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.