Sexual Assault and Young People

I teach middle school, not a place you think you’d find sexting, or sexual assault. In the beginning of the year I make a poster to lay out procedures (we teachers don’t like to call them rules) for acceptable behavior in my classroom. At the top I write RESPECT and then I get my students to help me make a list of what is considered acceptable behavior. It used to be pretty straightforward; treat others the way you wish to be treated golden rule type of things. But that was before the sexual assaults on campus, the accusations of groping and body shaming, and the constant sexting made it clear we live in a different world then most parents and teachers ever imagined. Is it me, or is the problem getting worse? I knew sexual assaults are a reality on high school and college campuses, but I teach middle school. Last year I caught a sixth grader sharing a pic of his privates with another student. Am I out of touch? Maybe. But one thing I know for sure, parents and teachers need more tools to deal with sexually active young people. Not just rules and consequences, but a framework we can use to handle what has become a national epidemic.

Parents need tools to talk to their kids about what constitutes a healthy sexual relationship. Young people who are being bombarded with conflicting messages about sex, don’t know where to turn for advice. I have a simple solution for how to begin a dialogue on sex, young people and relationships.

Fiction, stories about subjects that we are too afraid to talk about; because fiction, at its best shines a light on those dark secrets we are too afraid to discuss. In the coming months, I will be asking young people to suggest fictional stories they really loved and wish their parents would read. Parents in turn, will be giving me a list of books they wish they could share with their kids. We will share these books and their important themes in a safe and respectful forum.

Do you want to join a national dialogue on sex and young people? Then please give me your email below. We will be sharing stories by great authors. Stories about dark, unspeakable themes in YA literature. We will do this to shine a light on the all too truthful fears we have about sexual assault. Join the dialogue today. Write me a message and answer this question: what story would you most like to share with your parent or child?

I look forward to sharing your answers next week.

Why We’re Afraid of Fearless Girl

 

On Wall Street there’s a bronze statue of a girl who looks about the same age as the sixth graders in the middle school that I teach. She looks pretty fearless as she’s standing up to a raging bronze bull; and she’d better be, it doesn’t take much to see that bull represents men, greed and the lack of women in positions of financial power. The artist, Kristen Visbal, maintains that the statue of a child posed with her fists on her hips represents “the power of women in leadership.” Many feminists who don’t like the statue claim she’s a cheap corporate-centric ploy to hide the real issues like equal pay and reproductive rights (the piece was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors).

Everyone loves the image of empowerment represented by a girl standing up for herself in the ruthless, financial jungle our world has become. But, how would some of us men feel if it were a woman standing there? Pretty intimated, right?

But the problem goes deeper than that for men, women and children.

We aren’t just angry at Fearless Girl. We’re afraid of her, afraid for her. We’re afraid because we know in our hearts her future is imperiled. She doesn’t stand a chance alongside a President who is being mocked as “the pussy-grabber-in-chief”; but also brags his daughter (or is that his wife? Even he often gets them confused) is a model–not just for the latest issue of Maxim–but for longer maternity leave. Will our fearless young women be devoured by the wave of sexism that many attribute to the president’s base? Hillary Clinton recently claimed that she lost the election because of misogyny, that America is threatened by having a woman in the oval office. I don’t believe that a majority of us feel that way. I watch young girls stand up for their rights every day in my classroom.

The real problem isn’t just emanating from the oval office. The truth is, Fearless Girl doesn’t stand a chance against the mixed messages the media sends all young women. We want our daughters to be strong, but don’t we also want them to look gorgeous in revealing bikinis? The media thinks so. And the truth is, we who call ourselves “feminists” don’t even know what that word stands for anymore. The most progressive and intelligent young women I talk to at my school don’t consider themselves feminists, because they think it stands for a woman who doesn’t like men and doesn’t enjoy being herself.

To speak against feminism is to speak against basic human rights. But it’s time for someone to admit that the type of feminism that once worked–or at least, forced people to take notice–has changed. Young women aren’t weaker than they were a generation ago, but they’re a lot more confused about how their voices will be heard. Fearless Girl doesn’t just need a woman mentor, she needs an interpreter who can help separate the truth from the bull. 

Understanding the Hollywood Sexual Assault Meltdown.

Well, it’s official–The “Casting Couch” is on fire and Hollywood’s in an unprecedented meltdown over sexual assaults by movie moguls, actors, writers, and directors. Why now? is the question most astute observers are asking; Babylon has been Babylon from the beginning–the alluring lights of Tinseltown have attracted starry-eyed wannabes before actors could speak on camera much less complain about being sexually abused by those in power.

