Educating Men About Rape

Pamela Pizarro has what I think is a telling anecdote about how we teach our youth about rape.  It’s based on her experiences in Canada, but I think it’s applicable to the U.S. as well:

I remember the day that they showed us the video on rape. It was during a physical education class, and our teacher, simply put the video tape in the machine and pressed play. The movie that proceeded told the story of a young girl (in university) who went out on a date with a popular “jock”. After going to a party or a movie, her date felt that she “owed” him and proceed to sexually assault her. Now the point of the movie was to let us girls know that we shouldn’t be pressured into sex, that we had the right to say NO, and that if we ever were to find ourselves in this situation, we should not be afraid to tell someone about it. After the movie was done, there was no further discussion, the class bell rang, and we went on with our day.

The reason that this memory sticks out in my mind is because I as a woman have been told over and over again and in many different ways, that I need to protect myself from situations of violence, and that if I should ever find myself in such a situation, I should have enough confidence and strength to tell someone about the incident so that something can be done.

However, it so happens that my husband went to the same high school as I did, so when this memory came back to me, I asked him if he received the same sort of education, or instruction that sexually assaulting a women was “not okay” or if their was any talk about the possibility that he may find himself as a victim of sexual assault, his answer was no. So why is it that I have had many years of learning how to protect myself, but my husband (who is exactly the same age as me) has had no education whatsoever on the exact same subject?

I don’t think that her husband received no education — but I also don’t think the education took.  That’s not his fault; I don’t think we spend nearly enough time educating young men about sexual assault.

I am fifteen years removed from high school, and I have vague memories of being told that just because you buy a girl dinner, she doesn’t “owe you” anything.  But what that meant wasn’t really discussed in detail, and the message was mushy at best.  As I got older, I got the message that “no” means no, though I doubt I would have ever continued after “no” regardless of the circumstances. 

But it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I read anything suggesting a lack of affirmative consent should be interpreted as “no.”  And not until a few years ago that I connected an extreme level of intoxication with the similar effects of date rape drugs.  Those things weren’t taught to me — ever.  I had to find them for myself.

We can lament that men cross lines, and be right about it — but we can’t expect men not to cross a line that they don’t know is there.

And so we have to do a better job of saying, flatly, that if the woman you’re sleeping with hasn’t affirmatively consented — hasn’t said “yes,” that you need to view it as a hard “no.”  We need to get tell kids honestly that contrary to what the movies tell you, you can’t read your date’s mind, and they can’t read yours, and it’s not only okay to ask if you want to move on to something more intimate, it’s vital that you do so. 

In short, we need to have a deeper conversation than just throwing on a videotape and hoping kids get the message.  Until we do, we’re just creating rapists through our own neglect.

13 Comments

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13 responses to “Educating Men About Rape

  1. Grendel72

    Men know this already. We know we wouldn’t want to be raped, we know not to treat people in ways we wouldn’t want to be treated. The problem is dehumanization, plain and simple.

  2. we can’t expect men not to cross a line that they don’t know is there

    Seriously? We can’t expect men not to know that they shouldn’t have sex with a woman so incapacitated she can’t clearly consent to sex? If we’ve got to explicitly tell men: “Don’t have sex with women who can barely walk. Don’t have sex with women who are vomiting. Don’t have sex with women who are unconscious.” then perhaps rape education needs to begin with just generally teaching men that women are more than walking fuckholes.

  3. Inartful phrasing, perhaps — but I think we do have to tell men that. Not every man needs to hear that message — I didn’t — but some obviously do. I think the message that no means no has gotten twisted into no active no means yes. (Remember the “No means Have a-NO-ther Beer” shirt?)

    perhaps rape education needs to begin with just generally teaching men that women are more than walking fuckholes.

