Rites of the Savage Tribe
By Jean Roberta, author of The Flight of the Black Swan: A Bawdy Novella
I’m always interested to learn about sexual cultures: what a particular demographic considers sexually acceptable, and what is taboo.
One social event among today’s young that has been acknowledged in the media is the Teenage Sex Party: a group of secondary school students get together to drink, and (in many cases) indulge in other mind-bending substances. A gang-bang happens, either spontaneously (it seems like a good idea at the time), or pre-planned. In most cases that I’ve heard of, the event is largely spontaneous, though it often starts with one boy and one girl. The rest of the crowd piles on.
I suspect that this event happens much more often than many adults choose to believe. It’s easy enough to legislate a minimum age for drinking, driving, and consensual sex. It’s not really possible to legislate lust, curiosity, or recklessness, and teenagers of all genders have these qualities in abundance.
Now here is the catalyst that propels a local event into the stratosphere of public discussion: someone has a recording device and takes pictures, or makes a little porn-movie of the event. Someone posts this on YouTube or some other social-media platform. The images go viral. The girl or girls in the Sex Party (who are usually outnumbered by boys) become targets of a lynch-mob of their peers.
In some cases, the girl who has become known as the Scarlet Whore of Whoville (or whatever town it is) changes schools to avoid the stigma, and finds that her reputation has preceded her. If
she reads her email, she finds fresh insults and threats every day. She can’t concentrate in class, and wants to drop out of school. She can’t sleep. Her only support comes from her parents, who would like her to recover in a well-guarded facility. In a worst-case scenario, the girl commits suicide.
At this point, there is much hand-wringing in the media. The girl’s red-eyed parents ask why the police have not prosecuted the “rapists” who did this to their daughter. Various experts point out that vulnerable young women need to be better-protected from sexual exploitation presumably, by means of constant supervision.
The frequent aftermath of the Teenage Sex Party, in which a girl is deprived of human status because of her perceived sexual behaviour, is parallel to the disfiguring, flogging, or murder of “fallen women” in cultures that practice fundamentalist religion in its most medieval forms. There is nothing especially modern or high-tech about any of this; it took place in the time of Christ, as recorded in the Bible. (Christ was against it.)
Let’s reconsider the party itself. In a case that was recently discussed on a daytime television talk show, the girl who was the centre of attention explained that she went to the party with the intention of having sex with one boy (presumably her boyfriend at the time). Another boy entered the room, and both boys persuaded her to let them take turns. By this time, everyone involved was both drunk and high, so it was hard for the girl to remember everything clearly. At
some point, she became aware that the fourth guy had been replaced by a fifth guy. She couldn’t identify him, but she knew he hadn’t asked her permission.
The talk show host asked Scarlet (as I’ll call her) if she knew the difference between sexual attention and sexual exploitation. He made it very clear that there was only one right answer to this question. She said yes, and agreed that what was done to her had crossed the line. The host then assured the girl’s anxious parents that the local police were wrong when they said the boys couldn’t be charged. The host promised to look into the case himself.
Are you uncomfortable yet?
Scarlet was clearly disturbed by the host’s promise to her parents that oh yes, those five boys could and should be punished. She said she didn’t think they should get criminal records. She seemed admirably loyal to the truth: the event had not been a clear-cut assault, and she had not been simply a victim of unwanted sex.
It’s incredibly hard for a teenage girl to maintain her integrity by telling the truth about her sexuality in the face of social pressure. In my day, there was rarely any objective evidence, but rumours abounded. When numerous classmates asked me whether it was true that I had “done it” with the boy who was bragging about this, I denied it. Admitting it would have opened up an abyss of shame in which I was afraid of being trapped for the rest of my life. Then, when boys asked me why most girls lie so much about what they really want and what they’ve really done, I cringed. I didn’t want to be a liar or a hypocrite, but I didn’t see any viable alternative.
Let’s think about sexual hypocrisy with regard to Scarlet and the boys from the party. Did the boys acquire terrible reputations at school because they were recognizable from the video on YouTube? Did anyone propose that the person who recorded the event without Scarlet’s consent (and who might not have been a participant) should be convicted of a crime?
I would like to see a talk show with a different focus on the Teenage Sex-Party and its aftermath. Who were the ringleaders of the smear campaign against Scarlet, and why was no one talking about appropriate penalties for them? Where were the parents of these underage thugs? How many of them will grow up to become sexual bullies at work? Will any of them become police officers who use their power to abuse or even kill innocent civilians?
Something is definitely rotten in Denmark, so to speak. And it’s not a loss of sexual purity among young women.
About Jean Roberta: Jean Roberta has taught English in a Canadian university for over 25 years, and now teaches a credit course in creative writing as well.
Her diverse fiction (mostly erotic) has appeared in over one hundred print anthologies, an out-of-print novel, two out-of-print story collections, and two single-author collections (Obsession, The Princess and the Outlaw), as well as The Flight of the Black Swan. Anthologies including her work have won awards from Lambdalit, EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection), and Independent Publishers Association. She has also written poetry, drama, news articles, scholarly non-fiction, blog posts and reviews.
The 25 opinion pieces she wrote for a monthly column, Sex Is All Metaphors (based on a line in a poem by Dylan Thomas), are available as an e-book. Under her actual family name, she co-edited an anthology of scholarly articles: OutSpoken: Perspectives on Queer Identities, and contributed an article on a controversial “lesbian” novel, “The Well of Loneliness” (1928).