Last week, a freshman at the University of Maryland allegedly gained access to a dorm that was not his own, entered a female student’s room and woke her up by trying to kiss her. He also twice tried to put his hands down her shorts. When the victim screamed, he allegedly ran across the hallway to another room, and grabbed another female student by the head and tried to kiss her. Then, according to the official report, he did something similar to two other students in two other dorm rooms.
So, Seth Rudnitsky allegedly entered several dorm rooms illegally and then attempted to sexually assault their residents. Apparently Rudnitsky has even confessed to entering the dorm rooms and touching the women, though he does not say that he attempted to kiss the women or put his hands inside their clothing. In any case, what he has confessed to alone is already a serious crime — which is why he has been charged with first-degree burglary.
Mark Schamel, Rudnitsky’s attorney, said Rudnitsky was intoxicated and made a “typical freshman” mistake. Schamel declined to comment on the specific allegations from the female students who said Rudnitsky tried to initiate unwanted sexual conduct.
“This is not a sexual assault case. You have a really good kid who has never been in trouble his entire life,” Schamel said. “It’s your typical freshman ‘I went out and had too much to drink and was being silly’ kind of case.”
Charging documents refer to the incidents as “unwanted physical contact.” In an interview with police, Rudnitsky admitted to entering “3 to 4 rooms and touching a bed, arm, or shoulder,” according to the documents.
Schamel said his client simply made a mistake.
“He had no ulterior motives. He’s a wonderful kid who had too much to drink,” Schamel said. “This frankly shouldn’t even be a criminal case. I think it’s being entirely blown out of proportion.”
You know, the last time I checked, breaking and entering and then sexually touching sleeping people without their consent is not actually a “typical freshman mistake.” And trying to put your hands inside a sleeping woman’s clothing is not “being silly” — it’s assault. How exactly did you spend your college years, Mr. Schamel?
Schamel might as well come out and say that “boys will be boys,” as it’s what his defense amounts to. But of course, that kind of view is not unusual. “Boys will be boys” is a common defense for all kinds of sexual harassment and abuse committed by young men — though most commonly white men of a certain class status.
We see it from the very early days of the playground, when a little boy lifts up a little girl’s skirt to take a peek, and everyone giggles rather than explaining to him why what he did was wrong — or giggles and then gives him the explanation, but with it the distinct impression that what he did was cute. We see it when the little girl is hit and pushed in the mud, and told that the boy did it because he likes her. We see it when boys try to grab girls’ developing breasts, or look down their shirts, or slap their butts, none of which is asked for — and met with some variation of, oh, he’s just playing around. All those hormones! It’s experimentation! And really, it means that he thinks you’re good looking, so take it as a compliment, ladies! And we see it when teenagers start dating, and girls are warned about not being alone with a boy, because you never know what he’ll try to do — after all, boys will be boys, and we can’t expect them to control their sexual urges or worry about your consent.
All their lives, boys who commit sexual violations are told that they’re cute, clowning around, letting off steam, normal. What the phrase “boys will be boys” in fact means is that behaving this way is an integral part of being a boy, growing up, and proving your masculinity. And all their lives, girls see their feelings on the matter pushed to the wayside.
Is it really any shock that many of those boys carry this attitude over into adulthood? The fact is, if the alleged crime here didn’t involve a break in by a stranger, but instead a break in by someone the woman knew — or if it didn’t involve a break in at all, but happened at a party or a club — far fewer people would find Schamel’s assertion absurd. If the women knew the guy, well he was just playing a prank! Trying to scare them! Hehe, funny! If it happened while the women were awake, well what were they doing out around all that alcohol? What do you expect young men to do when they’ve been drinking and you’re all there and gropeable? You know how they are!
“Boys will be boys” is a pervasive part of our culture. We see it everywhere, all the time. And the consequence of that reaction to sexual misconduct and violence is not only a stronger rape culture, but also more and more extreme behavior being excused underneath the banner.
And the whole time, no one thinks about how the girls might be feeling in all of this. We talk all the time about what it supposedly means to be a boy, and ignore the fact that if they are that way, we’ve conditioned them into it. But we as a larger society never, ever talk about what it means to be be a girl, how exactly girls will be girls in a land where boys will be boys.
As Amanda at the Sexist writes in response to Schamel’s statements up above about “typical freshmen”:
For the women who were assaulted, the “typical freshman experience” is a bit different: being awoken by unwanted groping from a strange man. But listen, ladies: That’s fine if that’s your college experience, as long as you don’t make a big fucking deal about it.
Yet again, the (straight, white, cis, middle-class) male experience is portrayed by other men as being the default experience. Yet again, it serves to erase the impact that experience has on the experiences of those around them. Yet again, the rights of women and the many other people who are impacted by this behavior don’t count nearly as much as the right for boys to be boys. Far too few care about what an insult such a phrase is to the intelligence and ethics of men and boys when it can be so efficiently used to maintain their privilege. And even fewer think or care about what it does to women and girls.