This isn’t the first time that I’ve found myself worrying about the topic that I’m going to blog about. I use my blog as an outlet to address the wrongs that I see in education for which I have no official avenue to confront—and today’s topic is an uncomfortable one.
It is time to address the role schools play in the continuation of societal norms that encourage the pervasive cultural oppression and sexualization of girls and women—or what is commonly known as rape culture.
For the past week I’ve been watching as the world weighs in on the allegations of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
I’ve been part of conversations where people throw around phrases like “He was just a kid, should this ruin his life?” and “If it happened, it shouldn’t impact him now, he’s a different person.”
I watched the leader of our country tweet and question why the victim didn’t report the crime against her sooner.
As I got overwhelmed with the national media, I decided to do some self care and focus on my personal relationships instead of things that I can not control.
Browsing social media I came across the following post from one of my fellow educators about their daughter (edited to protect names):
Daughter: “Security guard commented on my shoulders showing when I entered the building and suggested it would be ‘distracting to boys’.”
Parents: “You tell him it is creepy that he is looking at you like that and to feel free to call your parents directly with his concerns.”
What commenced in the Facebook comments is the denigration of civilised discourse that we’ve come to accept as a society, complete with swearing, a man calling the aforementioned daughter “disrespectful to adults” and the accusation that the parents were “looking to pay off their house.”
This morning, while sitting with my morning coffee, my husband decided it was time to talk about his experience with toxic masculinity and the boys will be boys mentality that permeates sports teams.
Maybe it was the coffee, but it finally hit me—our education system is complicit in enabling the sexualization and harassment of girls.
I’m not sure how it took me so long to see it.
Teachers are some of the most progressive people out there. We champion freedom of speech, religion, and sexual orientation.
We hang stickers on our doors proclaiming that our classrooms are safe spaces.
The reality is, for our girls and our female teachers, school is not safe and teachers are (unknowingly) part of the systemic way that boys learn that they are superior to girls.
How many elementary teachers struggle with “out of control boys” in their classrooms? It’s not because they are biologically wired to be “rough and tumble” or more physical than girls; it is because society tells them that “that’s what boys do”.
The “boys will be boys” mentality gives them the permission to do so, and it looks like “acting out” in the classroom.
Think about it—when a little boy chases or teases a girl we say, “It’s because he likes you.”
We have just told that girl that it’s acceptable for a boy to chase and hurt her because of his feelings. We have implied that he has no control over the situation.
In middle and high school, we continue to perpetuate rape culture, as we enforce school dress codes that are sexist and shame girls.
By telling a girl to “cover up” or that their skin is “distracting to boys” we are telling them that their bodies are dangerous and harassment is inevitable. This also teaches our girls that they are the cause of a boy’s actions, instead of placing the blame solely where it belongs, on the offender.
Then comes the normalizing of sexual harassment and assault in schools.
Today, as an experiment, I went into the hallway with a sticky note. Over the course of three minutes, I recorded all of the times girls were slapped on the butt, or had an arm put around them that they shrugged off, or a hug they pushed away.
There were three butt slaps in which the girl yelped and reacted angrily, one shove with a “Get away from me!” as a male student tried to hug a female student, and seven instances where I saw a girl try to slip out of a boy’s draped arm looking decidedly uncomfortable.
One girl was licked.
I realize this wasn’t exactly scientific, but it also isn’t abnormal—any three minute segment of time at my school is likely to produce similar results. It paints a picture of a culture in which girls are repeatedly touched intimately and inappropriately without consent.
Ah, but they are just kids being kids right?
Two years ago one of my students was assaulted by another student outside of the gym. He grabbed her butt and pushed himself against her. It was captured on the school’s surveillance video.
She (and her mother) were adamant that the boy be punished to the maximum extent. She was told it was being taken care of and to “show us that beautiful smile”, because it was going to be alright.
Instead, she was made to sit in a “restorative meeting” with the boy and his mother to try and “work things out”. She was re-victimized for what seemed to be an opportunity for the school to avoid reporting a sexual assault.
During the hearing concerning his behavior, her side of the story was not presented. Her demands on punishment were not presented. The administrator did not ask for the maximum disciplinary action, in fact, he asked for it to be reduced.
Afterward myself and two other teachers sat with the girl while she cried. She had thought that her coming forward would mean that she wouldn’t have to see the boy again.
She expected to be believed; she expected to be kept safe.
And what about our female teachers?
Last year I was forced to file a police report on a student who yelled, multiple times, in front of two teacher witnesses, that he was “going to violate me” because I told him he was on the wrong bus for a field trip.
Instead of removing the student, administration chose to “investigate” the claim. Instead of using the discipline process, I was told “He doesn’t normally act like that.”, “He meant he was going to curse you out. ” and “It’s not that bad.”
A week after the incident, after union representation and meeting after meeting, no disciplinary action had been taken. I was repeatedly re-victimized by being questioned about my role in the incident and asked to sit in a room with the offender and his mother. I was accused of being “overly sensitive”, as if being threatened with bodily harm by a man who towers over you and weighs at least 75 lbs. more than you is something to brush off.
But he’s just a kid. He didn’t mean it. Don’t ruin his life. You must have done something to make him do that.
In the days following the incident, five of my fellow colleagues told me how they feel that their discipline referrals on students aren’t taken seriously because they are women….FIVE… and those are the teachers that were comfortable enough telling me about their experiences.
If I go back a few years, the Principal who tenured me was given the choice to resign amid allegations of sexual misconduct toward untenured and student teachers.
Women who had no professional recourse. Women who he could have fired with no due process because they had no tenure. Women who weren’t even out of college.
I hear he’s now a Principal in the next town over.
Or how about that time my friend, whom I wrote about here, was told she wasn’t being recommended for tenure and to sign this paper saying she agreed to a year extension, while the Principal changed his clothes?
These stories alone can launch hundreds and thousands more.
In fact, I will go so far as to say schools are where our children are indoctrinated into rape culture.
According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four college-age women will be victims of forced sex.
Nearly two thirds of college women are victims of sexual harassment.
College-aged young men don’t wake up in the morning and decide to sexually assault someone; they do it because they have been taught by society that they aren’t doing anything wrong.
Children learn how to become members of society in school and they have been conditioned by our lack of discipline surrounding harassing behavior.
These children become the Brett Kavanaughs of the world.
Until we teach our kindergarten boys that “She did not want to be touched by you.” and to “STOP!” when a girl doesn’t want to be “teased”,
Until we stop telling girls their bodies are the problem,
Until teachers don’t have to endure sexually inappropriate taunts because “They are just kids”,
Until we address the systemic misogyny that rules our education system,
Your daughters will continue to fall prey to the predators that we create.
Are you scared? Are you angry?
Now try smiling. It’s really not that bad.