Fearless Females: Resources for Discussing Rape Culture

It seems all of my best lessons happen on accident. I believe that the reason for this is twofold. First of all, I am willing to listen to my students and discover what they are interested in discussing. Secondly, I am a news junkie and I almost always have at least one article at my fingertips to discuss with my students. I suppose you could add a third reason in here, which is the fact that very few topics are off-limits with me. I like to present my students with information on all sides of an issue and let them decide. All of this collided one day when a student entered my room very upset about December’s brutal gang rape of a woman in India that resulted in her death:

My student’s comments about the case sparked a discussion in my classroom about rape culture in India. I quickly found an article online about the case and we looked at it as a class so that my students could have an informed discussion. It didn’t take long, however, for comments to be about how “this sort of thing” happens in places like India, but not here in the United States.

A rape culture exists when sexual assault is rationalized and normalized. At the center of the culture is sexual objectification and blaming the victim. Sexist language, jokes, media images and laws feed the culture.

I had to correct these assumptions from my students. Rape culture in the United States is just as dangerous as it is in other countries. We read about a Texas cheerleader who was kicked off the squad because she refused to chant the name of her rapist. We also read about two star football players in Steubenville, Ohio, who allegedly assaulted a girl too drunk to resist. The boys posted pictures of the rape on the Internet. I shared these situations with my students and, as we looked at various articles on the Internet, I could see my students’ understanding of the world around them shifting. They were starting to realize that we do, in fact, live in a society that often times ignores rape, tries to cover it up rape and blames the victims.

This happened in class, but several of the students in that class attend Fearless Females every week after school, so we are going to carry the discussion over there. To prepare for this discussion, I have gathered several articles that are appropriate for students to read, and I am going to make copies for each student so they can write on the articles if they want to. After reading the articles, we will discuss rape culture and what it means for our society along with ways we can stop it.

It is important to note that I will make sure ahead of time that the students are all OK discussing rape and rape culture. I would hate to have a discussion trigger something for one of my students, so if any of the girls feels uncomfortable discussing this topic in any way and at any time throughout the meeting, we will stop and I have a backup plan. If you plan on discussing this topic with your students, please be sure to do this, as well. If students have experienced violent crimes of this nature, you do not want to trigger a resurgence of memories for the students, as your girls’ group, and your classroom, is supposed to be a safe space for discussion.

The first article I will share with my students is a TIME Magazine article about the changes happening on a governmental level in India after the rape:

Enhanced sentences, faster trials, better implementation of existing laws and gender sensitization of lawmakers are among some of the recommendations made by a recently formed panel reviewing India’s sex-crime laws after the Dec. 16 gang rape of a 23-year-old paramedical student, who later died as a result of the attack.

The three-member commission, headed by former Supreme Court Chief Justice J.S. Verma, was set up in late December during the wave of public protest and revulsion that rocked the country after the brutal crime. The commission was given a month to come up with recommendations and submitted its 657-page report on Wednesday. “We have submitted the report in 29 days,” Verma said during a televised news conference Wednesday afternoon. “The government, with its might and resources, should also act fast.”

The next is about changes made on a more personal level with the #SafeCityPledge:

After the “Delhi Rape,” women’s organisations across India have been raising awareness of how unsafe India’s cities are. The Blank Noise Project is one of India’s most prominent street-harassment projects and its “#SafeCityPledge” has captured the imagination of many young people across India. On New Year’s Day, as the sun took a slow dive behind the sands of Miramar beach in Goa, I, along with a smattering of men and women, took pledges to make our cities safer. We pledged to walk alone, to hold our heads high. The men pledged to intervene when they saw a woman being harassed. They pledged not to stare. We stopped tourists and locals and asked them to pledge. Some men agreed, willing to drive around Goa with pledges pinned to their backs. Others said no, bewildered by what was being asked of them.

After this, we will move to discussing issues similar to this, but closer to home. We will talk about the case in Steubenville, OH where high school football players raped a teenage girl who was too drunk to give consent and then the football coach tried to blame the victim. We’ll also discuss a Texas cheerleader who was kicked off the squad because she refused to cheer for her rapist. Then, we’ll wrap up with a discussion of Daniel Tosh’s recent rape “joke” (actually, an attack directed at a specific woman) in a crowded comedy club.

Hopefully, these articles will all work together to generate great discussion and encourage awareness among my Fearless Females!

Don’t forget to check out these articles and more for your girls’ group at my Evernote notebook.

Have you discussed rape culture with your students? Do you have any reservations about doing so? Leave a comment!

Featured Image Credit: Chryselle D’Silva Dias

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