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Gender and sexual assault education

Posted Apr 22 2009 11:22pm

Last week my attention was mostly elsewhere.  Some of that attention was on writing a piece for RH Reality Check about creating and implementing effective sex education programs about sexual assault and rape.  A recent New York Times piece mulling over whether it is more appropriate to target education in gender-specific ways (i.e., for men how not to be a rapist and for women how not to be a victim), or to provide the same education to everyone regardless of gender.

The article irked me, frankly, so I was delighted when RH Reality Check asked me to write a response.  Among other things, I said:

Students’ misunderstandings and misconceptions about sexual violence only come up in the midst of hard conversations about relationships, personal goals, and sexual violence.  The gaps in knowledge and experience surface in response to oblique scenarios that initially left the students unsure of the “right” answer.  That is to say, these conversations were born out of real life scenarios where I stopped talking and let them muse.  After they got going, my students loudly argued their points to each other about what is right and wrong behavior, who holds responsibility for what actions, and how to keep them and their partners safe.

High quality sex education is not gender-specific, but gender-inclusive.  The girls in my college classes must hear their male peers say they are confused by unclear signals of interest, that they don’t know how to respond to or interpret them, in order to begin to understand why they have to say no or yes clearly.  The boys have to hear the girls talk about the social assumptions that are made about them to begin to understand why girls sometimes offer ambiguous signals.  Middle school students need to have the same conversation, only on their developmental level of sexual and romantic involvement.

We all, girls and boys, men and women, need to sit together and talk through our collective pain on this issue of sexual violence.  It is not something that anyone feels good about, but we can all learn from the task of being and feeling and hearing honestly from our peers about their experiences.

Go take a read of the whole thing, and the interesting comments that follow.

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