How to Talk About the #MeToo Movement with Your Students
Three resources for teachers to get teens looking inward when it comes to sexual harassment and gender bias
In 2017, the steady rise of campus assaults, workplace harassment, and overall threat to women’s rights inspired a sea of pink hats in protest throughout America. By 2018, however, the #MeToo movement turned the wave of marches into a tsunami of retaliation that has upended power brokers from politicians to industry titans to media moguls. Exposing an epidemic that no longer seems to be the exception, women are now coming forward in droves to share stories that have shaken our collective consciousness.
Recently released data is not only startling, it’s downright cringe-worthy. Harvard Graduate School of Education’s recent survey of 18 to 25-year-olds revealed that 87% of respondents reported being victimized by at least one form of sexual harassment. EIGHTY-SEVEN PERCENT?! Yep, and of those:
• 55% were catcalled
• 41% were touched without permission by a stranger
• 47% of women were insulted with sexualized words
• 52% had a stranger say something sexual to them
• 61% had a stranger tell them they were “hot”
According to National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), nearly two-thirds of young women will experience sexual harassment, and nine out of ten rape and sexual assault victims will actually know their offender.
Yet even more disturbing, studies by Harvard University Developmental Psychologist Richard Weissbord reveal that the systematic social devaluing of women starts in middle school. That’s right, middle school girls unwittingly sit smack in the bullseye of the beginning stages of devaluation. With further fueling by social media, by the time they reach high school, MOST teenage girls will have plenty of their own #MeToo stories to go around. This deterioration of their value by the males they interact with is not only dangerous for those directly victimized, it is dangerous for our collective mental health as a nation, a world, and a species for that matter. It’s time for an all-hands-on-deck systemic intervention.
How can teachers prepare both girls AND boys to become healthy, caring citizens when sexual harassment is becoming the new “normal?"
As natural influencers, teachers and adult educators have the greatest opportunity to promote healthy relationships between boys and girls in their formative years. But let’s be honest. Taking on the fashion industry, the music industry, or the many other pop-culture influencers hypersexualizing women in today’s society is daunting, awkward, and beyond our pay grade.
But here are two good resources (AND ONE GREAT ONE) to hopefully jumpstart these important discussions in your classroom:
Good Resource #1: WNYC Radio's Beyond #MeToo
WNYC Radio’s Beyond #MeToo
is an informative series about turning awareness into action to end sexual harassment. “It Starts in Middle School”
features calls from young people and their parents, as well as Harvard Psychologist Richard Weissbourd whose research can help prepare educators on what to do and parents on what to know.
Good Resource #2: Making Caring Common
Making Caring Common (MCC)
is an online resource center that helps educators, parents, and communities raise caring, responsible children who are committed to justice. MCC offers videos, handouts, websites, and lesson plans from experts who cover topics including social media, LGBTQ issues, as well as social and emotional learning.
ONE GREAT RESOURCE: GSD's India- Wings of Fire curriculum
Self-diagnosing root causes of complex social epidemics is difficult, but anyone who has spent time in a foreign culture knows that re-entry back into the familiar can shed fascinating light on social patterns we may otherwise remain oblivious to.
Similarly, GSD’s India- Wings of Fire
takes young readers on an armchair adventure to the other side of the world as a way to help them more clearly see (and discuss!) the issues they face here at home. By getting to know a group of impoverished teen girls battling the social norms of gender bias from inside an urban slum, they emerge with a whole new level of understanding of root causes. While some of the issues these girls are up against (selective abortion, female infanticide, illiteracy, forced early marriage, and bride burning) may not directly resonate with the challenges American women face, pervasive street harassment (aka “eve teasing”), victim shaming/blaming in cases of sexual assault, and even the trite dismissal of verbal intimidation as “boy talk” are all too familiar, disconcerting, and hard to ignore.
Teachers nationwide agree that the Wings of Fire
program provides healthy, sensible, and timely classroom dialog around America's culture of social norms and sexual harassment. Student discussions have ranged from the imbalance of girls in STEM careers, to male social pressure to be “one of the guys,” to lively debate on whether pink hunting camo
for women is merely a sexist way to draw females to the sport.
By helping students analyze issues across societies they become more skilled at observing patterns, drawing parallels, and uncovering root causes— while minimizing some of the writhing self-consciousness among peers.
movement may have illuminated the problem, but we can’t fix what we don’t understand. To inspire your students to be relentless in their pursuit of creating fair, caring, and healthy communities— and give them the tools to begin doing it— check out India- Wings of Fire
Isn’t that why we became teachers in the first place?
Participants at the Women's March on Washinton: By Mobilus In Mobili (Women's March on Washington) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons