When the Rolling Stone story about the UVA rape came out, I wrote a post. There were a lot of opinions floating around, and it seemed to be the best way to express my opinion and offer it for others to read, discuss, or ignore. This blog has been an outlet for the thoughts that are constantly circulating in my head. A way for me to organize and gain clarity. It took me a long time before I showed it to my friends and even longer to show my family, but I eventually realized it gives insight into what I’m thinking on occasions when I can’t vocally express myself. So when I wrote that piece last November, it was just a way of me letting people know my thoughts.
The internet had other intentions. I was soon bombarded with notifications. I saw my post spreading like wildfire across social media and started receiving notice of a sizeable number of comments on the blog itself . Friends, family, and strangers a like were all using my words as a part of their forum. And a lot of it was quite demeaning. All opinions are welcome in my comment section, but that doesn’t mean they don’t hurt. Revisiting these words didn’t appeal to me (being compared to a gang of rapists isn’t exactly a confidence builder.) So when an investigation revealed the whole story was fabricated as part of a larger scheme, I thought about adding an update, but I found it hard to go back. When the Stanford rape case went viral, I again thought of revisiting my previous post, but settled for a separate one. I’ve marinated in my thoughts on the subject for a while now, and I’ve decided there’s more I want to say, and more that I think needs to be heard.
When the Rolling Stone article was published, many people immediately realized it was false. A lot of the details didn’t make sense, especially in the context of UVA. There was a lot of discussion pointing this out. I purposefully steered clear of that, attempting to focus specifically on the impact of the article on the UVA community and on progress in the system. I did this because I knew that while Jackie’s story was suspect and likely false, there were hundreds more like hers that were true. Some of them even told to me by friends.
I discuss the need for policy reform and the crucial nature of community support in my other piece, so I won’t get into that here. I stand by those words, though they may have been brief and somewhat incomplete. If you are lost in this, catch up here: A UVA Student Responds. There are countless articles that are more articulate and researched than I could ever be on the subject, so I will leave that up to you to seek out.
In reflecting on the past events lately, I’ve been digging deeper into the catalyst for these circumstances, and I’ve come to some conclusions. The more I see and read the news, and hear about everything going on in the world, the more I take in everything that goes on across social media platforms, the more these conclusions are confirmed. I hope this revisit to previous things is worthwhile.
I believe that underlying all of these things is misunderstanding, and an erroneous value system. To read about the misunderstanding, read my post in response to the Stanford Rape case: Rape is Rape. I’m still fairly solid on what I’ve written there, and don’t feel the need to edit or explain any more than I already have.
Let’s get into the erroneous value system.
Every society defines value, and almost every aspect of life is based around that value system. And in almost every society today (I can’t think of an exception, but I could be wrong. Point it out and I will probably go there!) value isn’t fixed. It’s relative. And this is inherent in any value system. The entire purpose of giving value to something is as a reference point. Its how humans think. The way we keep ourselves oriented and make decisions is by constantly comparing what we are perceiving to existing archetypes based on data gathered during previous experiences. If there isn’t a previous experience to hang on to, we are uncomfortable. We pull from whatever is closest, note differences, and form new archetypes. This thought process could be its own discussion, but I’ll leave it here for now, though I’d be happy to further discuss with anyone.
This constant comparison drives everything from racial stereotypes to the financial system to the things we deem as our “favorites.” It is at the core of the so-called “American dream” of creating a better life.
But when your value system is based on comparison, you arrive at some problems. If success is relative, you necessarily inject the notion of something being better and something being worse (don’t even get me started on how this affects the education system.)
This drive can be seen as a source of the issues we discuss surrounding these rape cases, and many others.
When someone decides to rape someone else they are deciding they have more value than the victim.
When someone decides to publish a sensationalized and false accusation against a group of students as a way of getting attention (e.g. Jackie), they are deciding that they want to create a value for themselves that is higher than those they are putting down, and those viewed as the competition.
When a religious extremist group carries out an attack, they have decided that their religious beliefs have more value than the lives they attack, and that they themselves will gain value over others through the violence.
When someone chooses to bully others it is in an attempt to gain value others or because they already believe they hold value over others.
When a parent says they are proud of their child’s accomplishment, they are placing value on this achievement over others and their child over others.
Competition isn’t always bad. It can produce wonderful things. But in a society with an entrenched value system saturated by relativism, problems will inevitably arise. When the society continues to uphold these tenants and instill them in the upcoming generations, the problems persist.
When you couple these factors with a fundamental misunderstanding of things like rape, you get a rape culture that seems impossible to eradicate. You get a generation frustrated with the status quo but no success in changing it. You impede the way of progress.
We get angry at injustice because deep down we know that this is a flawed way of looking at things.
Until we start seeing each other as people instead of as competition, until society transforms, and until everyone understands; solution will be stymied, stories will be published, people will be outraged, and the cycle will start again.
The good new is, as one of my favorite teachers has always said, as long as there are those who challenge and think critically, and who are willing to speak out, we will have hope.