So just when I thought it was safe, another public figure goes and steps in some stinky doo doo when discussing rape – this time, surprise surprise, it isn’t some old gray-haired white guy but Serena Williams, champion tennis star and expert on women’s issues. Oh, wait scratch the last part.
In reference to the Steubenville, OH rape case – Williams said
“Do you think it was fair, what they got? They did something stupid, but I don’t know. I’m not blaming the girl, but if you’re a 16-year-old and you’re drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don’t take drinks from other people. She’s 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn’t remember? It could have been much worse. She’s lucky. Obviously, I don’t know, maybe she wasn’t a virgin, but she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”
Now to her credit, Williams did apologize for the asinine comments she made saying “What happened in Steubenville was a real shock for me….For someone to be raped, and at only sixteen, is such a horrible tragedy! For both families involved – that of the rape victim and of the accused.” She goes on to say, “I am currently reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written – what I supposedly said – is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame…I have fought all of my career for women’s equality, women’s equal rights, respect in their fields – anything I could do to support women I have done. My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen-year old child.”
I won’t go into my issues with Williams’ apology – I won’t mention her slight dig with the “supposedly said” which just has the whiff of “I was misquoted” or “My comments were taken out of context” nor will I go into the problematic issue of Williams highlighting the age of the victim, as if it were more tragic that a rape victim was a teenager – news flash – all cases of rape, no matter age, situation or sexual history/activity of the victims are tragedies. Doing all that would be playing with semantics.
But what I will say is that there appears to be a certain disconnect – one in which we reach out to individuals who are not on the public stage because of intellect and ask them for their opinions about difficult issues. Williams is not a scholar and yet Rolling Stone felt it necessary to ask her to weigh in on the issue (unless she offered the opinions unsolicited, which would be very strange). This kind of baiting was similar to when a reporter for the same magazine asked pop star Justin Bieber what he thought of abortion rights.
I’m glad Serena Williams feels contrite over saying something so colossally stupid. Whenever you talk about rape, and start saying “I’m not blaming the victim,” you should stop – full stop right there, before that pesky little “but” finds its way into the sentence and before you know it, you’ve done exactly what you set out not to do. You know this rhetorical land mine – next time catch yourself when you start saying “I’m not racist, but…” and see just how racist you’re going to sound.
And when Williams is faced with a question like this next time, if she doesn’t have the wherewithal to say something intelligent, she should just say “No comment,” and move on.