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My earlier post (Are We Doing Young Persons a Disservice by Teaching them No Means No?) garnered over 380 comments.  When I had a chance to delve into the comments, I found myself wanting a graphic recorder to organize the rich array of facts, concepts, perspectives and personal experiences in the discussion.  It was an incredibly rich discussion, but I suspect for many commenters very frustrating.  At times it seemed as if there several conversations going on near each other and at each other but not with each other.

Some commenters took strong exception to my diary.  These commenters pointed out that we, collectively and forever, have been teaching women to not do certain things in order to avoid being raped and obviously it hasn't worked.  They also pointed out we haven't taught men the things we need to teach them.  We don't say to men, "Don't rape."  These commenters also pointed out that 2/3 of rapes, are committed by serial rapists who are not going to be dissuaded by conversation.  These points are correct and I agreed with them before any one made them.  But obviously, they needed to be made in response to my diary.

So where did my diary go awry?

I accepted the boundaries of the Our Whole Lives session as the boundaries of the discussion without realizing it.  In the Our Whole Lives session on date rape, the central problem is a failure to communicate.  (There is a revision of the curriculum in the works and I suspect the date rape session is one of the sessions being rewritten.)  The scenario in Our Whole Lives presents date rape as "a good date gone bad."  The story in the session is written to create an obvious set of decision points - if something different happened at this time, the outcome would have changed.  (As for example, there's a point in the story where he tells her to sleep in his bed and he'll sleep on the floor; if he'd turned the lights out and gone to sleep, that would have been good.)  The curriculum scenario, inadvertently I believe, frames the discussion in terms of choices leading to a bad end.

As I read the comments and reread my original post, I was struck by the cultural tone-deafness in my post.  I'm normally pretty acute, so I wondered what was going on - then it hit me "Privilege."  It was easy for me to accept the framing in the curriculum because of various privileges I have.  This is where I have to start unpacking my privilege as a male in our society.  And, where a lack of heterosexual privilege tripped me up.

Public discussion about rape (almost) always puts the onus on women.  It was not my intent to blame the victim but, I ignored the reality that talking about mitigating risk plays into existing cultural myths that blame women for their own rapes - it's as if there's a predetermined form and discussion simply falls into that form whether we intend it or not.  I don't believe our cultural context should prevent us from having a complete conversation; I also need to recognize that we can't have our conversation divorced from our culture context.  How we navigate between Scylla and Charybdis is up to us.  We need to have a comprehensive, nuanced discussion but we also need to make changes in our cultural attitudes.  It's a short term and a long term project.

I believe, and everything in my experience has taught me, that open and honest conversation about sexuality reaps tremendous rewards.  In my own dating life, I am alarmingly frank with potential partners about what I will and won't do and how I expect them to communicate with me.  As a man, I can engage in open discussion without being stigmatized for even having the discussion.  As several commenters pointed out, a woman who brings up the topic of sex (no matter what she says) is immediately treated like a slut.  If her position is "let's wait" it is often treated as a challenge to be overcome not a position to be honored.  As a man, if I say, "No sex on the first date," that's respected.  Men are permitted to know our own minds about sex - women are assumed to not know their own minds.  Men are trained to respect other men in ways they are not trained to respect women.  If I say, "No sex on the first date," everything in his socialization has trained my date to respect that (it may piss him off, but he won't try to beg and haggle and wheedle until he talks me into having sex).

Because I date other men, I don't deal with mindfuck that our society does to women about their sexuality.  Every teenage girl who has ever been in my sexuality education classes has talked about her experience of the crazy-making societal standards about female sexuality - she's supposed to have sexual desire, but not too much or she's a slut and not too little or she's hung up and only when he wants it and she's not supposed to ask for it, and she's supposed to be enthusiastic, but not too enthusiastic, she's supposed to be knowledgeable but not too much or she's a slut and she's supposed to handle all the birth control but not talk about it because only sluts talk about birth control (I'm sure we could collectively come up with more ways the dynamic plays out.  Women are damned if they do, damned if they don't where sexuality is concerned.  Many young women (such as those I work with) lack the life experience to realize the problem isn't them, it's society.  It's easy to forget those toxic messages when it's not part of my day to day life.

