I was being cheeky when I said to my husband, "If you happen to be really dysfunctional and want to find a jerk, a frat house is always a good bet; you're sure to find a jerk there. In fact, rich, white, male, and frat boy or athlete in college is a pretty good list of qualifications for upping the jerk potential."
We were talking about the Duke lacrosse-Nifong scandal's latest update.
In reply, he snorted at me in disgust and raised his eyebrows at my audacity with such a blanket statement.
It's a stereotype---bordering on prejudice---and overlooks the fact that if you want to find a jerk (male or female) you can look in almost any socioeconomic class and location and find one, if you try hard enough.
But in my experience, there are certain organized groupings of people that foster really bad choices and behavior with alarming frequency, college athletic groups and fraternities among them.
And no matter how moral you are, it is disturbingly easy to get swept up with it, especially if you are worried that a position, which for some reason feels vital to you, is at risk.
Take my Dreadful to the Nth Power Job.
Our office was practically on MIT's campus, and the overwhelming majority of the staff boasted diplomas of one sort or another from there. In fact, that's how the company got started: some MIT buddies designed and got seed money for a truly innovative software program. We used to joke---based on the number of MIT grads and proximity to campus---that the staff had never really left college. The light-hearted, casual and fun approach was initially enjoyable. How nice to be with fun people! How nice to be a part of a close group!
But I slowly started to notice a few things. Men got offices; women got cubes. It had a real frat house atmosphere with crude jokes and beer in the fridge. The women tended to be segregated into one area, on one team, while the men (the majority) held domain over the rest of the office. Most of the men were nice, a pleasure to work with. But the Big Boss? Not so much.
When he turned 30, some of the guys thought it was GREAT! idea to hire a stripper. We women huddled in our cube cluster and whispered about it. I think each one of us knew that if we squawked, we'd be even more marginalized. I think it says a lot that we all spent every second working hard to rationalize why this did not need to be a big deal. I think it says a lot about our fear level.
My husband was appalled when he heard, and even more appalled when he found out I wasn't screaming. This did not jibe with his image of me. The more he poked and pushed, the more I rationalized. He finally gave up in disgust.
In the end, it was one of the guys who squawked. A nice lower level engineer, who was relegated to the cube farm with us. He put his foot down and said no, this was not cool. The senior management appealed to the women, asked us to let him know we were okay with it...put a little pressure on him to lighten up. When I protested saying he had a right to his opinion, I was told this wasn't a request.
Ultimately the stripper plan prevailed and the protestor stalked out. When I saw the girl arrive, I felt literally nauseated. She looked so unhappy and uncomfortable. I felt compelled to walk over to her, ask if she needed anything, shake her hand...which was like ice. She tried for bravado, but to tell the truth, it was a pretty thin act.
The atmosphere that fell over the office was terrifying. The guys were so pumped up, so excited (in every meaning of the word).
It was easy to be caught up in the "joke" all while feeling sick and disgusted, more than a little disturbed.
After her act---done in the boss's office---she left relatively quickly although most of the guys heavily pressured her to stay for a drink. After she was gone, the truly inappropriate talk began.
It was more than clear how---and what---they thought of her. And that's the moment when I realized that a lot of them really didn't see women as equal humans. That's when I finally realized with sick heart that they objectified women as service objects of one sort or another. That's when I realized how I had also behaved grossly and enabled it. That's when I realized I had long ago begun believing I had no choices here, and thus it was past time to leave. I began job hunting, but was so gunshy, I saw red flags at every interview. My headhunter despaired, all while she understood.
The behavior at that office by the men became so egregious that I ultimately left before I found another job, with a sexual harassment payoff (which didn't come half near enough for my pain and suffering), as did a large number of other women. But I learned a lot, not all of it good.
I learned that groups of people can egg one another along and help one another rationalize horrible behavior, especially labeling it "just in fun." I learned that as the leader goeth, so goeth the followers. I learned that fear can make you agree to things you never would otherwise.
It's not too hard---having witnessed obnoxious, out of control guys salivate over a stripper, laughing excitedly, and pressuring her to "stick around for a while"---to imagine what that stripper at the Duke lacrosse party had to deal with.
I'm glad the injustice of a false criminal accusation of rape was cleared up, but that doesn't make those athletes lily white and innocent in my book. They had a party with underage drinking and strippers. I'm sure the behavior there was way below gentlemanly. At the least. In my opinion, any punishment any of them has received (such as suspension---not the media massacre and false accusations) is fair due for what they did do.
The truth is, they made a heap of poor choices, and hopefully they have realized that. It amazes me that the poor sobbing boy on the stand was only concerned that his mother would learn he'd been charged with rape. Did he cry when he realized he'd have to tell her he'd been drinking, partying and paying a woman to remove her clothes at a party? Did she cry when she realized this? If not, why not?
I sincerely hope it had nothing to do with the idea that "boys will be boys."
Although I have gone along with this thought, probably more often than I like to admit or recall---such as at the office stripper party---this line of thinking is completely unacceptable to me now. This sort of thing should not be passed off, rationalized, overlooked, or tolerated.
That is very likely exactly where the prosecutor, Mike Nifong, and the rape accuser were coming from when they pursued the action they did.
That girl should not have falsely cried rape. She set a poor precedent, and took the rape movement back a few steps.
Mike Nifong should never have done the things he did. I think Reade Seligmann is right when he says Nifong was doing this on purpose, maliciously, to him and his friends.Resignation and disbarrment is a fair turn of events. Nifong's handling of the case was gross misconduct, set a very poor precedent, and took the rape movement back a few steps.
I do not understand the actions of either Nifong or the accuser, but I do understand what impelled them: too many women abused by too many men, too much injustice due to privilege, too often stuck seeing and hearing stories that are bad enough even without a crime attached. One day, there can come a point at which you say, "Enough. We have to send a message; this sort of thing cannot continue. This cannot be tolerated any longer."
Although few of us have the power or authority to do anything about it, some, such as this woman and Nifong, do. I could only collect money and walk away from that job and that career. She could accuse these men of a crime, and Nifong could pursue criminal prosecution. They misused their power, no doubt about it. Still, after things I've seen and experienced, I can understand the impulses that drove them to bypass good choices and make poor ones in pursuit of punishment for people (speaking generally) that these particular lacrosse players represented. Players who, although exonerated of rape, still do not deserve the label "innocent" in my book.
Nevertheless, Nifong and the woman deserve the consequences of this dishonesty. That's truly unfortunate because this case will be in every involved mind the next time a woman---especially a stripper or similar---cries rape, esepcially against nice-looking, clean cut athletes. Criminal investigation and prosecution should proceed carefully and thoroughly, assertively, but not doggedly. I am highly concerned, however, that caution will supercede progression, after this.
And that's the big tragedy of the Duke lacrosse rape scandal.