Serena Williams has herself in some Twitterverse hot water for having the temerity to offer a somewhat antinomian opinion about the Steubenville, OH rape case that has gotten so much press lately. (Simple version: girl gets drunk and passes out at high school party, two high school football players rape girl, high school idiots snark about the rape online, cops find out, boys go to jail.) Here's what she supposedly said:
According to the Rolling Stone story, Williams says the perpetrators of the crime “did something stupid,” and she asks: “Do you think it was fair, what they got?”
She adds, “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.”
And Williams also is quoted as saying: “… she shouldn’t have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that’s different.”
Now, some of that I don't like... I don't like questioning whether what the boys got in terms of jail time was fair. Gentlemen don't act that way around girls, no matter whether they're drunk or not; gentlemen protect vulnerable women, period. They did a criminal act and deserved what they got.
But what has apparently outraged people is Williams' comments that the girl "shouldn't have put herself in that position." My quick read of the comments online is that people are shocked, shocked that Williams would ever say such a thing against a secular saint... The Rape Victim. Apparently it is sacrilegious to ever criticize the conduct of a girl as having any aspect of what we lawyers like to call contributory negligence. (Note: contributory negligence is a defense to a negligence claim, not to an intentional tort. If I were to say that a girl was contributorily negligent in "putting herself into a dangeorus position" that wouldn't be a defense to a rape charge, no matter how silly she was.)
This is a very silly variant of liberal feminist dogma and Williams should have stood by her comments, since coming from a strong and successful woman they might actually have some impact. All she is really saying is what any parent -- and I'm a father of three teenagers, two girls and a boy -- would say.
Consider this thought experiment: the same girl in the Steubenville scenario goes to the party, gets drunk, passes out, AND NOTHING HAPPENS. A Good Samaritan drives her home, carries her to her front door, and tells her parents what happened. She sleeps it off, wakes up the next day with a hangover, then her Mom and Dad say to her, "Come into the kitchen, honey, we want to talk to you about what you did last night." Does anybody actually believe that it would be inappropriate for her parents to tell her that she shouldn't put herself in that kind of dangerous situation, that what she did was stupid, and that if she acted that way other people would think less of her as a person?
The boys' actions were criminal. They should have been prosecuted and were. But, come on, people... let's use some common sense on this.
P.S. Is there a greater American athlete who has been as overlooked as Serena Williams? She now has won five Wimbledon titles, five Australian Opens, four U.S. Opens, and two French Opens. She won her first Grand Slam title in 1999, and just won the French Open this month, fourteen years later. Probably the greatest American female athlete ever.