It Starts at Four: On Consent and Rape Culture

My son was the ringbearer in my brother’s wedding this weekend.  The flower girl was, I think, the daughter of one of the bride’s cousins.  To say they hit it off was probably a bit of an understatement; they were pretty close to inseparable at the bridal shower a few weeks ago and not much changed at the rehearsal or the wedding.  I’d post a picture of the two of them, but I’m not about to post a picture of somebody else’s kid without her permission and plus I plan on using the word rape a lot in this piece and I don’t really feel like having my son’s photo associated with that in Google.

Here’s the thing.  Everybody at the wedding was doing that heteronormative thing that people do when two little kids click and oohing and aahing about oh look at his girlfriend and all that nonsense all weekend.  And that’s not at all what was going on.  They were the only two kids there of roughly the same age, so they played together.  Like kids do.  That was it.  But there were a couple of moments over the weekend and at the shower where I kind of had to pull the boy away and remind him that no, Kayla doesn’t have to play with you right now if she doesn’t want to, or don’t hold her hand if she doesn’t want to hold hands, or Kayla’s doing something else right now, I think you should leave her alone for a while, or even no, Kayla doesn’t have to sit with us at lunch, she can sit with her mommy.

Sometimes these things rolled off of him.  Other times he got upset about them.  And I can already see some of you getting het up about talking about a four-year-old in terms of teaching consent.  No, my son doesn’t know what sex is yet.  My son doesn’t have a concept of girlfriend.  He knows that girls have a vagina; that’s just a word to him.  It doesn’t mean anything yet.  He’s four.  And yet we still ended up in a situation– perfectly innocently, mind you– where at one point I told him to cut it out because he was being creepy and at another point my wife and I jointly explained to him what mansplaining was. Because he was doing it.

He’s four.  And he still needs to be taught how consent works.  Because when kids aren’t taught that other kids are people, that they are unique beings with agency and their own wants and desires and needs and rights, and specifically when young boys are not taught that young girls are unique beings with agency and their own wants and desires and needs and rights… well, you get this piece of shit:

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And when you’ve raised your kid to be a dumpster rapist, and you’ve named him Brock Turner, for fuck’s sake, a name that if I were to work it into a script as the name of a rapist I would expect someone to tell me to make it a little less obvious, a name that is only slightly less rapey than naming your kid Ray Pist… well, when you’re that guy, you write dumb shit like this:

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I’ve got a lot of responsibilities as a dad, right?  One of the most important ones is to make absolutely certain that my son does not turn out to be a dumpster rapist.  Because I hate to break it to you, son, but if the day comes where two other dudes find you raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and then tackle you and hold you down until the cops arrive?  Your daddy is not writing this letter.  Am I wholly unsympathetic toward the elder Turner?  No, not entirely.  He’s going through some shit right now.  I’m sure he’s in pain.

I just don’t care.

If you don’t want to be known as the dumpster rapist for your entire life, one way to avoid that is to not rape people behind dumpsters.  And if you don’t want to have to write letters where you explain tearfully that your son doesn’t like ribeyes anymore and there are too many potato chips in the house, you should probably raise your son to understand that women are human beings.  Because here’s the thing: I don’t believe for a second that this is the dumpster rapist’s first assault.  Not for a second.  It’s just the one where he got caught.  And based on that letter, I am casting some side eye at Dad as well.

We spend far too much time teaching our daughters how not to get raped.  It doesn’t actually work; women don’t get raped because of how they dress or walk or what they drink or where they go or who they trust.  Women get raped because men rape.  If we want to stop rape, we stop rape by teaching young men that women are people, by not raising them in such a cocoon of privilege and internalized misogyny that they can even look at a passed-out woman and think to drag her behind a dumpster and force parts of our bodies into theirs.  This young man did this because he was raised to believe that the world was his and anything he wanted but did not have, he could simply take.  He knew what he was doing was “wrong” at least on an intellectual level because otherwise he wouldn’t have tried to hide while he was doing it.  He just didn’t give a fuck.

Teach your sons about consent, goddammit.  Start at four.  Start at birth.  Because rape culture is everywhere in this country, and it’s going to seep in no matter how hard you try to keep it out.  It’s in the fucking air and in the water.  And the only way to stop it is to teach your sons about consent and to teach them about consent early.  It’s the only way this ever gets better.