    Depressing as it may sound — yes, I think it does. Because I think the evidence is strong that too many men internalize the pervasive message that women are “walking fuckholes.” You can see that in everything from the whining of the Nice Guys® to the fact that in a Canadian study, 60% of men would sexually assault a woman if they thought they could get away with it. I’ve tried to find the study online, but my suspicion is that not all of those men realize that they’re admitting they’d rape if they got the chance — that they’re honestly wrong about where the boundary lies.

    Note: I’m not defending rape. Just because you’ve picked up a stupid message that assaulting a woman is okay doesn’t mean it’s okay. But part of dismantling rape culture is to drag out into the open what rape really is — and that means educating men on specifics, not just saying “she doesn’t owe you” and moving on.

  4. TinaH

    And, believe it or not, it starts way before kindergarten. I’m already teaching my 3 year old son to ease off when he wants to tackle and wrestle with his playmates. He loves boisterous rough-housing play and jumping on his parents *hard* and doesn’t always understand how come that’s not ok when a friend comes over to play.

  5. penguinlady

    Oh… I can say so many things here.

    The sex ed at my high school was nil. It constituted photocopies of hand-drawn anatomical models of the male and female reproductive organs, and we were supposed to name each organ – without any previous instruction and without ever receiving the correct answers. Oh also? It was for extra credit.

    Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the school district had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in New York state (outside of NYC).

    However (coming to the point here) when girls got pregnant – and we’re talking as young as Fifth graders here – the girl was told to leave school, but nobody ever tracked down the father. The girl was ostracized, but the boys had impunity. Thus, a culture of assault flourished. It was common knowledge when a boy “had sex with” a passed out girl at a party, and there were no repercussions for him, but of course, her “reputation was sullied.” It happened over and over again.

    This is why comprehensive sex ed HAS to be taught in schools – because “abstinence” is just an excuse for “ignorance” and that only leads to violence.

  6. But part of dismantling rape culture is to drag out into the open what rape really is — and that means educating men on specifics, not just saying “she doesn’t owe you” and moving on.

    Obviously, I agree with you, since I’ve been writing variations on that theme for years, being the broken record I am…

    I think the message that no means no has gotten twisted into no active no means yes. (Remember the “No means Have a-NO-ther Beer” shirt?)

    Uh huh. Which is why I also stand by my assertion that teaching genuine equality is the first step in rape education, because, without it, you’re just telling men to get permission from their fuckholes before they fuck them. Which is doomed to failure: Telling people to treat as their equals people they don’t even view as fully autonomous humans rarely works.

    Or, as Grendel wisely and succintly noted above: “The problem is dehumanization, plain and simple.”

  7. Not only do young men and women need to learn to openly ascertain whether both parties are open to sex, but this kind of open-ness paves the way for frank discussions of birth control, condom use, “that time of the mlonth,” preferences in bed, and the like. It’s all part and parcel of a healthy mature attitude towards sexual relations, wherein it is a natural part of life, not something shameful. Learning those communication skills earlier on would have made my first few dating experiences far less anxious.

  8. “. . .but we can’t expect men not to cross a line that they don’t know is there.”

    While I agree that boys and men should be educated more specifically about what constitutes rape (for that matter, girls and women, too), I don’t for a minute think that most men don’t understand where that line is — and the proof, for me, is here: “60% of men would sexually assault a woman if they thought they could get away with it.(emp. mine)”

    Which means that they know they are “getting away with something”. If men honestly didn’t understand that having sex with someone who was unconscious was wrong, they wouldn’t just brag to their friends about it behind closed doors. If they didn’t know they had crossed the line, they would shout it for the world to hear.

  9. If men honestly didn’t understand that having sex with someone who was unconscious was wrong, they wouldn’t just brag to their friends about it behind closed doors.

    Exactly. I think this is related, in some small way, to the ridiculous notion that empathy is a feminine trait, and that “real men” don’t have it or exercise it. Simply put, if you have empathy, you don’t do bad things to other people, and if there’s any group that ought to acknowledge that, it’s christians, since empathy is at the core of the golden rule. But if polls are any proof, there’s a lot of christians in that 60% of men who would have sex with an unconscious person if they could get away with it.

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