On the Education of Young Gentlemen

Trigger warning: Rape, thought experiment

Apparently, the development of a nail polish that detects the presence of date rape drugs is a bad thing, because that means women could be put in the position of actually having to use it, and we should not accept a world where that possibility exists. Instead of creating precautions for women that guard against a potential rape, many argue, we should simply “teach men not to rape.”

The whole “optional precaution=rape culture” thing is an issue unto itself, but that’s not what I find interesting; increasingly, I find myself wondering what the oft-repeated “teach men not to rape,” means in practice. I mean, I’m assuming the proponents of this view don’t plan to simply go up to random men and yell “DON’T RAPE,” or less charitably, “STOP WITH ALL THE RAPING!”, so I’m assuming there would have to be some kind of larger plan at work here. How would this education be delivered?

Generally, character education is conducted at the K-5 level; at the age when they’re at their most impressionable, children are taught not to hit, not to steal, not to lie, and generally to be nice people. They aren’t taught not to rape though, for many reasons–one of which is the fact that they don’t even know what “sex” is for much of this time. Another reason is that–even if they do know what sex is because their parents read them Where Did I Come From? (in which case, good call)–people generally don’t like to expose young children to the true horrors of the world, instead letting them maintain their childhood innocence whenever possible before having to deal with the worst aspects of the human experience. We tend to assume that if these character education lessons are administered consistently and well, children will make the logical leap from “Don’t hit” to “Don’t rape,” once they’re ready for it; maybe we were too cavalier to assume that, all this time. But then what?

Some of the people who say “Teach men not to rape” may advocate teaching boys about rape when they’re still at the stage when Big Bird is the center of their world, but I think that would be a pretty hard sell overall. I’m not a psychologist, but just from my minimal knowledge of the subject, I’m pretty sure there’s an argument to be made that exposing small children to the reality of heinous sexual violence would actually do more harm then good. But more importantly, most parents just aren’t going to sign up to put their kids through that- after all, no parent will ever believe that THEIR kid is the one who needs this kind of ‘education’ in the first place.

So teaching men not to rape during the primary character-education phase is dead in the water; that moves us up to Middle and/or High School. By this age, the boys know what sex is and even know what rape is, so having some kind of “Learn Not To Rape” class wouldn’t be too far out of bounds. However, let’s say we instituted this class: what would the curriculum be?

Once again, I’m assuming they don’t expect the teacher to just repeat “Don’t rape, y’all” over and over again, so there has to be some kind of classwork here. Also, what definition of rape would they be using? Presumably, because it’s always emphatically MEN we need to teach not to rape, proponents of this sort of education go with the penetrative definition: ex. rape requires penetration, therefore a woman cannot rape a man by definition (unless she’s a trans woman and has a penis, but um…let’s just sidestep that possibility for the time being). I mean, if it were possible for females to rape males, girls should also be educated in the “Learn Not to Rape” class, right? So we’ve decided which definition we’re using…but a lot of people, even feminists, would probably take issue with that definition. Prepare for lobbying of the “Hey, women can be rapists too!” variety.

Man, those are going to be some fun school board meetings.

Next, if we assume that there’s some kind of classwork that includes discussion (and possibly even roleplay), to what extent is dissent tolerated before it becomes misbehavior? For example, one thing that the Learn Not to Rape class would have to teach is that drunk females cannot consent, therefore sex with a drunk female is rape. If a boy were to point out that, since women are people who make choices, and some women make the conscious choice to go out, have a few drinks and then enjoy sex, is he allowed to make that observation without punishment? Or does that get written up on his permanent record as a marker of possible misogyny?

Furthermore, how does one pass this class? Do they have to write a statement at the end of the semester that says “I will never have any physical contact with a woman without her explicit, enthusiastic, repeated consent,” and sign it, perhaps in blood? Does it matter that the small percentage of the boys in the class who actually do lack empathy and are capable of committing rape can just as easily make this statement as the boys who truly mean it?

But hey, it’s possible I’ve got this all wrong; after all, the mantra is “Teach MEN not to rape,” not “Teach BOYS not to rape.” I kind of assumed that education should start early, but hey, I could be wrong. Maybe advocates of this strategy really are talking about men, literally, and all my talk of school grades is off-topic. So how does that work; establish a mandatory class for men, once they hit 18, where they learn not to rape? By that age, won’t their character largely already be established though…hence the reason why we prioritize character education at a young age? By 18 years of age, if any male in the class has the capacity to become a rapist, will the class actually be capable of changing his character? If so, how?

Of course, maybe I’m exaggerating this position by imagining a world where there’s an entire class devoted to teaching men not to rape. Maybe instead, information about the importance of consent could repeatedly be delivered as part of another, larger class, devoted to physical and mental health. A class like, oh, I don’t know…Health. Which I’m pretty sure already exists, because I remember taking it in both Middle School and High School.

