Following up on Veryl’s post about coaching yesterday, I’d like to share this article from the Nation about how jock culture supports rape culture, as well as this article about sexual violence at Notre Dame, my alma mater. Both report stories of young women who were raped by members of school athletic teams, and then faced terrifying retaliation for speaking out. Between these atrocities and the notorious Steubenville case, it should be increasingly clear to the public that America’s schools are breeding grounds of misogyny and rape culture, and that we need to put an end to this.
Our comrade Kloncke has written some insightful and practical analysis of the struggle against rape culture in Steubenville, emphasizing the need to seek justice outside the court systems which perpetuate patriarchy and white supremacy:
One thing is certain: none of the steps toward legal justice, halting and probably insufficient though they may be, would have happened without the bold interventions of ordinary people. If Alexandria Goddard hadn’t grabbed those horrific tweets before the cretinous creators had a chance to delete them; if Anonymous and KnightSec had not continued releasing media to the public; if people of Steubenville, Wierton, Pittsburgh, and other surrounding towns had not come out to protest LOUDLY, over 1,000 strong in a town of 18,000; the police and the courts would have dampened and silenced the story of the assault, and Jane Doe would never have received support from all over the world — Malaysia to Minnesota, Warsaw to Wheeling.
Having spent some years in the activist scene of the Bay Area and other places, I’ve seen a lot of rallies and protests. But the February 2nd protest in Steubenville was one of my favorites. For one thing, it felt truly “survivor centered,” without losing touch with the political context — a difficult balance to achieve. Brave people stepped up to the mic to tell their own stories or read aloud the stories of others: for some, this meant breaking a silence of 20, 30 years, or more. It was breathtaking.
I also admired the rally because the audience would just shout out their opinions, unsolicited! It was a call-and-response with the emcee; it was a conversation. In an era of progressive NGOs in bed with politicians, or top-down protest styles that expect only two responses from the audience — cheers or silence — this protest was a refreshing example of mass participation, though still in small, nascent form.
We need more of this. We need democratic, mass organizations linking up rural, exurban, and urban areas so that when shit goes down (and it will, again and again), we can decide, through organized bodies of people, how to take action. When it comes to that democratic participation, and weaving together of neighboring towns, the Steubenville area could really get ahead of the curve.
At the same time, Kloncke points out that we need to move beyond simply responding to flashpoint crises: “Support is clearly necessary, but the problem is rampant, so the danger of burnout looms large… In addition to supporting survivors of sexual assault, we must ask ourselves how to drain those stagnant pools: how to intervene in the conditions that allow rape culture to thrive.”
I agree. Education organizing and feminist anti-violence organizing should not necessarily be separate “issues”; the struggles we are waging in our schools should challenge rape culture on a day-by-day basis, as I wrote here. Kloncke lays out some suggestions for the kind of demands and goals we could fight for in our schools:
Sports. A focus on sports institutions as locations of rape-enabling power and authority would be great. This is not to vilify organized sports, or lump all athletes together as domineering scumbags. But statistically, athletes are shown to have more rape-supportive attitudes. And let’s remember: playing on a sports team, especially in high school, is a PRIVILEGE, not a RIGHT — even if the football team is the biggest social or economic game in a deindustrialized town. It’s a little mind-numbing that Big Red has yet to exact any penalties on other players associated with the Rape Crew. Why should they leave it up to the courts? The Ohio High School Athletics Association specifies penalties for playing on unauthorized teams, for using drugs and alcohol, and other infractions. NO MENTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT. That needs to change. Parents, teachers, staff, students, and supporters, together, can make it change.
It says something profound about our economy and prospects for young people, as well, that commentary on the Rape Crew includes hand-wringing about whether the case will ruin Mays’ and Richmond’s chances at a decent future. If their prospects are so bleak, what about other young people who would never qualify for an important sports team? Throughout the country, as sports maintains its role as an economic juggernaut (from high schools to colleges to the pros), we need to demand decent resources for everyone, according to need — not just for the MVP’s.
