Thursday, January 27, 2011

Educated, Empowered and Resilient

Yesterday was the first day of classes! I am taking a seminar in resilience, which opened with ten minutes of free writing about what we think the concept of resilience entails. I love free writing as an educational technique, so I was thrilled. I also found it quite useful to take the time to frame my interest in resilience in terms of my mission of promoting positive adolescent sexual development:

Resilience is the process of getting through difficulty with continued strength and positive development. I think of resilience as a dynamic aspect of person and context that helps to foster positive development even through negative occurrences such as violence, trauma, illness, oppression, or other normal and abnormal challenges.

I believe resilience to be an important concept in the study of adolescent sexual development because adolescents must demonstrate resilient functioning in order to resist negative stereotypes and achieve personal agency within our sexist and sex negative culture. What characteristics of individual adolescents and of the contexts in which they live will contribute to their resilience and thus to their positive sexual development? How does resilience manifest in girls, boys, and transgendered youth? What kind of resilience do girls need in order to access positive feelings about their bodies and their sexuality?

We can ask questions such as the ones above in order to seek different approaches to promoting resilience within the realm of sexual development, and we can ask questions from a different angle. We might find that sex positive educators and activists are already engaged in promoting adolescent resilience in a variety of life contexts. How can sex education and, in particular, sex positive education, contribute to adolescent resilience overall? How can the knowledge, skills, and attitudes taught in a sex positive classroom or youth group help youth demonstrate resilience in a variety of situations in the realm of sexuality as well as in other aspects of their lives?

These two approaches to forming questions about the relationship between adolescent resilience and adolescent sexual development reflect the double meaning I intend in the title of this blog, “Sex Ed Transforms.” Through the reading, thinking and writing that I do in the process of blogging and in my other work on sex ed, I hope to transform the approaches we take to sex ed and our conceptions of what sex ed can entail. In addition, I believe that through reading, thinking, writing, and educating others and ourselves about issues of sexuality and sex education, we can transform our communities, our world, and ourselves. I am looking forward to discovering how the study of resilience can play an important role in both of these processes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What is Rape Culture? An exploration of terms.

After I posted in November about rape culture on college campuses, a curious reader asked me a seriously of strikingly simple and stunningly intelligent questions: “Are men in college inherently complicit in rape culture? Are college men complicit in rape culture simply because they want to sleep with college women? Does rape culture overshadow every joke college men make about sex?”

First, what is rape culture? This blog post is really long, but it's one of the most popular depictions of what this concept, "rape culture," means. For an act to be complicit in and to promote rape culture, it does not need to include an act of rape, necessarily.

Rape culture does not necessarily overshadow every joke college men make about sex, but it likely overshadows most of them. Not every college party is necessarily complicit in rape culture, but it's likely that most of them are. Not all college men are by definition complicit in rape culture, but if they do not want to be complicit in rape culture then they must actively educate themselves and pursue justice. And the same goes for women — for all of us.

Rape culture is tied into many other systems of power and privilege in our society. Most obviously, it is wrapped up in sexism (the power of men over women) and heterosexism (systemic structures of heterosexuality and the assumptions about what it should look like when men and women get together, i.e., he asks her out and not the other way around).

Like other systems of oppression, words and actions that are complicit in rape culture are the norm. They are invisible, unnoticed, because they are dominant. Yes, extreme examples get called out-- but the less extreme examples seem normal. Furthermore, the less extreme examples are so similar to most other things we experience in our lives that it is so difficult to call them out as wrong. We see them as just parts of life. By identifying rape culture within the dominant culture of America, we gain the power to name these aspects of the “norm” as hurtful and harmful.

Rape culture can be promoted in multiple layers and in multiple ways. For example, to advertise a college party, one could design a poster to make it clear that all people attending the party will be encouraged to exercise sexual agency. However, what music will be played at that party? Rape culture is rampant in rap music and other popular party tunes. So, there are layers.

In order to throw a party that is not complicity in rape culture, the thrower of said party is going to need to work at it, to be obvious about it, because the assumption, our norm, is rape culture. I'm thinking of a birthday party I attended last year in which a number of things were made explicit, such as, the aspect of the theme you chose for your outfit did not have to be based on your gender. In addition, giving and getting consent was made explicit during the party games. However, the music thing was/is still an issue...

So it's not an "in or out" kind of thing—is something part of rape culture or is it not... Here’s a parallel: We can be anti-racist—we can work against racism in our daily lives and in our society—but we can't be non-racist, we can't claim to be colorblind because that is nonsensical given the prejudices of the society in which we live.