This story deals with sexual assault and rape culture. If you want to learn more, please check out RAINN.org.
I have an interesting personal story for you all today. This past week, I went to my old middle school to talk to the eighth graders about sexual assault and consent. I’ll give you a little backstory: I grew up in a small town with a little public school that barely had any sex ed. All we knew was that sex was a thing, and that it happened. We were never taught about why it happens, how it happens, and, most importantly, what consent really means. Unfortunately, me and my friends learned this a lot later in life, when we really should have learned it in our early teens.
Last fall, I joined a group created by some of my past classmates that was advocating for better sexual education in our school system. Recently, group of us decided that it was time to take matters into our own hands and we reached out to the health teacher, asking if we could have a discussion with the middle-schoolers about what WE wish we had known at their age. Being 100 percent honest with you all, it had been almost 10 years since I graduated from middle school (YIKES) and I was nervous AF to head to this classroom. It was the same teacher, same room and same school, but going back there now was like a whole new experience. Here is a nervous pic of me outside the school I took before the class, for reference.
We began the talk by explaining that one in five girls will be sexually assaulted by the time they graduate college. We tried to put it in perspective in class, which only had about 15 people in it. It’s a scary but real fact that 20 percent of women will be sexually assaulted by the time the finish school, and as terrifying as it is, we thought it was a good way to open up the talk so that we could openly discuss what we can do to make that better.
We asked what they thought was consent, and were able to get some pretty solid answers from them. Many said it was “permission” others said it was a simple “yes!” to sex. This is true: when you have sex, you want to be sure that both people involved are 100 percent certain (and excited!) to do it. If somebody has to be convinced, it is not consent. If somebody is being pressured or persuaded, it is not consent. It was scary to talk to a bunch of teens about this concept, but a lot of them seemed to get it and were eager to share what they know.
We then started discussing the idea of rape culture and victim blaming. We projected this image on the board and ran through it. Surprisingly, many of the students didn’t understand what rape culture really is.
This chart is a pretty good way to see how rape culture is a part of our everyday lives. Sure, you might not be experiencing the extreme type of violence that is in the top tier, but you are probably familiar with the phrase “boys will be boys” and the victim blaming. All of these things contribute to other forms of rape culture that perpetuates the idea that sexual violence is okay. This is when the class started getting confused, particularly the boys.
One kid asked why girls should wear such revealing clothes if they don’t want to be assaulted. The girls in the class all rolled their eyes and spoke up, but you could tell that a lot of the guys also thought this way. They truly believed that the way a girl dresses is an invitation for assault. One girl told him that he was wrong, and he said, “well, you always wear revealing things” I was shocked.
I didn’t expect these kids to be ~woke~, but I had hoped that they would understand the simple concept that what a person is or isn’t wearing is not means to assault someone. What’s even worse is that this kid wasn’t backing down. He insisted that boobs were purely sexual, and even brought up breastfeeding in public, saying that it was wrong. Bodies are natural, and we need to stop sexualizing them! We were happy that he said this so that we could explain to him why he was wrong, but also upset that this had to be addressed. Women’s bodies are not for anyone but themselves. Breasts are not inherently sexual, and just cause somebody is wearing a low-cut shirt does not mean that they automatically want to have sex with you. Girls should be able to wear whatever TF they want, without having boys (or other girls!) judge them for being “too sexual” or even “not sexual enough.”
After a lengthy discussion that resulted in a lot of the girls in the class telling the boys to shut up, the class was, unfortunately, over. While I am happy that we got to discuss it, I think that a small 45 minute presentation about consent and rape culture was hardly enough for these kids. We offered to come back during the next semester to that these kids can be reminded that we all need to respect and help each other, and not blame others for assaults. Instead of teaching girls what to wear or how to act, we need to keep telling boys not to rape. It’s simple, but it takes a lot of time and effort. If you get the chance, it’s important to open a dialogue with younger teens who might not have experience with this stuff. You should check out this site that goes more in-depth about how to start a conversation about consent, and stay active. It’s on us to change the one in five statistic.
What do you think of this? Tell us in the comments!