centered attitude that allowed his son to think this was an okay thing to do. As a parent, he both transmitted the attitude and failed to teach his son that it was wrong.

I’m not demonizing Dan Turner. I’m not even demonizing Brock Turner. In fact, I’m not demonizing anybody who has displayed this attitude, in ways big or small, because we all do it. That’s the point. It’s a completely natural human approach (and, as my dog illustrates, not even limited to humans). It is also childish, immature, and insidiously harmful – and therefore both something we must not tolerate in ourselves, and something we must not gloss over in society – in any context.

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