I just finished up sexual health week in my bio class, where we talked about STIs, contraceptives, and I answered a hundred burning questions from teenagers about sex (both as a noun and as a verb). We ended the week with consent as the discussion topic of the day, and it spilled out into a whole new can of worms that I’ve been mulling over for the past few days — rape culture in high school.

A few disclaimers to start with: I’m not an expert on anything.  I’m not an expert in teaching, not an expert in science, not an expert in rape culture, not an expert in sexual health, not an expert in psychology, not even an expert in fashion (which is what this blog is all about). I’m also not intending to make blanket statements about any groups of people. I may inadvertently do so in this post, but please know that it is not my intent to create nor perpetuate stereotypes about any groups or communities. So, take this for what it is – a teacher who is struggling with how to approach a sensitive topic with her teenage students.

I started the lesson with a warm-up, asking kids to respond to this comic I found from an old Huffington Post article. Responses in my  first period class (non-honors Bio) ranged from “some of the things being said aren’t bad at all” and “she’s getting complimented”, to “she looks angry”. Responses in 3rd and 5th (Honors Bio) were more what I expected to hear, such as “she’s being cat-called and it’s gross”. Following the warm-up, we watched this video about a woman walking the streets of NYC for 10 hours and getting cat-called a ridiculous number of times. The conversations exploded the moment the video finished in every class, but the difference in the tone of the classes was striking.

In first period, the conversation was dominated by the boys (and one girl) with comments such as “well, she was walking down by the clubs, so what would you expect?” and “that’s rude! she should say thank you when people say good morning!”. Girls are already out numbered in this class, and most of them pretty much kept quiet unless I called on them.  A couple girls tried to argue back with the boys, but they ended up getting drowned out. One kid said something along the lines of “well, you know, she’s got curves and she’s wearing tight pants, you know, how can people ignore that?” The most vocal girl was agreeing with the boys – even going so far as to say the guy in the video who followed the woman for 5 minutes was “just going in the same direction, what’s wrong with that?” My jaw just hit the floor at that point.

This was when it really hit me (at 8 in the morning) how grossly ill-prepared  I was for this conversation that was happening around me. These are teenage boys (and a girl), earnestly and innocently having a conversation that essentially perpetuates rape culture in our society – victim blaming, mansplaining, and #notallmen. The saddest thing of all was when I moved the conversation on to Brock Turner, a couple girls said, “it’s sad, but that’s what we expect now”. *tears*

My 3rd and 5th periods were so different from this – girls spoke up, the boys agreed with the girls, and even expressed solidarity with the woman in the video.  *tears* One kid mentioned that a girl from 1st period had warned her that she “was going to get so mad about class today”.

In the end, I failed my kids big time on this.  I hadn’t created enough of a safe space for my girls to speak up. I assumed the kids were mature enough to tackle these sensitive subjects and I assumed they’d all agree that cat-calling was a negative thing to do. I failed to recognize and anticipate past experiences of my students (one kid told a story about when he had paid a genuine compliment to a stranger who misunderstood and cussed him out and how he’s still upset about it).  I was woefully unprepared for what happened. I should have paid closer attention and structured the lesson to give girls opportunities to share in smaller groups. I should have designed a pre-lesson that focused on empathy. I should have done a lot of things, and next year, there will be changes.

Or…maybe I should just leave it up to the experts? Who are these experts in high school? I know some of my colleagues also struggle with this. When I asked around, I heard that one year an English teacher taught A Streetcar Named Desire, and some kids said that Blanche deserved what she got (rape). Who’s taking this on and is it even our place? Is this one of those things were I’m stepping out of line as a biology/science teacher? I really don’t have an answer to this. Reader, do you?

In the meantime, here’s an outfit from this past week.  Moving through my Australian COS haul slowly. A lovely kid in 6th period (AP Bio) said that my “outfit is on point today, Miss.”  *tears*

cos-pleated-crepe-top-2

cos-accordian-top

cos-pleated-top

cos-pleated-top-2

cos-pleated-crepe-top

top: cos – jeans: uniqlo – shoes: cole hahn

5 thoughts on “I’m No Expert on Cat-Calling

  1. Thanks for being so candid about your experiences trying to educate your kids on this difficult topic. I think it IS our role as educators to challenge our students to see the problems with rape culture, and if they don’t see it, we have to show it to them. I teach first grade, and I try to teach my kids boundaries beyond “keep your hands to yourself.” I talk about not touching anyone without their permission, because sometimes hugging a friend is appropriate! You just have to ask first. I see it as a precursor to these high school topics of consent…and it can’t start soon enough.

    I can certainly think back to my high school days and the times we had difficult conversations in class. I once had a discussion in my English class about affirmative action, and one boy could not stop talking about how unfair it was (he was white) and I just about lost it. Several students got really upset, and I could tell my teacher felt like she was unprepared to moderate such an emotional conversation. But you know what? I’m glad she let us have that conversation. It helped me gain the confidence I needed to tackle such difficult conversations in other settings. So know that your efforts are worthwhile, and your students are growing from them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fighting the good fight!

    I agree with the previous commenter – the space to have the conversation matters too. Even if one side predominated, the discussion says that it’s a topic you can argue. There’s probably not a way to do it that doesn’t feel hard.
    You will come to it with more next time. Thanks to all teachers for caring for, in the deepest sense, our children!

    mom of a 10 yo and 12 yo boy

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You did great! Really!

    As a teacher who has been teaching sex ed in Health classes for a six years now, I can honestly say that I’m never 100% prepared for how any lesson will go- especially the sensitive ones where I’m hoping to make a even a tiny difference in society for.

    I too feel ill-prepared for what the student’s comments will be or over how each overall class culture will shape the conversation. I do like to prepare some talking points and questions to guide the class to think about perspectives that they haven’t thought of yet, if not already brought up.

    As teachers I think we’re trained, or maybe naturally are this way, to critique our lessons and always strive for improvement- just as we require of our students. So even if you did a stellar job, something tells me you might still find something to refine for next time. 🙂

    Whatever happened, know that you did plant a seed…it might blossom one day when he or she has those comments made to a loved one or herself, or it might mold up and die. Who knows.

    But it’s our job to expose them to the information and set up the space for the conversation to happen- what conversation that might be.

    But know that you did great! Really!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think you did fine. Rape culture is a hard concept to teach, and even harder for some people to understand, especially if it was their first time being presented with it.

    Are there any universities in your area that have gender studies programs? I know the department head of gender studies at my university shares resources and lesson plans with high school teachers, and also loves to guest lecture. Perhaps reach out to a local women’s shelter or resource center as well. Some of them have really great programming aimed at high school students.

    Like

  5. Maybe having post-it notes and a venn diagram for kids to express their thoughts next time instead of conversation? I feel like I have been beginning to notice that when I do conversations the same kids contribute very vocally over and over… I’ve been trying to do ways of having dialogue that allow everyone to have a voice and have a visual to document/learn from.

    Like

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