Go Out and Get a Piece, Son!
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Outstretched hands attached to some two dozen young men push toward and upon the mostly naked young woman. She's pulled taut with her legs and arms pinned, a voluptuous torso served raw for grinning gropers. Though you can see vividly the hungry, amused faces of these party boys, their unwilling plaything's face is digitally blurred, revealing only darkness for her eyes and gaping mouth.
A technological twist on the silent scream.
This controversial image made headlines recently, mostly for the ethical dilemma behind publishing a sexual crime photo without the victim's consent. She still hasn't come forward. No one's been arrested.
Mike Urban, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer photographer, captured the assault from a fire escape when covering last year's local Mardi Gras. He reportedly watched men with the customary beads and pleas cajole young women to show their tits. When this one refused, they swarmed, stripped her and took private parts into their own hands.
To protect the victim's privacy, Urban's editors decided not to run his photos. Yet one shot's gritty reality was submitted and won the domestic news (newspaper) category in the National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism contest, a distinction rewarded with publication of the photo online and soon in a book.
But just what reality oozed into public light?
Clearly exposed is mob mentality as multihued hands press both breasts, and fingers jam through her panties. Some guys try to crawl over others to cop a feel. Smiley faces crane for a peek as one happy dude whips out a camcorder to preserve the special moment.
The scene has been pegged an act of violence, showing how quickly the line between civility and brutality can be tripped. Reports say the forced group-grope was one of many that festive night. But the Mardi Gras molesters cannot be dismissed as perverted monsters. They look jovial, clueless, entitled. They are the guys next door, our sons, caught up in an extreme rendering of "boys will be boys."
I know the party line of defining sexual assault as violence, as power abuse, not sex. But tossing this mass violation into some aberrant cesspool allows us to dissociate from the perpetrators and rise above the sexual stench of our own making. Can you view this photo of clean-cut guys as they revel in mauling anonymous body parts, and not wonder: "How are we raising our boys?"
Since researching my book on America's schizophrenic approach to sexuality, I'm often struck by how we insist on handing boys the short end of the sexual development stick. As our chastity-crusading commander in chief plunders public education and health to prove that sex without marriage causes death, disease and despair, boys receive a mere nod in the battle cry for abstinence.
In fact, the fear and shame-based abstinence-until-marriage programs funded by our tax dollars and sweeping the nation absolve boys of sexual responsibility by reinforcing tired gender roles. Boys are portrayed as slaves to their throbbing key in desperate need to unlock any warm hole. Girls are taught how and why to resist boys' predictable predatory push. Boys will be boys, girls must be gatekeepers.
Traditionalists, evolutionary psychologists and popular culture regurgitate this "fact of human nature" as divine truth. To suggest that sex ebbs and flows along a dynamic continuum between the genders, or that man is more complex than his boner, is sacrilege. Or as Bill Maher says on "Politically Incorrect," "a lot of nonsense." In a recent episode, where Maher deems men are "just after pussy," Dr. Drew Pinsky of radio's syndicated "Loveline" claims males are sexually driven by uncontrollable urges and should not be pathologized.
"We've made men to feel guilty and to feel bad about who they are," says Pinsky, "but the reality is that men do need to be contained and tamed, and we'd be sort of flinging poo if we didn't have a social order."