7 High School Traditions That Reinforce Rape Culture
Rape culture is often discussed in the context of the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses, but societal standards for how to treat women that encourage sexual violence are actually taught much earlier on. There are, for example, a number of high school traditions that reinforce rape culture, even when they appear to be just a part of a normal education and social life. In fact, it's often during their adolescence that women begin to get the message that, in the eyes of patriarchal society, they are prey. Around the same time, boys begin to get the message that they are predators. And people of all genders are indoctrinated into several traditions that might seem fun or necessary but actually reinforce rape culture in subtle ways.
According to the book Transforming a Rape Culture by Emilie Buchwald, rape culture is "a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and support violence against women. It is a society where violence is seen as sexy and sexuality as violent. ... A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm."
To say that a tradition contributes to rape culture is not to say that everyone who chooses to partake in it is reinforcing rape culture, nor does it mean that furthering these activities will directly cause rapes to occur. However, certain traditions are problematic because of the attitudes they stem from and consequently encourage. Here are seven high school traditions that contribute to rape culture.
1. Inadequate Sexual Assault And Harassment Policies
Like colleges, high schools often fail students who are victims of sexual misconduct. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention data, one in five high school women and one in 10 high school men has experienced dating violence. Under Title IX, schools are supposed to accommodate students who have filed complaints against classmates and protect them from their attackers and people who harass them. However, many schools don't follow these laws. After she reported an alleged rape at the hands of a classmate, who maintained his innocence, high school student Daisy Coleman was bullied by her peers; she also claimed that her principal allegedly told her she shouldn't go to prom because people might harass her, though according to U.S. News, he later reversed the decision. By putting responsibility on victims to ensure their own well being after an assault rather than protect them, schools teach students that rape is not a big deal — and that it's the victim's fault.
2. Dress Codes
Strict dress codes geared disproportionately toward girls reinforce rape culture by teaching students — usually women — that it is their fault if somebody interprets their clothing as an invitation for sexual harassment. They also teach boys that it's not their fault if they objectify or harass a woman due to what she is wearing. And by stating that girl must dress conservatively or else they'll be a distraction — which implies that others will be incapable of taking focus off girls' bodies — school administrations objectify women.
3. Designation Of A "School Slut"
High school is known as a time when people acquire labels, from "nerd" to "school slut." "Slut," of course, is usually designated for girls. Boys with the same sexual behavior are considered "players." That's because we learn from a young age that dating is a game that men "win" by sleeping with women and that women "lose" by "allowing" men to sleep with them. This view of sex and dating blurs the distinction between sex and rape, and defining women by their sexual behavior encourages the view that "slutty" women have automatically consented to anything while more "prudish" ones need their innocence protected.
Whether through abstinence-only sex education or through slut-shaming posters like the one above, teaching women not to be sexual objectifies them just as much as encouraging them to always be sexually available (as the "school slut" often is encouraged to be). Either way, women are being defined by their sexuality rather than their character.
5. Sexual Expectations On Prom Night
At many high schools, prom night is a highly anticipated occasion not just because of the dance itself but also because of after-prom, where students are expected and often pressured to hook up. Men in relationships might get questions from their friends about whether they're going to "get some" on prom night, and women might feel pressure to give their dates what they supposedly want. A Kaiser Family Foundation study found that one in three boys and 23 percent of girls ages 15 to 17 felt pressure to have sex. This pressure could lead both parties to enter into sexual relationships before they're ready — and, in the worst cases, before they consent.
6. Valorization Of Athletes
The glorification of athletes that often leads sexual assault charges against college sports stars to be taken less seriously starts in high school, as does the culture of toxic masculinity sometimes fostered within sports teams that encourages the domination of women. While women receive less attention for their sports abilities and the idealized high school girl is a cheerleader who supports male teams, schools often make male athletes feel invincible and let sexist or violent behavior slide by as a case of "boys will be boys."
7. Out-Of-Control Parties
It's a celebrated high school tradition to gather at someone's house when their parents are out of town, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, and hook up in the house's bedrooms. While there isn't anything inherently wrong with any of these activities (except, perhaps, the binge drinking), it's often considered normal for boys to go into them with predatory goals, like taking advantage of the girls' drunkenness and bragging about it to their friends. A National Bureau of Economic Research study found that high schoolers are more likely to have sex and less likely to use protection when they engage in binge drinking. And according to CDC data, high school binge drinkers are twice as likely to be sexual assault victims as non-drinkers. This doesn't make their assaults their fault, but it does mean rapists are likely using alcohol to accomplish their assaults. By making this a fun Saturday night activity rather than a crime, traditions like these perpetuate rape culture.