I didn't think much about the term until Steubenville.
How could we – the United States – in the 21st century have a culture of rape?
But I have two extremely powerful reasons to think about rape culture now: I have a daughter, and I have a son.
And their futures are equally important to me.
Like any mother, I can't help but read stories like the ones coming from Ohio through the filter of motherhood.
Because more than I don't ever want to be summoned to the hospital … or a police station … I don't want my children to have an unhappy life. And an unhappy life often walks hand-in-hand with causing others to suffer misery and pain.
A culture of rape is also a culture of apathy; a culture of substance abuse; a culture of small, meaningless lives.
It astounds me that other mothers don't see it that way.
That's the future I see for boys in Steubenville if they don't stand up and hold themselves accountable.
That's the future I see for the bystanders, those who harassed the victim and those who tried to cover it up if they can't see it for themselves.
Stories like this, however, make me fear we are already lost.
How can a person be a year or two away from emancipation and not know undressing and inserting an appendage into the body of an unconscious girl is a crime?
How can that situation be seen as anything other than rape?
How can their parents and teachers protect them? How can the community not be appalled?
It's more than stupidity. In this town, at least, it seemed to be a norm.
It makes me think we have never gone beyond the idea that women are ultimately responsible for the prevention of rape.
What we wear; How we wear our hair; What we drink; With whom we choose to socialize; How we travel. ... Each a factor considered even if off the record.
Better to be safe than sorry we always tell ourselves.
And it's true. I will tell my daughter that it's smart to be aware of her surroundings. To travel in pairs, especially at night. I will tell her to consider her hairstyle, how pony tails can be grabbed by an assailant more easily than a bun.
But none of those things makes a crime someone else commits her fault.
By the same token, I don't verily buy into the notion that we've failed at teaching men not to rape.
Men – in general -- are not the mindless, hormone-driven neanderthals these stories have made them seem.
In addition to No meaning No, I will teach my son that only Yes means Yes. And I hope I can convince him that feeling awkward is a small price to pay for getting it right.
We, as parents, educators and citizens, have to do a better job of understanding the importance of valuing not just ourselves and our children, but everyone around us, as well. We have to do a better job of recognizing when those lessons aren't being learned … or aren't being taught. We also have to understand that we, ourselves, might not have the right answer when we try to protect our kids from themselves.
We should all want more for our kids than vicious circles.