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#MeToo Starts at School

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Picture Credit: Alyssa Milano; Twitter

On October 15, 2017, Alyssa Milano, an actor and advocate for women’s rights, was given an idea by a close friend of hers. She tweeted: “If you’ve ever been sexually harassed or assaulted write ‘me too’ as a reply to this tweet.”

Twelve million women and men replied to the tweet and shared their stories.

Despite all the progressmany famous figures in Hollywood are being investigated amongst allegations, millions of men and women have a platform to share their stories and invoke change, and  other movements such as “Time’s Up” have begunthe #MeToo movement is making, it feels as if it skipped over the place that needs it the most: schools.

I was twelve years old and had just began seventh grade when I was first confronted with sexual harassment. He was in one of my classes, and we started talking. It all came off as friendly, until he began hugging me every day or placing an arm around my shoulders. Even when I made it very clear that his actions were not welcomed, he persisted.

It escalated very quickly from there, to the point where I was terrified of where it was heading. Like we are instructed to do, I reached out to an adult. I quietly repeated the comments that were said to me, and told my teacher of the actions that had increasingly become more and more inappropriate since they had begun a month prior.

I expected help, caring comments, and someone to guide me through this mess. But what I got was dismissal. I was told not to worry about it, that it was nothing but a silly crush and that boys will be boys. I never reported him or reached out for help again— I expected to just be treated with dismissal.

Picture Credit: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

It’s this idea that stops victims of sexual harassment and assault from speaking out.

Schools are a breeding ground for sexual violation. It’s where sexist ideas first grow and flourish. Young men and women have fallen into a system where when something happens that is not wanted nor reciprocated, we pardon it and keep quiet about it because society has taught us to just see this as attention and affection. We promote the idea that a woman cannot survive and thrive in this world without a man.

What’s even worse is that we as a society have isolated ourselves from the idea that it could never be a man’s fault. We live in a world where usually the first thing asked in the case of sexual assault and harassment is, “Are you sure you didn’t say yes?” or “What were you wearing?”

Approximately 42.2% of female rape victims were first raped before the age eighteen, and teenagers account for 51% of all reported sexual abuse cases. Sexual assault prevention education programs often focus on women being told to take measures to prevent rape and harrasment instead of men being told not to rape or harass women.

Rape culture is defined by Marshall University as “a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” We teach women to watch what they wear and how they act, to never talk to strangers or walk anywhere alone. We make them feel bad if they say they want to remain friends. We tell them to watch who they trust and spend their time with, to constantly understand the environment they are in, to always be aware of everything around them, and to never let their guard down, lest they be sexually assaulted or harassed. Because if they didn’t follow these things to a “T,” it’s their fault. That is what we teach women.

Young girls should not see sexual harassment and assault as something they will one day encounter and just have to live with. Nor should young boys be pressured into the practice either; masculinity should not be measured by how many girls one can “get with.” I understand how in a society where men feel pressured to prove themselves, it could easily become routine to cross boundaries to gain acceptance and favor.

It doesn’t make it right, nor does it excuse such behavior, but to put the blame solely on perpetrators is to ignore the real problem. If we don’t teach boys not to rape, and keep teaching women how to “not get raped”, we are setting them up to commit sexual assault or harassment simply because they know nothing else.

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Picture Credit: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

These things are not rites of passage, and they are not something that has to happen in order to grow up. Speaking up is important, as it’s the only way we will ever see the changes that are desperately needed. Movements like “#MeToo” and “Times Up” are justice for me and all the other women and men whose voices have gone unheard or were silenced.

1 Comment

One Response to “#MeToo Starts at School”

  1. Avni Vachhani on February 13th, 2018 6:01 pm

    The part of this article that really struck me was the paragraph on how women are taught at an early age to not talk to strangers, dress modestly, etc. My parents are always telling me to keep my eyes open when outside the house and to never let my guard down around a stranger – they even enrolled me in a self defense-based martial arts program. Up until today, I never really thought much of this or how me being a girl might have affected what my parents taught me to do. Society has become such a dangerous place for women (and men in some cases) that even children and teenagers have to be taught to always be careful when outside and away from the safety of their family. Even school dress codes imply that the opposite gender is distracted when an excessive amount of skin is showing – from thighs to shoulders! It is unfair that we have to live in a world with this constant worry on our backs. I truly hope that “me too” is able to show the world the enormity of this situation. I hope that the kids of the future won’t have to constantly worry about their safety in public around the opposite gender.

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