The events of last Thursday and Friday ripped open countless women’s wounds, revictimizing them and forcing them to relive their own trauma. I was one of those women. I found myself shaking, wrapping my arms around myself as I rocked back and forth, trying to control my breath as I watched both Dr. Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testify.
Not only did my own painful experience come flooding back, but I also felt crushed by the weight of my total lived experience as a woman in our society: the stunning defeat of the ERA when I was 19 years old; the abuse of Anita Hill at the hands of the all white, all male Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991 as she bravely shared her story of sexual harassment by then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas; the acquittal of William Kennedy Smith in the rape of Patricia Bowman later that same year (it is important to note that in both the Hill and Bowman cases, many other women had stepped up and offered to testify that they, too, had been harassed and/or assaulted, but those requests were denied); and countless other horrific cases in the years leading up to the release of Brock Turner after a mere three months in jail for sexually assaulting an unconscious victim, the election of a president who bragged about sexual assault, and the accusations of harassment and assault made against powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill Cosby and others—accusations that sparked the #metoo movement.
Seeing the pain on Dr. Blasey Ford’s face, hearing her trembling voice, and then being verbally assaulted by the anger and indignation of a screaming Brett Kavanaugh was simply too much for so many of us. And the fact that his nomination has moved forward just reinforces for us that our experiences of abuse and harassment at the hands of men continue to mean nothing in the society in which we live. This is the message that was sent to every woman and girl in this country on Friday.
On the day Dr. Blasey Ford testified about her assault at the hands of Brett Kavanaugh, calls to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network sexual assault hotline spiked by 201 percent: “’We often see an uptick when sexual assault is in the news,’ RAINN spokeswoman Sara Mcgovern said in a statement. ‘For example, last weekend, from Friday to Sunday we saw a 57 percent increase compared to an average Friday to Sunday. Since Dr. Ford has come forward with her allegations, we have seen a 45.6 percent uptick compared to the same time period in 2017’” (NBC News). According to RAINN, “Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 6 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison” (rainn.org).
I don’t know about you, but I have had enough. I had had enough in 1991. We need to become much more proactive. That is the only chance we have to enact true change.
I have long advocated for a women and gender studies curriculum in K-12. While we also need to include more women in every single subject, we need a separate and mandatory women and gender studies curriculum so that we can begin teaching children about issues related to social construction, intersectionality, privilege, and oppression from a young age. Only by making them aware of these issues will they be able to identify them, and through identifying them, they can learn to address and deconstruct them.
In adding more women to the K-12 curriculum, we will encourage critical reading, thinking, and questioning: “All young people, regardless of gender, need stories of persistent women—women from diverse backgrounds and experiences who have worked for social change, who have spoken up to make a difference and refused to be silenced in the face of disapproval. Our schools need to be places where critical questions about gender and power are asked from day one. The younger we set the table for gender equality, the better” (tolerance.org).
By exposing children to age appropriate discussions of issues related to gender and equality, we will help them better understand the society in which they live. According to Ileana Jiménez, founder of Feminist Teacher, “The social issues that high school students face have long roots in feminist analysis. Schools struggle to combat bullycides, cyberbullying, and mean girls (and mean boys), all of which are ongoing at alarmingly high rates. These concerns involve homophobia and transphobia, sexism and misogyny, racism and classism; feminists have offered rich analyses about these interlocking systems of oppression for over 40 years. In my experience, high school students flock to courses that bridge what they learn in the classroom to the outside world. This idea is a core principle of passion-based learning, which is the complete opposite of test taking and racing to nowhere. Passion-based learning inspired one of my students who had seen assemblies on the commercial sexual exploitation of children during her first two years in high school, to take my feminism course her junior year and explore more deeply social change based on gender, racial and economic justice. The work I do with students incorporates some of the most valuable aspects of education: critical thinking, analytical writing, collaboration and public speaking, all the while connecting them to important social issues that asks them to practice care and compassion” (feminist.com).
While the work Jiménez is doing has been ground breaking, it isn’t enough because it is not reaching all students. If we are going to address the problems of misogyny, homophobia, and racism at their root, we must reach every student in every classroom in this country.
In addition, we need to teach healthy relationship development beginning in pre-school, so that all children can learn how to interact with one another from a place of respect and empathy. I was a high school student in 1982, and a college student in the early 1980s. I have clear and painful memories of alcohol fueled parties that resulted in the sexual harassment and assault of incapacitated women. There is no doubt that these assaults continue to happen today—right now as I am writing this. How did these men become the abusers they are? When and how did they learn that women are objects not subjects—not human beings worthy of respect? In order to begin to counter this abusive behavior, we need to introduce social justice education as soon as students enter school: “The goal is to stop violent behavior before it begins. We know that strategies that promote healthy behaviors in relationships are important. Programs that teach young people skills for dating can prevent violence. These programs can stop violence in dating relationships before it occurs” (safehousealliance.org).
Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN) is one example of an organization offering a social justice curriculum: “We believe that in order to end violence against any individual, youth and child, we must understand and challenge the varying forms of oppression people experience, which can be intricately woven into domestic violence. In our classroom and community presentations, we will work side by side with students (K-12) and professionals to respectfully and sensitively explore cultural and historical struggles that face our communities every day. This approach allows individuals to develop critical thinking skills in how they view relationships within societal norms and learn tools to create healthy relationships” (safehousealliance.org). (It is interesting to note that Debbie Ramirez, one of Judge Kavanaugh’s accusers, sits on the board of SPAN).
The efforts of organizations like SPAN must be expanded in order to provide social justice education, including healthy relationship development, in every grade, and this education must be mandatory—not mandatory in a punitive way, but welcomed as a best practice in order to decrease misogyny, homophobia, and racism, and increase understanding, empathy, and respect.
Shouldn’t this be our ultimate goal? I don’t know if I can stand to see another generation of hate, intolerance, and violence. I have been a broken woman who knows and loves many other broken women and broken girls. Enough. It needs to stop here. And all it takes is for us to care enough about our children and our society to make it happen.
Photos courtesy of Pixabay.