My 5th grade teacher, Ms. Paulson, was beautiful and everybody knew it. We would make jokes about our gym teacher trying to “mack her.” One day a friend brought a bunch of generic cologne to school so we could “get hoes.” We made jokes and bragged about doing things we had no idea how to do. We were boys being boys. We, of course, used too much cologne because, well, we were in 5th Grade. Ms. Paulson kicked us all out of class to go wash it off because the smell was overwhelming.
Back in the bathroom one of my friends, we will call him Billy, started up: “Fuck her. She know she wants this.” Or, something like that. The chorus of “Yea” and laughter wasn’t far behind. I remember Billy planning on getting detention so he could stay after with Ms. Paulson, part of me really thought he had a chance with her. I wonder how much of him thought he had a chance? More importantly, where did we learn that? Where did we learn that even prepubescent little boys could lay claim to the female body? Where did we learn grown men could lay claim to female bodies? Where did we learn it was acceptable to objectify our teacher, or anybody, like that? Before we even knew what it meant to have sex, before we even knew what the hell we were talking about at all, we knew that this is what makes us men. Where did we learn that? This was part of our rites of passage. In our laughter and assurance of Billy we were asserting our own masculine dominance over a woman who had the nerve to embarrass us for “stinking.”
I don’t know why the Brock Turner case reminds me of this day in 5th grade. Maybe because I am trying to understand what makes a Brock Turner.
More likely though, I think, it’s because somewhere deep down I know that I am not as different from dude as I would like to think. Would I get physical with a woman so drunk she couldn’t stay conscious? No. I’m certain of that. But that is only the grossest and final step in the making of Brock Turner. So much happened to get him, us, me to this point. Like Brock I was brought up in a society that taught me if I was feeling inadequate, if I was feeling weak, if I was feeling lonely, or, if I was feeling joy, if I felt like celebrating, if I had done anything or was feeling anything the appropriate outlet was sex. Sex could and would fix just about anything. This becomes normal. Everything gets conflated with sex or the road to sex.
We learn this lesson early on and act on it before we even realize its true impact. We learn it so early that a bunch of 5th graders can feel better about themselves by invoking this deranged sexual logic.
It’s easy for us to sit here, after the fact and distanced from the actual event, to separate ourselves from Brock, or even his father. It is easy for us to say “how could he do that?” Or, “how could his father say that?” But how many of us make comments and jokes about our prowess or otherwise objectify women around our sons, nephews, and little brothers? What are we teaching them? How many of us make those comments around our daughters, nieces, and sisters? Taking this personal inventory is part of the work. Another part, I think, is interrupting this twisted logic when we hear it from those we love. I don’t know Brock Turner so it is easy to write him off as a monster. I know of no redeeming factor. I have nothing to lose. But, I know my uncle. I know my longtime friend. I know my students. I know my coworker. I’ve seen their beauty. I care about our relationship. I have something to lose. And we need to be willing to lose it. The cost of ignoring it is too steep.
At 6:30 am, on the dot, my daughter Zoe calls for her Mom and me. I don’t even need to set an alarm. When I open the door I am sure I have opened the gates to heaven. She is standing up holding onto the side of her crib with a smile that only somebody in the closest proximity to god could possess. The thought of someone violating her godliness physically or by reducing her to an object in their own quest for self-worth is enough to crumble me. As I walk to her crib she spreads her arms and says “hug.” I pick her up, hold her tight and commit to being better.