Paula Deen and Serena: 2 of a Kind

Both celebrities need to get a clue about how hurtful words can be.

Paula Deen (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images); Serena Williams (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Paula Deen (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images); Serena Williams (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

(The Root) — If she who is without sin should cast the first stone, then perhaps she who is with sin should just shut up, taking her rock and heading home before the walls come crumbling down around her. Nowhere does this modern twist on the oft-quoted Bible verse seem more apt than in the recent controversy surrounding professional glass-house dwellers Serena Williams and Paula Deen.

The two women couldn’t be more different — or, as it turns out, alike. There are nearly three decades between the superstars. One makes her living serving on the tennis court, and the other serves Southern comfort on a platter. Serena grew up in Southern California and Paula in southern Georgia. Who would have thought that both women would not so secretly harbor some not-so-kosher views?

It began last week when Williams commented on the Steubenville, Ohio, rape trial in a Rolling Stone profile. The reporter had not asked Williams’ opinion directly; instead the news flashed across a television screen the two were watching, and the athlete offered up her obviously unfiltered opinion:

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.

Another column (or 10) could be dedicated to the magnitude of wrong encapsulated in Williams’ statement. But victim blaming — the perpetuation of rape culture by focusing on the injured party’s culpability as opposed to that of those who actually broke the law — is nothing new.

Williams, who by all accounts grew up in a conservative Jehovah’s Witness household, was probably regurgitating what her parents and peers passed down. I heard as much and more around my grandmother’s kitchen table as a teenager. The same warnings and advice were handed out to me from uncles and aunts before I went off to college in the big city. The messages were the same: Beware of the big, bad rapist bogeyman, and don’t put yourself in a situation where he can get you.

Problem is, rapists are not killer whales. They don’t just hang out in the deep end — dark corners, winding alleys or windowless vans. Avoiding the beach altogether won’t stop another predator from getting to you. Lions, tigers and bears abound. So, the evolving wisdom goes, why not shift the red alerts to those who rape instead of those who happened to get in their crosshairs?