So maybe the Teach Men Not To Rape position really is, “You know that thing called Health Class? Let’s keep doing that, more of that,” In which case, why didn’t you say so earlier? That makes so much more sense! Now get to work on advocating for more funding and attention for a non-STEM subject that doesn’t have any meaningful tests and doesn’t impress potential colleges. Good luck with that; I mean, it’s of dubious use and will surely meet with lots of opposition from numerous angles, but it’s better than just saying “Teach Men Not to Rape” over and over again without having any plan of substance behind it, right?

Seriously though, can anyone theorize an implementation strategy for Teaching Men Not to Rape that would not run afoul of many of these problems? If so, I’d love to hear it.

5 thoughts on “On the Education of Young Gentlemen”

  1. Education on rape isn’t really the issue I think. Too many people like to say that it is, but that belief is just a fantasy in my opinion. Men already know rape is bad, so do women. The majority of the dialog I’ve seen on this topic is from the perspective that we teach young men that rape is acceptable and because our culture enforces that rape is acceptable we need to educate them in order to foster an understanding that it isn’t. There are parts of the world that really do have that problem(the middle east for example), but in the western world you’re an awful person if you teach that rape is okay and doing so would have a detrimental effect on a person. Sure there are people who still say rape doesn’t happen, there are also people who say that Gorge Bush caused hurricane Katrina with his magical weather device. There is a practical limit to what providing education can do.

    Putting the above reasons for why I think education isn’t the issue aside I’ll tell you how this thought experiment plays out for me.

    What is the ultimate goal of education? To impart knowledge and understanding? In this case to make young men understand the pains of being raped and shamed. The problem here is that this is an entirely unrealistic goal because the rape part is already done. Good luck finding someone who hasn’t heard the news that rape is bad. That said, there is a part of rape that people might not understand and that is shame. People already know rape is bad. Telling them how awful rape is doesn’t have much value. What they need to understand is the shame involved in rape and the historic values at play behind that shame. Is that even something that needs to be done and would it solve anything at all? Eh, that isn’t the question you asked. It would make people better informed and that would probably be a positive thing.

    Is the above a solution to rape culture? No, absolutely not. Rape culture needs a clear definition before it can be solved. I could also argue that it already has been obfuscated. The original goal of rape culture was raising awareness about rape in order to stop rape from happening right? We aren’t in the 70s anymore. People know rape happens and that rape is a bad thing. Knowing about it didn’t fix the problem. It’s time to move on and look for new solutions.

    If schools want to successfully teach this to students they should make it part of history class. Deal with it the same way schools teach subjects like the holocaust. Share the awful truth of how the shame of rape has ruined lives. Bring in victims to talk to the students. Don’t make it about sex ed, don’t make it about boys versus girls, don’t blame rape culture or patriarchy. Tell them true stories about how awful rape is and make them feel awful about rape.

    At the end of the day denying practical solutions to rape is just a way to keep dialog about rape culture open. Saying that a product to check for drugs is rape culture isn’t about protecting women from rape, it’s about promoting rape culture at all costs. What is rape culture at this point even if not a product of feminist imagination? A figment of a movement from the past? What I see when people shoot down practical solutions to problems is a way to keep those problems in focus. In this case It’s about protecting a political position that depends on women being taken advantage of. The only people who lose if a product makes roofies become detectable are feminists and rapists. What more even needs to be said?

    While we are at it I guess breathalyzers promote alcohol culture. Anti-virus software promotes online theft culture. Cops promote crime culture… the list goes on. The whole dialog is backwards and the opposite is true. Rape promotes solutions to rape, not the other way around. The idea that power of the subconscious hidden away in devious minds promoting rape culture are creating products to help women as a way enforce the patriarchy and make the lives of woman more difficult sounds like a wonderful plot line for a cheesy fictional novel. It has no place in intelligent discussion as a real thing and instead of being part of the solution is now a part of the problem.

  2. Interesting, although I’m sure you know that many would take major issue with your Teach Men Not to Rape plan. History? How can you put this in history, when this is a threat that women face EVERY DAY? Second, you’re going to put the burden on rape victims to have to tell their stories– repeatedly– just to teach young people about rape? Why should these victims, who have already been hurt by the patriarchy, have to enact the labor? And furthermore!–

    **suddenly regains sanity**

    Oh sorry, spent way too much time on Twitter today. Sometimes it has the effect on me. But yeah– I’m pretty sure there is no concrete “Teach Men Not to Rape” plan that the most vocal promoters of the general concept would actually accept. I guess that’s what interested me about it in the first place, that it’s a simple-sounding solution that is virtually impossible to implement.

