Community complacency normalizes rape culture


Photo courtesy of Dame magazine

Rachel Epstein

“Hey, blue shirt, come back here so I can give you a hand, looks like you’re carrying a lot in those jeans,” I hear as I walk down the halls. This is just a typical moment at Wilson, and absolutely no one, girl or boy, bats an eye. As a female student, I often feel as if I don’t even have a name. The second I get to school, I am forced by select fellow students and adults in the building to leave my name at the door and instead to be branded by the color of my shirt or my estimated bra cup size. While this type of interaction isn’t as common a problem for everyone, for myself and the girls I know it is a daily occurrence.

Rape culture, which can be defined as the social glorification of sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct, has been seamlessly sewn into our school’s community and is seen as acceptable, when in fact it is just the opposite. Because of this school-wide approval, even some girls at Wilson completely normalize the groping, catcalling, and complete disrespect towards young women. Women face blame for the instances of sexual harassment they experience, which is in no way their fault, while men are excused for their actions.

When asked about sexual harassment in the halls, sophomore Piper Hattenbach said, “I’ve seen people get their a**es slapped, but I’ve never seen anything that serious.” The issue is, though, a girl having her personal space violated and her body touched by a stranger is definitely serious, it’s sexual assault.

Being pursued in the hallways is another major issue at Wilson. For me at least, it has gotten to the point of being chased into the girls’ bathroom by groups of boys moaning my name. I was chased on a weekly basis by the same group of boys for a few months during my freshman year. They were the group of friends of a boy who had taken me into the woods and touched me all over while I yelled at him. They thought the whole ordeal was hilarious.

In these situations, the adults at Wilson who are expected to keep us out of harm’s way are generally unreliable (except for the unlikely hero of the cafeteria: custodian Larry Jackson, who set a boy straight after he told me and my friend “Hey girls, Imma take some pictures of your ass”). Unfortunately, so far he is the only adult who I have encountered at Wilson who has witnessed and defended the humanity of a girl, though countless adults have had the chance. Instead, these adults direct their energy towards policing and shaming the girls.

I will never forget my first week of freshman year when the rest of my class and I were sat down by the administration for our grade-level assembly. They asked the “ladies of the room” to “listen up.” Then they changed the slide on the projector to a list of clothing items that, if worn, would qualify as disrespectful to ourselves and our own bodies. They told us that showing off too much of our shoulders, arms, stomachs, and legs were wrong. The takeaway from that assembly was mainly that if girls dressed in any of these clothes it would be blasphemous to our reputations, and too distracting to our male peers. In doing so, the administration blamed girls for the harassment they receive from boys. This is victim blaming in an irrefutable form. From the top of the school’s administrative hierarchy, a clear message was sent to the girls of my grade and never challenged. Maybe you’re wondering if in this tragic speech the administrator also pleaded with the boys to leave us girls alone, or whether he in some little itty bitty way assigned responsibility to them? Nope. The answer is a rock hard nope.

Administrators, the student body, and faculty at Wilson consistently blame and stigmatize girls for the sexual harassment they experience. Administrators, through the implementation of the dress code, enact “preventative measures” which stop young women from being able to empower themselves through choice of style. That is their only attempt to “correct” boys’ behavior; the responsibility lies solely with the girls. The student body normalizes sexual harassment as a daily interaction, failing to hold each other accountable and stick up for their peers. Since faculty grew up in a generation that normalized rape culture as well, they turn a blind eye to the sexual harassment they witness in their classrooms and in the hallways. There has been absolutely no movement at the school to shift this blame and punishment to the perpetrators and to protect the girls of our school from guilt and shame.

It would be simple for the administration to hold an assembly where, instead of shaming girls, they empower them, and blame the perpetrators for the harassment they are responsible for. By setting and announcing policies to punish boys for sexual harassment, the girls would be able to feel safer in the halls of their high school. In addition, adding yearly staff trainings to raise awareness and educate faculty on rape culture would teach them what to do in instances where they witnessed harassment. If these things were to happen at Wilson, I am confident rape culture would severely decrease, and students would see the error of their ways.