Thinking of girls I met my freshman year of college reminded me of one girl who ended up leaving school not long after her year began.
I was never particularly close to her, but one of my good friends was. At one point I noticed that I wasn’t seeing this girl, whom I’ll call Jan, on our floor anymore. My good friend informed me that Jan had left. Gone home. She was no longer a student.
“Why?” I asked.
“They ran a train on her,” my friend told me.
Jan had supposedly been in love with this athlete. Well, this athlete and a bunch of his friends had a good time one night at Jan’s expense.
I remember my mother giving me an oblique warning about things like that. I had never thought I would know someone to whom it had happened – or that I would hear about such a thing so soon.
What my mother had suggested to me, of course, was that sex and aggression are interwoven. Especially in young men. And that I had better know it.
Fraternity brothers have gang-raped. Groups of athletes have done it. Military units have. Criminal gangs have. Some of the people who study this sort of thing report that a lot of these young men are actually quite nice to women they actually care about. What could make them treat their victims this way?
It’s simple. She wanted it.
This seems to be the universal defense in these cases once they’re investigated.
“What do you mean, ‘she wanted it’?” you might ask. “Wasn’t she unconscious at the time?”
What you get next, essentially, is the assertion that if she hadn’t wanted it, she wouldn’t have been there.
First of all, this is nonsense. I am the first to admit that naive young women unwittingly put themselves in harm’s way. But a lot of the girls who end up in this awful situation are actually intoxicated when it happens, or they have been drugged specifically for that purpose. Sometimes they are lured into rooms and locked inside.
So, no – not every girl who finds herself a part of the “express” wanted to be.
But, yes, in the minds of some of these assailants, she wanted it. Because the world is divided into two kinds of women: women we respect and women we don’t. And women dumb enough to end up on the receiving end of a gang bang are definitely women we don’t.
According to some, there is nothing within males that causes this behavior, that it is culturally encoded and all about power relations – males proving their “manhood” to one another by asserting dominance over a woman. Any man refusing to go along is something other than a “real man,” to put it nicely.
Maybe so. Or maybe when you have males bonding in a testosterone- and adrenaline-driven environment, heaven help any vulnerable female who wanders into that environment. But what stands out to me is the fact that these guys believe that there are some women you don’t do this to.
To be the kind of woman you don’t do this to, a woman has to be someone with whom there is a bond. She has to be, in some way, a part of him. Whoever is a part of him, he will defend and protect, whether it’s a woman or one of his “brothers.”
Bonds are crucial when it comes to male socialization, as it is widely recognized. A man in a close relationship with someone he feels no bond with can be cold or predatory toward that person. A lot of stepfathers and boyfriends abuse, rape, or kill the children of women they are with. Many don’t, obviously. But this situation is inherently risky, and some women don’t realize it.
In a world where men and women are basically the same, women don’t need men. They can be independent, thank you, and handle their own business. But in the world we actually live in, women need men. The more men that care about you, the better off you are as a woman.
As a naive young freshman, I too put myself in risky situations. Nothing horrible ever happened to me. But I know that in one situation I was in, it was the affection that a certain young man felt toward me that saved me from my own foolishness – and from what might have been brewing in the minds of some of his friends.