As I was attempting to shop for my boyfriend’s Christmas gift just a little bit ago, I was confronted with a series of shirts bearing faces, quotes, and imagery from a few of the films that are hailed as Great American Classics (insofar as they’re cornerstone films, not because they’re really old enough to be considered “Classic” in any way), like The Goonies, Sandlot, The Christmas Story, etc.
And just looking at the face of the one kid from Sandlot, you know, the one who pretends to drown so that he can kiss the oh-so-sexy lifeguard he has literally no chance with?, I was immediately hit with a very sudden clarity about that moment.
That, my friends, is an instance of sexual assault that is branded as this really cunning, really fantastic and hilarious move by some nerdy underdog kid. It is looked upon and remembered as some perfect plan of success, but has anybody thought about how absolutely horrible this plan actually was?
I don’t know what the lifeguard situation looks like out here in the Northeast, or in Boston more specifically (since that’s where I am now), but back home, all of the lifeguards were high school kids. It was just a summer job. They were our classmates and siblings, friends, applauded athletes, etc.
Try to imagine, if you will, being a lifeguard, whose job it is to, you know, guard lives, and seeing some kid drowning. It doesn’t matter who this kid is, whether you like him/her or not, what they’re like outside of the pool. Nothing matters except the fact that you are positioned to make sure nobody dies and now there is a human in your immediate vicinity who is on his/her way to doing just that. So, anxiously, you get up from your place and dive into the pool to rescue this at-risk human and now, back on the pavement, s/he isn’t breathing. Shit, you think, because you are 16, maybe 17, and you have never seen somebody die before, let alone let somebody die, and it’s your job to make sure that this doesn’t happen. So you start doing life-saving motions for this person, attempt to get them to restart breathing, and no matter how calm you might appear to on-lookers, your heart is pounding and your gut is filled with dread because somebody’s child might die and it might be partially your fault.
Now, assuming you’re still with me, imagine that this human who is raking your heart over the coals and making you sick with worry suddenly, and obviously without warning, starts sucking your fucking face off because HA HA HA YOU PUT YOUR MOUTH ON MINE IT WAS LIKE YOU WERE ASKING FOR IT.
Tell me it’s still funny.
Tell me it’s funny with a straight face, in all seriousness. Can you do it? I certainly hope not, because then you would be telling me that sexual assault—not to mention trivializing both your life and the job of a lifeguard—is funny, and it absolutely isn’t.
The lifeguard is furious in this film, as she should be, and drags the kid out by his ear none too gently, but this isn’t enough. The fact that people still think it’s hilarious, cute, funny, clever, and/or harmless? That isn’t okay.
Some of you probably think I’m overreacting, that something like this doesn’t deserve so much passion when it’s been over for so long. But here’s the thing: Sexual harassment is not always violent. Even sexual assault is not always violent, although the nature of the word “assault” implies that it is.
Let me tell you something: As a person who has been on the wrong side of more than one situation, violent or not, a non-consentual sexual act is always an assault. Always. Whether or not you physically wound a woman is irrelevant, because she will carry a psychological wound with her for a very long time, if not the rest of her life, and that is assault.
So do not watch The Sandlot and this scene with this shitty little nerdy kid emotionally and then sexually assaulting a lifeguard and think that it is funny, that it is clever, that it is harmless. Watch this, and any other moment like it, with a seed of disgust, and open the conversation about internalized violence toward women.
Open a conversation about internalized patriarchal ownership over the bodies of women, because this child did not care about who this girl was, he did not care about how she might feel; all he cared about was owning a part of her body for however a brief period of time because, after all, she had nice tits. And every time you watch his actions and laugh, smile, or even allow his actions validity, you are contributing to the oppression of your female peers.
And that is not okay.