This past weekend I was extremely blessed to not only attend the Free Minds Free People conference but to also present a workshop alongside my colleagues discussing an innovative method on how to approach one’s work with their students.
First I attended a workshop that focused on the perpetuation of Rape Culture in High Schools. For those of you who do not know, Rape Culture is a society in which language and behaviors that subtly or directly encourage sexual assault or rape is normalized. Many (including myself) would argue that the society we live in is indeed very conducive to Rape Culture. I say this because in this male-dominated society, many behaviors and language that men use that encourages sexual assault are often given a pass because it is seen as a right of a man to express his masculinity. What truly stood out to me was the explanation of how rape culture is a spectrum of slowly becoming normalized in society starting from men having feelings of entitlement to engage in certain disrespectful actions eventually leading to the acceptance that rape is just what happens sometimes.
For example, when men make cat calls and follow women to their cars after it is shown that the woman is CLEARLY not interested, those men are most likely not to face any consequences. In fact, behavior like that is usually condoned and seen as charming because of their incessant attempts at gaining a woman’s attention. What is problematic about behavior like this is what I mentioned earlier about the spectrum of rape culture, it starts with small actions such as this, and then it escalates to men putting their hands on women without their consent because they’re just “being men”.
Schools are institutions in which rape culture is allowed to increase in pervasiveness and thrive. In regards to this topic, I thought about back in my high school when there was a strict dress code that was implemented. Girls could not wear skirts that were at a certain length and yoga pants/leggings weren’t aloud. At the time I did not see the big deal but the girls and some faculty members were infuriated. Looking back at this, I had no idea that rape culture was becoming normalized through what seemed to be a “helpful” school initiative. The reasoning behind this policy was so that the boys would be able to maintain their self-control. The language associated with these initiatives suggests that boys are just so driven by their sexual desires that they can’t help if they disrespect a woman because that’s “just how they are”.
In our work as educators, we are often looked at as an aid to the voice for young people. How do you advocate for them on an issue such as this? I ask this not to gain an answer but to encourage you to critically think of what we can do to ensure the safety of our students who identify as girls.
From a perspective of an educator who identifies as a man, what can we do to ensure that the voices of girls are being heard? What I have noticed several times is that when men do try to become allies to women, they often end up dominating the space and silencing the voices of the people they are trying to support. I find it very helpful to simply listen, ask how they feel, and how or what they can do to help support. Women’s voices are constantly being stifled especially when it comes to the topic of sexual assault as they often suffer from victim blaming and other forms of marginalization. Giving students agency to voice their opinions on how they are disrespected is POWERFUL. If we stand by and do not allow these students to have power, then we are ]allowing the continuation of rape culture to become more omnipresent in our schools.
As I stated before, I by no means have the answers as to how to stop Rape Culture from removing the safety of these students. What I do know is that we must encourage and push each other in this profession to discover new ways to work alongside our students to ensure that their bodies are respected and that their safety is taken seriously. Think about what’s below the surface as to why certain policies such as a dress code are in the schools that you work within. What may seem harmless may actually be a form of those in power policing the bodies of the oppressed so that they can maintain that power. Which in this case, the power they are trying to maintain hold of is that they say what does or does not constitute as sexual assault which is a problem that is not recognized enough.