Youth’s understanding of violence against women

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People try to convince me all the time that we are growing out of a “masculine” culture and that “patriarchy” is just a feminist phenomenon used to blame men and attack male behavior and attitudes. When I point to advertisements, movie scenes, TV shows, and news articles that portray these characteristics, I am told I am over reacting. Am I? You tell me.

Yesterday I had the great opportunity to go into a charter school on the south-side of Chicago and educate juniors and seniors about human trafficking, sexual exploitation, gender & relationships, and media portrayals of these topics. I will now add my experience yesterday to the list of examples that I try to convey to people who argue that us feminists are just cray-cray and that masculinity and patriarchy are not having that big of an impact on society. I learned so much from these youth yesterday.

I learned that we are doing a huge disservice to our youth.

When we put of a picture of Chris Brown and then this picture of Rhianna’s face after the abuse Imagea handful of the students laughed. I asked them why they laughed and I specifically asked if it is because the picture makes them feel uncomfortable. They adamantly said it was not because they felt uncomfortable but because it was funny that we were talking about domestic violence, sexual exploitation and harm, and gender & relationships and yet we chose this topic. They could not see the connection. They told us how Rhianna did something to deserve it — one girl said she gave Brown a STD — and that Brown’s face was also scratched up after the incident. These youth likely have witnessed domestic violence at some point in their lives and yet no one has stopped to explain the cycle of violence or that no one has a right to touch another persons body without permission. The victim blaming did not stop there.

We discussed the proposed piece of legislation in Chicago to tax strip-clubs in order to raise money for rape crisis centers in Chicago considering the city allots $0 to these services. Many of the students clung to the idea that she took the risk (of being harmed, violated, and or harassed) when she took the job as a stripper. Even after we tried to educate them on consent and what that means and how many women and girls are trafficked and end up working in strip clubs, they still could not let go of the idea that she took that risk so she deserves whatever she gets.

It saddened me that they were at the last stages of their adolescence and they had undeniably heard of the Chris Brown/Rhianna domestic abuse story, they likely have witnessed domestic violence, they have experienced and witnessed other forms of violence, they have watched countless movies and tv shows that portray violence against women, and they have sung along to numerous songs that degrade women and add to the rape culture that we are living in — and yet, no one had thought to discuss these things with them. No one had tried to stop the normalization of violence against women and no one had talked about the socialization of a man. It scares me to think what their attitudes and beliefs will lead to in terms of behavior. And this goes for the males as well as females, as the males were not the only students victim blaming and holding these beliefs. Indeed, males are more likely to commit acts of violence if they hold these beliefs and females are more likely to think they deserve it if they hold these beliefs. It is a recipe for disaster and an extremely disappointing state in which we are leaving our youth.

I cannot tell you how thankful and grateful I am that these students have an amazing soon-to-be Teach for America alum as their teacher. She requested that CAASE come in to educate her students. She sends her students home with articles about prostitution and sexual assault. She sees the need to debunk normalization of violence and to prevent men from being socialized in ways in which the media tell them they are supposed to exist. But change cannot happen with one teacher and one handful of students on the south side of Chicago. Everyone in a child’s life has to have these conversations with youth. I emphasize with because we must allow youth to feel as though they can hold their own opinions. We must engage youth to be a part of the conversation. I learned very quickly yesterday that we cannot talk at youth, we must talk with them.

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