The student rituals of sex and booze are part of a heterosexual tradition ending in non-gay marriage. (Wikimedia.)
Upon first consideration, the Steubenville rape case and the Supreme Court’s deliberation on marriage are simple things, easily understood—and with no more connection to each other than proximity in headline news. In one we have the emblem of “rape culture,” in the other a testament to this nation’s fraught but ceaseless march toward a more perfect union: American sexuality at its worst and its best, the jungle and the picket fence. It is so pat it makes a thinking person gag.
Steubenville, the town, has been a convenient setting for a devil story, the type beloved by cultural commissars including those on what passes for the left. Broke, beat, “down there” somewhere, a football-crazy small town in the blasted heartland, it is a context overdetermined for danger and victimization, in this instance a drunken 16-year-old girl exploited sexually by a couple of high school football heroes while others watched, tweeted, took photos or videos, posted them for the networld but did nothing else. The two boys, also drunk and 16 at the time, were convicted in mid-March and could be in juvie prison until they are 21, then registered sex offenders for life. A relentless Ohio blogger, a grown-up who captured some vulgar electronic communications and helped project them to a national audience, brays, “Why aren’t more kids in jail…”
Meanwhile, in the alternate universe of high-end law, marriage is painted in pastels by assimilated gay leaders and their straight allies. As described by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose decision is the basis for the Supreme Court’s review, “‘marriage’ is the name that society gives to the relationship that matters most between two adults. A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but…‘marriage’ is singular in connoting ‘a harmony in living,’ ‘a bilateral loyalty,’ and ‘a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred.’”
In other words, to be married is the best of all worlds, key to stable families, successful children, robust society… And yet, there’s Steubenville, and not just Steubenville, but Anytown, USA, where the mostly straight products of those mostly straight sacred unions behave like animals.
What links these seemingly disjoint stories, despite the emphasis on “gay” in the marriage debate, is heterosexual culture, something it would pay to think seriously about before running off with hair on fire about rape culture or, alternatively, getting misty-eyed about “I dos.” Reality is somewhat less grandiose.
In reality we still exist largely in a realm of primitive heterosexuality. Central to it is marriage, or the idea of marriage, but before marriage there is courtship, and before courtship there is high school.
Heterosexuality in high school is not pretty. Boozed up parties and zonked out kids define its rites of passage. Someone, usually a girl, has her head in a toilet. If she’s lucky, a friend holds her hair while she vomits and, in between heaves, slurs something like “I really love you” before slumping in a corner or on the bathroom floor. Her friends attend to her long enough to make sure she’s not dying. Others jeer, “She’s a mess”. They’re not mean exactly, or not always; everyone is drunk and stupid and very young. They drink and dance, make out (usually badly), grope one another, disappear into parked cars from which they might emerge coolly or distrait, as elsewhere the casualties mount. Two kids senseless from drink paw each other on a couch until the girl turns away to throw up on her shoulder. The boys all laugh, but one of their own is standing on a table in only underpants and a tie, hollering like a banshee and spilling beer while another circles dazed in the street and a third has driven off into the night pie-eyed. If he’s lucky, he’ll survive to hear about it. Someone helps clean up the girl on the couch; “I’m fine,” she mumbles before passing out, and she must be fine, the others think, because later she’s kissing and petting with the same or another boy. The girls who aren’t passed out or in the cars might whisper that those who have stolen off are loose, but the little gossips are curious, too, and some half-wish a boy had wanted to pull off their clothes. The next morning no one will remember much of anything, but later, certainly before high school ends, someone will be pregnant and someone will be dead.