A few years ago, our school, after seeing a real need for an interruption of rape culture, created gender-specific, monthly groups to address the needs of the girls, the needs of the genderqueer/queer students, and to address what we saw as the perpetration of rape culture amongst the boys. We have been doing these groups for 2.5 years now; the girls’ groups, in general, have been places of support, safety, and have, in some cases, been transformational. The queer group has been essential in our tiny little school. The boys’ groups have been friendly, sometimes fun, and, ultimately, in my opinion, have not addressed the ways that patriarchy affects our teenagers.
We have been reluctant, as a staff, to push the boys to address the issues that prompted us to start the groups in the first place. Masculinity is quite a drug, and the male teachers have been hesitant, and, I would argue, frightened to poke what could be a hornet’s next of toxicity. I get it. It is hard. But, if we do not directly address the ways that sexual violence is used to control and oppress, then who? The answer is obvious: no one.
After the last few weeks of public breaking silence about sexual assault and harassment, I decided to write a letter to my staff, asking that we devote time, emotion, and care to creating a real program to address rape culture.
I’ve included it here in the hopes that you will do the same, at your school. I want people to share ideas, resources, struggles, failures, and flashes of transformation.
If you do this, please let me know how it goes. We can — and we must — do this together.
Hello Beautiful People,
On this lovely Saturday, as I sat in a cafe grading work, I was struck with some urgency to return to a plea I made when we discussed our gender circles in our late summer meetings.
Trigger warning: I am talking about sexual assault. Please do not read if you do not want to, cannot, or just want to enjoy your day without thinking about this.
Like many of you, I have been both riveted by and deeply disturbed by the rash of revelations about sexual violence and harassment that have surfaced since the articles exposing Harvey Weinstein surfaced a couple of weeks ago.
I am relieved, and grateful, that so many women can finally speak about the pain and trauma that they have carried with them for years, and that, with this somewhat public awakening, they can begin to do some communal healing. Reading about this, though, has prompted many of us to think about the harassment, abuse, and assaults that we have endured, and, in most cases, stayed entirely silent about.
I have been “lucky.” I have never been raped. I have, however, been groped, harassed, threatened for sex, and not believed when I reported incidents. I do not know any woman, actually, who has not had similar experiences — and most women I know have endured much, much worse than I have. We all breathe in the smog of rape culture. We stay silent, we carry our keys between our fingers, we stay away from that uncle and that classmate, and we continue to breathe in and breathe out.
The fact that these women in the news have stayed quiet — that I have stayed quiet, that my sister has stayed quiet, that almost every woman I know has stayed quiet — is because of the poison of rape culture.
I write this not to illicit sympathy — really, this is commonplace. All of our female and genderqueer students experience this regularly, and, I am certain, some of our boys. I write this to make another plea that our gender circles address rape culture.
I know that this will be hard, and this might not go as we want it to. None of us has expertise in this, and, judging by the state of the world, I don’t think anyone, anywhere, has any magic bullets to address a culture that normalizes sexual assault and harassment, that blames women for their trauma, that vilifies women of color, in particular, and makes sexual abuse of boys and men virtually unspeakable.
Because this is so sticky, and unknown, I have done some thinking about some outcomes that I would love to see from our work. Yours may differ, but I’d love to offer these as a starting point for conversation or planning.
I would love to see:
All of our young people to identify how to be an ally/accomplice when they see any harassment or abuse. This includes knowing how to stand up to your friends.
All of our young people to be able to know that their body is their own, and that they do not need to agree to anything they are not comfortable with.
All of our young people be able to articulate what consent is, why it is so vital to respecting all humans, and to be able to discuss this with their friends.
All of our young people, and especially our young men, to understand the experience of moving through the world in a female/femme/genderqueer body.
All of our young people to have a script, or a template, for times when someone harasses, assaults, or threatens them. Our kids need practice resisting sexual violence, and since most families do not address this, we need to provide scripts. Like internship scripts, but for repelling abusive, heinous assholes!
All of our young people to be able to have one person, one safe person, who they can speak to about any abuse they have already experienced. This may be beyond our scope, but I would love to dream it.
I am willing to work with anyone else feeling intrepid. I also completely understand if you just cannot, because it brings up too much. If, however, you cannot just because it seems too hard — I would challenge you to bellyflop in with me.
I love you all, truly, and will see you on Monday.