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.