The cliche that men always want sex is wrong and harmful, but it's far less toxic than our attitudes toward female sexuality.  When there's two men, and nobody is a slut, I believe the basic conversation is easier.  Our society makes it more okay for men to talk about sex than for women to talk about sex.

There's also, at least for me, a component of privilege that I'm not certain how to name - class privilege, yes but it's multi-layered.  I have been incredibly fortunate in my life to move from high school, to college, to grad school to adult life largely within a progressive community.  As a teen and college student, my peers and I lived in a remarkably safe world - the adults around us created a world in which liberal values about gender role, sexuality, equality and justice were part of the air we breathed.  As a grad student, I was surrounded by people who exemplified Cahn and Carbone's "blue family" values.  As an adult, I spend a huge amount of time in a progressive community which lives the values of equality, respect, mutuality and sexual health.  It may be a conceit, it may be a function of privilege and good luck, but in the world in which I have lived a huge chunk of my life, conversation is almost always the answer.  I suspect the folks who wrote the curriculum were writing from within a similar experience, hence the boundaries I mentioned above.

Without realizing it, I wrote from deep within privilege.  From within that privilege, it's easy to forget the multiple, reinforcing forces and functions which create an environment which blinds you to the operation of privilege.

Why walk through these observations?

Even someone like me who has done a lot of work around privilege can get tripped up by it and I apologize for the blindness that sometimes comes over me.  It may not comfort but it was accidental, not deliberate.

I continue to believe that education is the answer.  The discussion under my earlier post emphasized again and again the need for education.  In that discussion, I believe there was general agreement on principles and goals.  We want to end rape.  We support positive sexuality.  We believe education has the power to transform things.  We want to end sexism.

If we work from our shared goals and principles, I think we can get further.  As a community, we need to find a way, at least when talking with each other, to avoid prebuttal mode.  It seemed there was a lot of discussion at each other about things no one said but that float around in the general miasma of discussions about rape - that people who are talking about reducing risk are saying "Never leave the house or take a drop of the demon rum" while people who are talking about transforming the rape culture are addicted to moral absolutism and sloganeering in the face of a complex problem.  No means no can feel like an updating of Nancy Reagan's Just Say No and we all know how well that worked out.  How we talk about what we talk about matters.  

We're all trying to achieve the same goal, we're all sharing the same moral highground.  If we pay attention to what is actually being said and respect one another, we can open up a myriad of avenues for implementing immediate solutions as well as creating the circumstance for long term, systemic change.

I began my prior post by remarking on a huge change in the way young women reacted to the date rape lesson in Our Whole Lives.  At the end of the day, our job as adults is to mentor young people into maturity, to stand beside them while they navigate the world and it's realities.  I remain worried that we're not doing the right things to prepare them.  I'd rather check in and say, "Is this working?  Does this feel right?" than not check in and just hope.  So I guess my original question stands in some ways - are we teaching the right lesson the right way to help young people thrive?

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Comment Preferences

  •  Having open ongoing convesation is (7+ / 0-)

    Always made real, when starting out with an honest self evaluation.  Thanks for bringing that to the table.

    Also, modeling it is how we make it part of our children's lives.  Teaching my son to respect his partner has been an ongoing project.  Positive he'd never rape, working on making sure he listens...

  •  First, let me correct your stat (10+ / 0-)
    These commenters also pointed out that 2/3 of rapes, are committed by serial rapists who are not going to be dissuaded by conversation.
    No.  2/3 of RAPISTS are serial offenders.  Because they are responsible for an average of 6 rapes apiece, over 90% of RAPES are committed by serial offenders.  So in any given situation where a woman's dealing with a rapist, it's overwhelmingly likely that she's dealing with a repeat offender.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 04:13:03 PM PDT

    •  I should note (7+ / 0-)

      that's from studies of acquaintance rapists.  I'm guessing stranger rapists are even more likely to be repeat offenders.