    As to the “Locking your door is not called Theft Culture,” argument, the rebuttal I’ve seen over and over again over the last few days is that “theft and rape are not equivalent crimes,” and so on and so forth; advocates of the Rape Culture Theory of Everything seem to think that completely dismisses that comparison. I wonder how that’s supposed to work though? Theft is a different crime from rape, or any kind of violent attack, but why does the wisdom of preparing for the worst only supposedly apply to one and not the other? I’d really love if someone who uses this argument could answer that. I haven’t tried, but I imagine that if I were to question one of them, they would make some snide, condescending comment about how I could even THINK that theft and rape had anything whatsoever in common, because rape is clearly the worst thing and can only ever be compared to itself, or something.

    As to whether or not education is the answer, well…yes and no. I agree that no amount of education is going to make sociopaths stop being sociopaths, which is a reality many people seem to be unable to accept. But I think there are borderline cases where being forced to confront the horror of rape, instead of never thinking about it and not having to deal with the idea, could make a difference. However, I have no idea how many of the people who actually go on to commit rape are these “borderline” cases, and how many are the genuinely evil dregs of humanity that you will never reach with education.

  3. You can’t stop people stop doing horrible things. Everyone, every single person of every gender, ethnicity, race, age, sexuality, weight, height, social status, wealth class, etc. is equally capable of doing something horrible to another person of any of those traits I just listed.

    Young boys should not be indoctrinated into a system that treats them like monsters before they can even comprehend what they’re being preemptively blamed for. If anything about the feminist movement scares me, it’s the effect it’s going to have on young boys who will suddenly be treated as criminals before they’ve even done anything.

    That’s not a good place to be mentally. I don’t want kids, but I would never want to have to explain to my son why the girls he knows all act paranoid and hostile towards him when he’s never hurt a fly. That’s what worries me the most. That this parade to stop objectifying women will continue to result in the demonization of men (I trademarked that phrase btw).

    I can’t understand the logic of swapping one terrible tendency with another equally terrible tendency and somehow thinking it’s a victory.

    1. I’m sure this won’t come as any surprise to you, but what you’re describing already happens with frightening regularity. I wish I had the link handy, but recently I read a blog post by a female programmer with a young son. Her son wanted to take a tech class at school, only he wasn’t allowed to; the class was girls-only, designed to encourage “women in tech” at an early age, and the idea was that having a boy in the class would intimidate the girls and they wouldn’t feel it was a proper “safe space,” or whatever; that this 6-year-old would overpower them all with his superior male technical abilities, or something.

      The real kicker is, as the son of a female programmer, this little boy had no idea that women were supposedly inferior at tech; he didn’t even have the idea in his head until the school put it there. In the interest of eradicating sexism, they’re instituting sexist beliefs even where they hadn’t previously existed.

      I really wonder about these women who are so quick to demonize all men (and it really is “all men,” apparently, because as we’ve recently learned, when you try to point out that it’s “not all men,” they mock you.) I have a loving father, a little brother, and a husband; whenever I’m disgusted by the actions of some unhinged misogynist, I remember them and know that “men” in general aren’t the enemy. What are these women’s lives like that they can’t point to a father, a brother, a husband, a son, and say “I love these men and know they aren’t part of the evil patriarchy?”

      At the risk of being self-aggrandizing, I think the onus is on women like me to reject the current brand of feminism and it’s male demonization. Men can’t oppose feminism without being accused of misogyny, and movements like A Voice For Men will probably never been seen as any more than entitled manbabies no matter how many valid points they bring to the table. I’m still not sure how this rejection of man-hatred is going to occur; it’s going to take a lot more than “Women Against Feminism,” on Tumblr, which creates as many problems as it purports to solve.

      1. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. It’s always been easy for a “revolution” to be just as bad as the thing it replaced. History proves that countless times.

        Tumblr is a breeding ground for hypocrisy, perpetuating the very same bigotry and hatred it claims to oppose, just at different targets.

        I think in general, a lot of guys dismiss feminism because the crazy is so much louder than the rational. And also because nobody likes being blamed for things they’ve never done. I’ve never treated girls any differently than guys (atleast as much as can be controlled on a conscious level), yet I’m grouped in with a raging minority of misogynists all the same.

        It also never helps when nobody in this “cause” can agree on what they actually want. In the same blog, you can hear;

        “Stop slut-shaming women for wearing revealing outfits!”


        “It’s so sexist when you design female characters in revealing outfits!”

        It’s like… doesn’t compute. It’s like they don’t even realize so many of their “demands” are contradictory and impossible to grant. If I was a robot, my processor would explode from the above example. Not to mention many of the skimpiest character designers around are women anyway so…

        I guess slut-shaming is only wrong when men do it, huh? Yeah… whatever.

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