Even after #MeToo and #TimesUp, rape culture still thrives in the United States


Photo by AP Newsroom

When I was just 14-years-old, I gave a presentation on rape culture to my all-girls freshman class. I began my presentation by asking the fourth girl in every row to stand, lamenting the stark reality of sexual assault in our country with this simple visual—one in every four women in the United States will fall victim to sexual assault.

I distinctly remember that my would-be powerful visual didn’t have the intended effect on my audience. These statistics weren’t news to my class.

As young girls, we had all long known the realities of the world we were living in and how the world, in turn, saw us. I realized then–for the first time in my life–that my fears, concerns, and anxieties regarding sexual assault were shared by other women.

Looking back, I wonder what the effect would have been if I had given the exact same presentation to a class of boys. I imagine the outcome would have been considerably different. At 14 years old, these boys had the privilege of blissful ignorance to matters of sexual assault, while their female peers had to carry the weight of what the world had in store for them—or at least 25 percent of them.

This ignorance is rooted in the way we nurture our boys and in contrast, how we parent our girls. Before I would go out with friends as a young girl, I would be accosted with rambling questions: “Who are you going out with?” “What time will you be home?” “Whose parents are driving?” “What are you going to wear?” Our parents were afraid of what awaited us girls out in the world—boys.

My male friends would be sent off with nothing more than a kiss on the cheek and a tentative, “Don’t stay out too late.”

Even our education system contributes to this cycle of ignorance. Since my freshman year in high school, I’ve been educated on the statistics of assault, instructed how to support and reaffirm survivors, and taught ‘preventative measures’ I can take to minimize my risk of being assaulted. As a young woman, I’ve been given overwhelming guidance from educators on this matter; yet, the majority of young American men venture far into adulthood before they ever encounter any form of sexual assault-based education.

By educating and parenting boys in this manner—by coddling them and refusing to make them uncomfortable—we make sexual assault a concern exclusively for women. We foster a new generation of abusers by continuing to raise men ignorant of the problems of women, contributing to the cycle of abuse in this country.

I almost sympathize with these men, because in a way, this is all new to them. They’ve never been subjected to accountability for their comments or actions.

This is why the #MeToo movement is so pertinent. We have an entire gender who lives in fear that their lives are going to be ruined, and another whose lives are actually being ruined by sexual assault.

The #MeToo movement began a dialogue on sexual assault and harassment in this country. Within the year that this movement has existed, we have taken productive action to correct this country’s concept of assault. We have empowered survivors to use their collective voice and removed offenders like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. from positions of power.

Yet, we are so far from finished. Many abusers remain in authority—some of whom hold the highest offices in the United States (the likes of Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh).

When continuing this discussion on assault, we need to stop making it the duty of the oppressed to educate their oppressors. Men must be the ones working to put an end to rampant sexual assault in the United States, not women. We need to hold men responsible for countering their own ignorances, encourage them to educate themselves and fellow men, and take constructive action to prevent future assault.

In today’s America, many men are unlikely to listen to or follow the lead of women when it comes to corrective action. This is why men must be the ones to push this movement onward. It starts with a few good men taking the time to call out harassment when they see it, practice consent with their intimate partners, and act as exemplars for other men. In doing this, they teach younger generations that it is not okay to continue this cycle of abuse towards women.

Ultimately, we need to make our country one that is safe for women and survivors, not their abusers—and the people who need to do this are men.

Four years later, I regret not giving that same presentation to a class of boys. My class had already long known the realities they faced as young women growing up in America, but those 14-year-old boys had no concept of assault in their pubescent minds. And unfortunately, many men in America still lack such a concept.