      The two large studies at the link were done from self-reports, from men who either used force/threat to get sex, or targeted women who when they were incapable of consent (drunk, asleep, drugged, etc).  Other findings were that they planned ahead and used strategies that were likely to avoid consequences:  test boundaries, pick a victim who's unlikely to speak up or be believed if she did, make deliberate use of alcohol/drugs, and use "instrumental" violence (that is, enough force to get compliance but not enough to leave suspicious injuries).

      In order to figure out solutions, we first have to know what were dealing with.  Rapists, like anyone else, respond to incentives and want to avoid negative consequences to themselves.  

      I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

      by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 04:26:46 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I really appreciate that you re-visited your piece (9+ / 0-)

    and I'm glad you heard a lot of what was being said in the comments.

    We do need to have conversations about this. I agree. I also agree those conversations are very, very difficult.

    But we still don't agree that the date rape scenario is "a good date gone bad." Rapists plan from the beginning and this was never a good date, he only made it look like one. Whoever wrote this lesson plan really does set the young woman up for failure and I don't think they understand what date rape is. I hate this lesson and I've been trying to figure out how to re-write it and the truth is that the entire thing needs to be thrown away.

    What needs to replace it is a conversation about what rape is. It is true that a lot of young men will claim to have committed rape when it isn't called rape at all - some other description that sounds less horrific makes it easier to say, oh yeah, I've done that. But what they did was rape. That's the lesson that these kids need to learn - that boys don't understand what rape is.

  •  I have to admit - if I had girls.. (4+ / 0-)

    I would definitely be giving them the message that they needed to take responsibility for themselves with respect to being safe.  I would do this out of basic parental desire to keep them safe and protect them from the world.

    However, this discussion has allowed a new perspective for me, and that is that they also have an inalienable right to be safe no matter what - and maybe that's the first thing that we should tell them.

    Having basic human rights is inalienable to all of us - a right to be safe from abuse or harassment.  This is a privilege afforded to all.  By the same token, we all have a fundamental responsibility, which is to ensure that our actions do not hurt, threaten, or take away the rights or power of others.  No one gets the privilege of not having great responsibility for their actions as they relate to others.

    Howard Dean will always be my president.

    by 4democracy on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 04:29:40 PM PDT

  •  I appreciate your revisting this (6+ / 0-)

    and I think your thoughts on privilege are spot on.

    Good communication is a wonderful thing, and works well in healthy relationships. But imagine being a 16-year-old girl in that class who's already been a date-rape victim, hearing the teacher focusing on what a date-rape victim should have done differently.  Imagine her hearing that she could have avoided the whole thing if she'd just done a better job of saying no, if she'd just told him "I'm not going to have sex with you" at dinner, before he even raised the subject.  (That would violate every social norm she'd ever been taught!)  Now imagine being a 16-year-old wannabe-rapist hearing how easy it is to convince people that "he just got the wrong signals."

    Consider the signal that entire conversation is sending.

    The date-rape curriculum you describe is the "miscommunication model" that's become popular these days.  It's tempting to want to believe it, because it seems superficially empowering:  if only she communicated better, she wouldn't be a victim!  And we certainly don't want to tell girls/women that there's nothing they can do to protect themselves.  It also feeds into male fears of being falsely accused, that he'll somehow misunderstand a girl's "signals" and accidentally rape her.  Nobody has that misunderstanding six times - but rapists are pretty good at acting like they did, to the point where the victim can sometimes be gaslit into believing it.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 04:41:47 PM PDT

    •  Sessions aren't like that . . . (0+ / 0-)

      Our Whole Lives sessions focus on classroom discussion - as the leaders we do very little lecturing, mostly asking questions, guiding discussion.  The class has several minilectures, but mostly it's not the leaders doing the talking.  

      And while some people may believe it's a distinction without a difference, we are very mindful of using "could" not "should" - as in "could he have done something to let her know he was interested in having sex?" or "could she have done something differently?  In what ways do you believe that could have changed what happened?"  As faciliators, we team teach and we always have both male and female facilitators.  Part of our role is to help participants think through the scenario and explore various options.  For example, in our latest group another facilitator said something like, "I keep hearing what he should have done or she should have done, but not what they might have done or could have done.  What do you think that's about?"  In one session some years ago, I listened as the girls spent ten minutes trashing the female character for all her stupid choices then I said, "Don't you think the boy has some responsiblity in this situation?"  

