I rarely engage in discussions on people’s Facebook walls, having watched so many potentially constructive conversations go off the rails as a result of the inherent challenges of both digital communication (difficult to glean inflection or nuance; anonymity used as an excuse to be inflammatory) and, frankly, human communication (easy to take offense; tendency to be defensive when feeling attacked).
However, as a part of the ongoing conversations — at least in my world — about assault, power, gender, communication and consent, a friend recently posted that she and her daughter were listening to a news story on the radio where the women who were assaulted by Trump were sharing their stories. Her daughter said, “That happened to me too.” After picking her heart off of the floor, the mom asked what she meant. It turns out her daughter had been touched and kissed numerous times by some boys at school, against her wishes. And although her daughter told the boys she did not want them to do that, and told an adult at school about it, nothing was done.
The mom was understandably upset and frustrated, not only by the fact that this happened to her daughter and by the lack of response by the perpetrators and by the adults, but also at how many times this cycle has been repeated in her own life and that of many, many other people.
I posted, “Let’s all keep talking and work towards change. It isn’t too late to suggest that a consent conversation should be happening at school.” It seemed reasonable enough that as a sexuality educator, I would be able to help her come up with some kind of strategy or program to suggest to the school. Within an hour, a person replied to my comment: “And what part of a high stakes test will assess that school conversation? I’m not saying this issue should not be part of a school’s culture, but what about the conversations that need to happen at home and on TV and social media. I don’t know you so I apologize for this rant. You hit a nerve. I’m a teacher. Don’t by default throw yet another one of society’s problems onto me to fix”.
Whoa, whoa, whoa. (And YES, I prefer “whoa” to “woah” for those who care about such things.)
At no point did I say, “The teacher needs to fix the problem.” I am a staunch defender of teacher’s rights, recognizing the impossible task many of them face to educate our kids in underfunded, overcrowded, overtested, and underappreciated schools around the country.
But it made me consider: whose job is it anyways?
It is all of ours.
I advocate, loudly and consistently, that parents are their kids’ first and most important teachers.
But parents having conversations is not enough. Many parents are products of the same environment we are trying to change and feel ill-prepared to tell their kids how to make things better. How can a mom who experienced the exact same shutting-down-and-shame cycle convincingly tell her daughter that she is going to be believed and supported if she speaks up?
These conversations need to be both local (in the home) and global (in the schools and beyond) to really make a difference. We, as a country, have ended up with a scattershot approach to talking about issues that really matter: consent, communication, boundaries, empathy. Whether we want to blame the exigencies of high test scores in core subjects, the lack of funding for and training in value-laden curriculum components, the fear of controversy for introducing “sensitive subjects,” or simply a lack of available curricula, schools usually do not teach in-depth about these topics.
What is clear is that our society is suffering the consequences of these policies, and it is time for change to happen.
I defer to the brilliance of Michelle Obama:
It’s about basic human decency. It’s about right and wrong, and we simply cannot endure this or expose our children to this any longer. Not for another minute, let alone for four years. Now is the time for all of us to stand up and say “enough is enough.”
As my friend said at the conclusion of her FB post, “What I really hear, deep in my heart and most loudly, is my daughter, already at the age of 8, saying, like millions of other girls and women: THAT HAPPENED TO ME TOO.
“THAT HAPPENED TO ME TOO.”
Enough. Let’s seize this moment and make lasting change.