“No Means Maybe No: Rape Culture as a Result of What We Teach Our Children”
On the road to destroying rape culture, I’ve seen & read a lot of good ideas. I do believe we need to change the mindset of the majority, and while I concur that it means not telling girls “don’t get raped” but teaching boys “don’t rape” I think we can agree that this is an issue deeper than gender. The responsibility is not on women to not get raped, but the responsibility is on ALL of us to change the way we treat each other, and the way we educate younger generations.
While the Stubenville trial and the fallout from it unfolded, I couldn’t help but notice some basic parallels between the boy who were charged and their defenses, and the kinds of behavior I see on a daily basis.
I work with young children—at an elementary school—and I have for about a decade. While each child is unique and individual, as a group, they tend to fit into certain behavioral patterns and developmental stages. If you have kids, work with them, plan to work with them, or even just have a kid somewhere in your family, this is relevant to you. This isn’t just about what moms and dads and teachers should be teaching kids. This is about all of us. And I can share three things that I see contributing to the perpetuation of rape culture.
1. Children need to learn to treat EVERYONE with respect. Kids learn very early on how to categorize people into sup groups and draw subtle lines dividing themselves from Others. This is an easy stepping stone to behaviors like dehumanizing and vilifying another person for being different, not agreeing with you, or not letting you have what you want. There is an eerie parallel between a child who hurts another child, blames the other person, and says he or she deserves it, and a case like the Stubenville rapes. If a child learns that every human is worthy of respect and basic human decency, they are more able to empathize instead of vilify. If children understand that people are other humans just like them, with the same feelings, needs, and desires, then they are less likely to feel entitled to belittle their existence, and take from them. This has applications far beyond gender issues and rape; this can change how other races and religions and cultures are viewed.
2. We need to stop the entitlement culture. This is not a political statement; this is an observation. The next time you are around a child, even if it’s just a kid down the aisle from you at the grocery store, I want you to watch carefully what happens when they are denied something they want (but do not need). Chances are you will see wailing, tantrums, and the absolute breakdown of what minutes ago may have seemed like a normal, well-adjusted child. Even in older children, who have mostly learned to control themselves, you are likely to witness eye rolling, huffy sighs, foot stamping, negativity, complaining, and whining. (These are all things I deal with on a daily basis.)
I am not sure how it happened, but kids today to not expect to be denied anything. If they want something, whether it is an object or an action they wish to carry out, they feel entitled to it. The parallels now grow even clearer: a rapist is a person who has never learned that “no means no.” Most children today learn from an early age that “no” is negotiable. It is a temporary obstacle, and they have an artillery of tactics to get past it. A caregiver may grow weary of the battle and give in, reinforcing the idea that “no means maybe.”
3. There need to be consequences. I am in no way an advocate of harsh punishments for children. I don’t want to bring paddling back to schools, however effective it might have been in the past. However, I don’t feel our current level of follow-through is getting the job done, either. I fully understand how challenging it is to enforce a negative consequence. As I said above, denying a child something they want brings on a barrage of manipulation. I have seen children spiral into tears over the simplest things, and lose control when asked to sit quietly for a few moments. This is what they do. They will test the boundaries. They will make their caregivers feel like horrible humans for even the smallest of consequences. They will be hostile and defensive when they are held responsible for their actions. There will be lies and denials even in the face of evidence. This is the very moment caregivers must be at their most firm. A caregiver can be calm and firm yet still compassionate when carrying out a consequence, and they must remind themselves that this is absolutely necessary. A child MUST learn this. Otherwise, you end up with two teenage boys crying in a courtroom because they are being punished for a horrible crime.
I would never want to give the impression that I am holding current and past generations of parents responsible for the rap culture we currently live in. (Or even that I am pointing fingers of blame at the parents of the two boys in the Stubenville trial). I am simply pointing out some issues I have seen, which, if unchecked, will likely only perpetuate rape culture in the future (as well as other issues, I’m sure).
I love children and it is a privilege to work with them (most of the time). They are funny and creative and brilliant, but they need guidance. They don’t know that they have a long way to go and a lot to learn. They often think that they know better than adults (something which is reinforced by the media—but that is another rant for another time). As adults, we may feel too broken and confused about life to properly guide a child. But it is the responsibility of all of us to work together to nurture a different outlook on the world, so that future generations do not have to grow up as scared as we often are.