      The date rape session doesn't happen until after we've already had 20 hours of senior high and almost 60 hours of middle school sessions.  A huge component of Our Whole Lives is helping young persons feel more comfortable understanding their own sexuality and feeling more comfortable talking about it. In my experience, our participants are generally very comfortable initiating conversation and defining their boundaries by the time they're done with our classes.

      I suspect the folks who created our curriculum were trying to devise a scenario they believed likely participants would encounter.  Hence the whole college date experience.  (I confess that's not an experience I had - I attended a small, private, very rigorous liberal arts college where dating was rare, sex was frequent and relationships were the exception not the norm.  There aren't even fraternities or sororities on campus and the school went out of its way to make contraception of all sorts readily available and conducted regular "safe sex" study breaks.  I know, privilege.)  

    •  The paradox of privilege (0+ / 0-)

      I attended an amazing weeklong event called the Inclusion Summit in 2012, did a weekend event called Communities of Inclusion in 2013 and back a few years ago did MiniTown (from NCCJ) twice.  We did a lot of work about privilege in those sessions.

      I was struck again and again by the ways in which privilege creates a huge paradox.  The fact that I have the various privileges I have makes it possible for me to teach sexuality education.  I had the time to acquire the skills, the time to teach the class, access to the economic resources to purchase the supplies.  The same privilege that at times becomes a stumbling block is also a tool to empower me to do things I would not otherwise be able to do.  The Inclusion Summit was an amazing experience.  To attend, a person had to be able to take a full week off work, to afford afford to take that week, to afford the registration fee (it's only $800 which is cheap for a week, but for a lot of people absolutely unaffordable).  The privilege that granted me access to the summit also allows me, if I choose, to never ever think about racism, sexism, ableism.  

  •  More on the "misunderstanding theory" (4+ / 0-)

    It is absolutely normal in our culture to give a refusal/rejection in an indirect, softened or even nonverbal way.  We do this because it's considered polite, and because it's understood.  When you tell the annoying salesman that this isn't a good time, he knows you don't mean "call back later."  See here and here.  

    In the research, men had no trouble understanding an indirect/softened refusal, and even  expressed a preference for getting a face-saving indirect refusal rather than a blunt "no."  They also used the same social cues to turn down women they weren't interested in.

    From the second link:

    After describing these models, O’Byrne’s paper analyzes the language used by nine young men in focus groups to discuss rape. I am more interested in putting the models out there than in the findings of the study, so I will summarize it only briefly and trust that readers can do their own follow-up. The gist of it is that these young men evidenced an understanding of and even a preference for nuances and diplomatic communication to refuse sex, but then when discussing rape, reversed course and began to argue that anything the least bit ambiguous was unintelligible. They framed rape as largely a problem of miscommunication, and further framed the miscommunication as a problem with women not nowing how to say the right thing.

    That doesn’t square with the research. It doesn’t square with their own discussion of communication when they’re not talking about rape. And basically it’s just self-justifying bullshit. Yet Lisak’s research and others shows that the vast majority of these guys — seven or eight out of nine — probably do not rape. What gives? Why create a social framework where rape is accidental if they don’t have to cover their own asses?

    Again, I think it may have to do with the myth that it's common for innocent men to get accused of rape, so they wind up unintentionally enabling rapists by making excuses for them.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 05:10:42 PM PDT

  •  On a related note, Dear Prudence (Emily Yoffe) ... (0+ / 0-)

    just went through something similar to what the diarist encountered with his first diary.  Here's what she wrote in response (and let me say right now that I'm on her side):

    http://www.slate.com/...

    It's not a question of whether our founding fathers are rolling in their graves but rather of how many RPM they're clocking.

    by Eyesbright on Wed Oct 23, 2013 at 06:57:52 PM PDT

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