Last week we talked about privilege, which is a pretty hotly debated topic these days. But this week I have to touch on an even more sensitive issue: rape culture.
Is there a rape culture in America? The fact that this question is still being asked is a testament to how quick we are to undermine the victims – a testament to how strong rape culture is in our society. I could write books about an issue as complex as this but for now I’ll start with this blog post. 🙂
Almost from birth, girls are taught not to entice men. The most tangible evidence of this lesson is in school dress codes, which carry dozens of warnings for female students and no comparable rules for boys. No crop tops, no short shorts, no thin-strapped tank tops and more recently, no yoga pants – these rules are designed to force girls to minimize the animalistic urges of boys. The message is clear: boys are not able to control their sexual impulses.
More importantly, the message is: boys are not responsible for their sexual impulses. This is dangerously close to the idea that boys are not responsible for their actions. Because these dress codes – which explicitly state that male students will find females “distracting” – do nothing to teach boys that they have to control their urges.
This is one of the earliest examples of the underlying problem in our culture: we teach “do not get raped” instead of “do not rape”.
Now don’t get me wrong. School is a pseudo-professional environment where dress codes are necessary. But communicating to young girls that just the sight of their shoulders could drive a male student to lustful distraction is damning them from the start.
Already we’re teaching girls that it is their fault. Already, we’re teaching girls that objectifying their bodies is normal and acceptable. These messages pave the way for the police officers who ask a woman what she was wearing when she was raped. The situations are different, but the resemblance is uncanny.
Now remember that school dress codes start in kindergarten. The power of socialization at such a tender age is undeniable, and we reinforce this message for thirteen years of schooling. Teaching girls that they will be objectified and they are responsible for avoiding it is a horrific message. It is equally disturbing to teach boys they are animals who cannot cultivate self-control.
I didn’t intend for this to be a series, but this is getting a tad long and I’ve only covered one example! So I’ll be back next week to talk about another driver of rape culture: consent and playing “hard-to-get”.