Feminism | Posted by Roberta Nin Feliz on 02/1/2016

Why We Need To Teach Students About Rape Culture

We need to educate students about rape culture.

Being an outspoken feminist in my high school has been a challenging experience. While many of my peers are aware of major social justice news and violations, like that surrounding Black Lives Matters and ISIS, far too many are still ignorant about the feminist movement or women’s rights more generally. This became particularly clear to me in a recent English class, as we discussed Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and rape culture’s effect on the main character.

Rape culture is “a complex set of beliefs that encourages male sexual aggression and supports violence against women,” Emilie Buchwald writes in her book Transforming a Rape Culture. “It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent,” she continues. “In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself.”

The Bluest Eye explores the experience of assault in the context of rape culture. During a heated-class discussion about the book’s portrayal of assault, one guy in my class said, “Going into a room at 3 am and expecting not to get raped is like going into a classroom and expecting not to learn.” Not only did he fail to see anything wrong with making this victim-blaming comment at all, but he also didn’t understand how it would make the room predominately full of women and a female teacher feel. While others engaged, the conversation eventually became too overwhelming for me and I had to step out.

My experience in class that day was hardly an anomaly. I have had to defend sexual assault survivors during class discussions and explain why victim-blaming comments are problematic more than once. I have tried to encourage my male peers to empathize with rather than blame the individuals they denigrate in this way multiple times.

These experiences clearly demonstrate that men need to be better educated about and made aware of rape culture earlier so that they don’t perpetuate it. The attempts of individuals, like me, to educate them after these attitudes are already ingrained is not only ineffective — I’m often dismissed for my “feminist bullshit” — but honestly exhausting and sad.

We need to create classroom environments that enforce a standard of discussion in which women and men speak from a perspective of sensitivity and compassion — especially in conversations surrounding rape or rape culture. Students should be taught how to do this early and often: High school seniors should never be completely oblivious to the concept of rape culture.

What’s more, rape culture can’t be approached a “theory” or “concept,” but a real thing. We should approach rape culture as a “theory” the same way we approach the theory of evolution: as hard-hitting facts that have been proven by years of research, evidence and experience.

Just as many schools require health classes, schools should make classes concerning issues like rape culture, domestic violence, and the feminist movement and other important issues mandatory. Rape culture is an active force in the lives of many girls and boys well before they reach college and gender studies classes (if they reach college at all).

I will continue to check my peers on their ignorance during class discussions even though doing so can be exhausting, frustrating, and even make me feel unsafe. I dream of the day when I, nor any high school student, has to do this, when high schools commit to educating students about these issues from an early age. But until then I have to speak up on behalf of what is right.

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