A few months ago, after a girl was sexually assaulted at a dance we went to, some guy from our school said to us, “What if she just accidentally led him on?” We were utterly disgusted at how he excused the perpetrator’s behavior by placing the blame on the girl. You shouldn’t touch anyone until you have their affirmative consent. Sexual assault is never the victim’s fault. It’s an attack that is completely unsolicited. Through comments like that, however, people continue to perpetuate rape culture and pin the blame on the victim. Unfortunately, situations and comments like this are pervasive at MHS because young people, and especially men, are rarely taught that absolute consent is required regardless of the circumstance.
Instead, the only exposure students get on the topic of sexism and consent are from their peers and contemporary media. Students may eventually absorb their friends’ sexist remarks and rape jokes, songs like “Blurred Lines” that suggest a gray area between consensual sex and rape, the objectification of women in the media, because that’s what’s around them at all times. Subsequently, they say phrases similar to “boys will be boys,” in response to sexual harassment and they think that women are “asking for it” when they simply wear revealing clothing, which normalizes these actions and allows them to continue. The actual root cause of these problems is never resolved and as a result, students reinforce rape culture through the trivialization of sexual assault.
Adults share this complete lack of regard for what rape culture and sexism are, with one example being the “Don’t send nudes!” assembly last year. While admin brought in the Milpitas PD to tell students that nudes are technically child pornography and therefore illegal, they never acknowledged the sexist culture of sexting.
Sure, sexting can be empowering if consensual, but how many girls have been solicited or pressured into sending nudes? A 2014 paper titled “Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t…If You’re a Girl” studied 51 people aged 12-18 and found that girls who refused to send nudes were viewed as boring “prudes,” and those who did were called “sluts” who lacked self-respect. The researchers also found that girls were always blamed for their sexts and their outcomes, regardless of the roles that external forces played.
We can see this in how the assembly blamed the people (namely women) who took nudes, instead of the people who spread them around to all their friends. Not a single time in the assembly did anyone tell us about consent and how important it is to respect someone’s privacy. People who leak or spread nudes are able to walk away from any consequences, while the owners of those nudes have to face humiliation, harassment, and bullying. Students need to know that they shouldn’t leak other people’s nudes, not just because it’s illegal, but because revenge porn degrades people sexually and takes away their bodily autonomy.
A more effective assembly would be to push students to think about why they send nudes, why women are stigmatized for it, why boys aren’t criticized for the role they play, and why spreading other people’s nudes around is a disgusting, low, thing to do, and that if you do that, then you need to reevaluate your worth as a human being because you’re just trash at this point. People don’t understand that the real problem isn’t sexting; it’s the sexism surrounding it and the lack of respect for women’s bodies.
The complete misunderstanding of these issues, not just by adults at MHS, but also the students, shows the obvious need for affirmative consent to be taught as a required, integral part of our education. Throughout our four years at MHS, we rarely learn about consent despite the fact that it’s very necessary, considering society’s prevalent sexism and rape culture. We also need to learn that consent doesn’t just apply to sex, but a wide spectrum of activities that students may be involved in, including dancing and sexting. Many students only know that consent means agreeing to sex, but it doesn’t cross their mind that spreading around someone’s nude pictures possibly violates their privacy and goes against the principles of consent. The lack of knowledge about consent is a serious problem and our school needs to do a better job of understanding this and implementing solutions to solve it. Teaching consent is a necessary, important, and crucial step in getting students to treat each other like human beings.