And for fuck’s sake, don’t ever name anyone “Brock Turner” ever again.

The classroom’s coming along

How the hell do I only have one more day until school starts?  Christ.IMG_2843

In previous classrooms the Hulks have lived near or behind my desk.  About 80% of those were gifts from students and a few of them are actually handmade.  We’ll see if I can trust these current classes to not mess with my stuff.  Crossing fingers.

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Bulletin board, front of room, to the right of the whiteboard.  Plan is for the girls to add other professions to the extra space; there’s room to put pictures to the right of the bulletin board.  The mirrors are held on with Velcro.  I’m kinda proud of this one.

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My desk, such as it is.  Note three different computers in use at the same time, which is not atypical.  And one of these days I should probably tell the story of the green thing on the wall back there; I think it might entertain you.

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Data walls, calculators.  Pbbbbbbbbt.

IMG_2844And the rest of the room.  The desks and tables are where I want them but there’s still a lot of organization to be done, as well as at least one more decoration thing that’s going above the whiteboard and will take a couple of hours.

Maybe I can convince the boss to let me come in on Sunday, no one but a teacher ever thought.

Sigh.

#FEMINISTFRIDAY: On Teaching Girls, As a Guy

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Christa McAuliffe.

“You’re teaching an all-girls’ class?  I’m not sure I feel like that’s right.”

I heard that for the first time… wow, was it four years ago?  Probably.  My homeroom was all girls, and my afternoon class was a mixed group.  I did not reply the number of girls in my classroom doesn’t actually make me more likely to be a sex criminal, ma’am, which was probably the right answer– I am either too much of a degenerate to teach middle school students or I am not, and the composition of my classes doesn’t actually have much of an effect on that– but I don’t remember what I actually said to that mom.  Probably something along the lines of We’ll be fine, and then an abrupt ending of the conversation, because I don’t really like wasting my time with people who blithely suggest that I might be a sex offender as if that’s an okay thing to say to someone.

Hi.  I’m Luther Siler.  And this year, I’m only teaching girls.  Roughly sixty of them, as it currently appears, although with transfers in and transfers out I’ll probably have had seventy to eighty different girls in my room by the end of the school year.  Fifth grade, math and science, meaning that the majority of them will be 10- and 11-year-olds.

Margaret_Hamilton
Margaret Hamilton.

I’m a proponent of single-sex education, although probably not for the reasons that you think.  I’ve found most of the Mars vs. Venus, boys-and-girls-learn-differently brain science stuff to be bunk.  Are there better ways to educate a group of boys and better ways to educate a group of girls?  Yeah.  But you’re identifying a trend, there, and single-sex education is not any more one-size-fits-all than anything else in education is.  I’d have been completely miserable as a boy in an all-boys’ class.  And I hate teaching all-boys’ classes.  I get along with girls better.  I get along with women better than men, too, and all my closest friends have always been women.  So, yeah.  I’m a straight cis dude, external genitalia to prove it, and your daughter will learn from me better than your son will, because that’s how I’m wired.

She will not learn from my genitalia.  Those will not be involved.  Just so I’m clear.  The learning will mostly be from, like, talking and gestures and stuff like that, like normal teaching.

Isis Anchalee.
Isis Wenger.

Anyway.

Teaching girls at the middle school level puts me in an interesting position.  Fifth and sixth grade is typically where girls start disengaging from subjects like math and science, because those subjects are perceived (and, too often, presented) as being For the Boys.  Nobody ever hears about a Boy Scientist, because the boy part is assumed.  Girl Scientist is practically a job description.  And fifth grade is when puberty starts hitting, and suddenly the world doesn’t make any sense anymore anyway.  It’s a hell of a transition year.  Social drama starts ramping up something fierce.  They start fighting over boys– boys who, at that age, generally can’t be bothered to give a damn about the girls fighting over them.  And navigating friendships is the scariest and most complicated thing imaginable.

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Valentina Tereshkova.

My job, as their teacher, is to help them work their way through all of that.  My job, as their male teacher.