Accountable Coaches. The second reason a school-and-sports-based strategy is useful is because it reminds us that we, the people, ought to be able to demand high-quality, well-trained anti-rape role models, educators, and resources in public schools. Young people deserve nothing less. And while the intention of the NFHSA reform is commendable, it’s also naïve. A single mandatory course is not going to significantly shift the attitudes of those coaches (not all, but many) who’ve believed their whole lives that “boys will be boys” and sluts deserve what’s coming to them. Again, these misogynist views are opinions held by a significant proportion of our society. Why wouldn’t we demand more of our public figures, our educators, our mentors? Instead of offering education to incumbent coaches, why not make them prove they are capable of upholding the anti-rape responsibilities that (should) come with their position? An exam or licensing process, with a certain Pass/Fail ratio and follow-up training to support even those who pass, might not be out of the question. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?) And it’s weird that we’d even have to say this, but here goes: any coach who allows something like a “Rape Crew” to form among their players, under their watch, is clearly incapable of doing their job properly, and should be relieved of their duties.
Meaningful Education. Finally, in addition to demanding accountability from educators and coaches, working-class people can demand relevant and meaningful education for students — including education about rape (tellingly, many of the witnesses on the stand today didn’t seem to know what it is), rape culture, and the failures of the criminal justice system to address the root causes and conditions that allow sexual assault to flourish. When public school teachers in Seattle, Washington recently organized with students and parents, refusing to waste precious life energy on useless standardized testing, the struggle awakened people’s imaginations to all the important knowledge that could be created in the classroom, instead of teaching to a test. Rather than perpetuating a culture where survivors are shunned and silenced, we could be supporting students, young and old, in developing their own brilliant responses to sexual assault independent of the legal system.
Rape culture is so pervasive that it can seem overwhelming and impossible to confront. I think Kloncke’s suggestions provide some concrete starting points for possible struggles in the schools. They highlight the kinds of demands we might be able to win if we develop our capacity and build a broad-based and militant teacher-student-community alliance.
Kloncke’s point about accountable coaches also gets at a core issue in teacher/ educator/ staff organizing that I’ve written about here. In reaction to the corporate ed reformers’ emphasis on teacher evaluation and accountability through standardized testing, a lot of Leftist and liberal teachers have fallen into the trap of trying to defend the public schools as they currently exist. This is not tenable, because our schools are breeding grounds of white supremacy, patriarchy, and class stratification. We need to transform the schools, and this means being accountable to working class communities, NOT corporate think tanks and hedge funds. Teachers and coaches should welcome working class feminist efforts to fire coaches who condone “rape crews” and to replace them with coaches who can serve as anti-sexist role models. In fact, we should join such efforts, and look for moments in our schools where we can initiate them ourselves. No amount of seniority and no union contract should protect a coach if there is clear evidence that he is complicit in encouraging rape.
As a long term goal, I think we should fight for the power to make hiring and firing decisions that affect all teachers , coaches, and anyone else who works with youth, instead of leaving these decisions up to unelected administrators. Teachers, students, and community members should be able to decide who teaches and coaches our youth. Port workers demanded and won control of hiring and firing on the docks in the 1930s, ending the racist and humiliating shape up system (similar to the process by which day laborers are hired at Home Depots today). However, over time these hiring halls became nepotistic and exclusive because they were run by the union itself as a private club, not as a public organization run by the working class as a whole. Hence workers had an incentive to try to get their brothers, sons, and inlaws onto the job, which in Seattle has resulted in discrimination against Black workers. To avoid this kind of outcome, a teacher/ coach/ education worker hiring hall would have to be run democratically with input not only from teachers but also from students and their families.
Ultimately, this would be a revolutionary demand, because it would point the way toward a society of popular councils, assemblies, and committees instead of one that is run by professional classes above society. In the meantime, we can prefigure this goal by organizing ourselves and taking direct action to push the administration to fire individual misogynistic coaches and to hire coaches who know how to challenge rape culture.