Don’t worry.  I’m actually pretty good at it!  But it’s complicated.   Because here’s the thing: my main job isn’t actually math or science.  My main job is confidence.  My most important job is that these sixty or seventy young girls walk out of my classroom feeling like they are unstoppable.  What does that mean?  It means teaching as a feminist.  It means being a white cis het guy and creating a comfortable and safe multicultural feminist space for my students to learn in anyway.

And it frequently means having to hide that I’m doing it, which is part of what brought me to this topic today.  I teach, again, math and science to fifth grade girls.  I have discovered a fascinating thing over my years as an educator: if I say the word feminist in class, whatever I’m trying to do is instantly derailed.  The girls often don’t like the label, even though they’ll agree that any individual tenet of feminism that I might name is a true and/or correct thing.  Then they go home and tell their parents about it and all the sudden I’ve got to have a conversation with the principal.  So I’ve got to be sneaky about it.  At ten, I’m not sure they really need to have conversations about intersectionality in math class anyway, y’know?  But subtlety works.  I try and use the word she whenever I’m talking about a mathematician or a scientist.  I use pictures like this one rather than a typical white guy in a lab coat.  And I try to teach them, as much as I can, to stand up for each other rather than tear each other down.  That’s teaching feminism, even if I don’t call it that.

Marlena Jackson.
Marlena Jackson.

Should I, though?  Should I make a point of naming feminism in my classroom?  I don’t know.  It does run the risk, of course, of pissing off parents– either because they have a poor opinion of feminism or the somewhat more personally acceptable feeling that maybe their kid’s math teacher should be focusing on math and not politics.  And they are, again, eleven.  I don’t know that they need the word so long as they’re getting the concept.

Then again, I don’t have the kind of principal who is going to get mad at me because I call myself a feminist in class and some yahoo has an issue with it, so maybe I do need the word.  I don’t know.  That might be a question for smarter people to answer for me.


 

Quick note: I’ll be at school all day, so if I don’t respond to comments until, say, early evening, please don’t take it personally.  Phone reception in my building is terrible.

In which DO NOT WANT

drama_masks_lToday was exhausting.  We had a snow day yesterday for what turned out to be damn near no reason at all, and I kinda needed yesterday, as this is one of my Busy Weeks, so today was even more nuts than usual, especially since the AP began my day by handing me a stack of referrals from the last hour of Wednesday and asking me to deal with them.

For reasons that I can’t get into, I had to call a couple of seventh grade girls out of class and into my office toward the end of the day today.  I picked them from a list of kids I could have chosen because I know both of them fairly well, relatively speaking, and because as near as I’ve been able to tell they’re both relatively smart and honest kids.  They both happened to be in the same class and so came down together.

They walk into my office and one of them asks if they can shut the door.  “I don’t want to talk about this with the door open,” she says.

I raise an eyebrow.  There is literally no way that she can have any idea what I want to talk to them about.  It’s flatly impossible.

“You two are in so much trouble,” I say.  I am doing this to fuck with them.  They’re not in the tiniest shred of trouble, but I know they’re both good kids and they’re going to temporarily freak out if I tell them I’m mad at them.

And they don’t react.

Um.

“So, uh, why do you think I called you down here?”

“The Ellie Mae thing,” one of them says.  Now, I don’t know who Ellie Mae is, and that’s not her name, but it’s close enough in a way that entertains me.

I look at the other one.  “You’re both involved in this, right?”  She nods.

Note that I didn’t even know they were friends.  This is hilarious.

“Tell me your side of the story,” I say.

Two minutes later, having been led through a dizzying shitstorm of names and social media accounts and a web of cousins and aunts and uncles so thick that I halfway want to start drawing a map, I halt the conversation and tell them why they’re actually down in my office.  “We will deal with this other thing afterwards,” I say, parts of my brain screaming at other parts of my brain to run.  Because this has every sign of a Sally told Sherry that Susie told Sammie that Sharon saw Shayna say to Shalynn that Sally’s sister’s boyfriend’s third cousin was a slut, and I want nothing to do with it.

But, because I am a rockstar, I sort everything out and issue instructions for what is to be done on Monday. Only problem is that what was supposed to be a five-minute conversation ended up taking 25.

But I love it when they accidentally rat themselves out like this.