While there have always been a few strong enough to complain, never have some many come forward and said ENOUGH. What caused the dam to break? Historians often point to a few seminal events that trigger a catastrophe–World War I was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand; The riots in Los Angles in 1992, were triggered with the vicious beating of Rodney King. But, while pivotal movements are often attributed to a single catalyst, it’s rarely that easy to explain. And make no mistake, throughout Hollywood’s long list of excess and indiscretion there is only one event that comes close to the destruction we are now witnessing; that is, the blacklisting of actors, writers, and producers that happened during the search for members of the Communist Party in the 1950’s.

Joe McCarthy, a Senator from Wisconsin was the catalyst to those events we refer to as a Witch Hunt. He was a demagogue; a liar who fanned the flames of foreign aggression with such recklessness that all the historians agreed we’d never see the likes of him again.

That was until Donald Trump. Like it or not we don’t just look to a President for sound economic polices and assurance that we will be protected from threats foreign and domestic. The President casts a long, moral shadow over what we truly believe this country stands for. And like it or not, the POTUS is now being referred to as the PGIC (Pussy-grabber-in-chief). His degrading comments about women are the final straw in a long history of sexual dominance most men struggle with. But please remind yourself as we navigate through the most troubling times since ordinary people turned on each other and were forced to name friends and co-workers as members of the Communist party–Joe McCarthy didn’t create the “Red Scare” that allowed us to blacklist honest citizens. We did.

Donald Trump didn’t create the culture of misogyny and abuse that has been rampant at production studios for years. We did. The only way we can survive the aftermath of sexual abuse against women isn’t just stopping the Donald. The only way we will be free of sexual oppression is by taking a good, hard look in the mirror and facing our own depravity.

Joe McCarthy, U.S. Senator from the state of Wisconsin.

The Celluloid Glass Ceiling: How Patty Jenkins Became Our New Super Heroine

Last weekend, Warner’s Wonder Woman broke a box office record. It’s the first film directed by a woman to crack $100 million at the box office. It also revealed a long suppressed, dirty secret of Hollywood; the celluloid boardroom is just as sexist a the rest of corporate America. And it took a film about a strong woman directed by a strong woman to show us that.

Last year, only 7% of the 250 highest-grossing films were directed by women, according to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University. That number has fallen 2% over the past two decades. Even though women consistently take home directing prizes in prestigious festivals like Sundance for art-house films, they’re largely boxed out of the most lucrative genres.

I don’t think Patty was raised by Amazons or wears body armor (except maybe in the boardroom) but she had to overcome a lot of obstacles to make this film happen, including replacing another director (Michelle Maclaren) to make the first major superheroine movie in over a decade. The last attempts were Catwoman and Elektra: both films were directed by men, got poor reviews, flopped at the box office and convinced studios for several years that female superhero movies just “don’t work.”

Ironically, Patty nailed it by not shying away from Wonder Woman’s (played by Gal Gadot) fragile, “more feminine” side. The film opens with our young heroine, Diana, true to the legend as a girl being raised by women on a remote Greek island. The notion of a young, fearless girl being trained by strong-willed mother figures is a powerful, irresistible trope that has long languished in Hollywood’s overtly sexist “princess mentality.” The notion that a superhero can only recognize her superpower from a male dominated myth, is refreshingly obliterated by the first ten minutes of the film.

When the young Diana finds herself in the middle of World War I, confused and fragile, I marveled at how far we’ve come from the TV cartoon icon of the 1970’s. Diana doesn’t look tough and voluptuous the way Lynda Carter did; she looks tough, and lost. By avoiding all the distracting modern gadgets that fuel modern superhero movies, and placing it in a backdrop of history’s most bloody and pointless war, we see a real woman, who must use more wits than magic to overcome a fear many women have: that their power and drive will undermine a real, romantic relationship.

The casting of Godot was brilliant and is true to form for Jenkins as she’s adept at turning incredibly beautiful women into real human beings (She directed Monster, starring Charlize Theron). Godot isn’t really beautiful until she gets knocked down and punched in the face. Then she becomes the kind of woman who baffles and enthralls her love interest.

For her achievement, Sally Jenkins stands alone, but I don’t think this film could’ve gotten a green light were it not for our begrudging acceptance that gender roles are complex, too complex for your typical “Blockbuster.”

Hollywood, despite all it’s liberal progress needs to realize that sex and gender are still worlds apart and exploring this divide will make future “superhero movies” into films about real women who realize their extraordinary power comes from within.

Srong Girls Press To Start Publishing House For Working Parents

The STRONG GIRLS PRESS blog that will debut can be found at http://www.stephendavidhurley.com I was pleased to be a part of this project that began with a simple question to my students. “What fictional story would you most like to share with your parents? Why?”The books they chose really amazed me and reaffirmed that fiction has the power to open a dialogue on topics that are just too taboo to share in the “real world.” I’d like to ask a favor of all you hard working parents who are reading this. Tonight, when you get home please ask your son or daughter this question: “Could you tell me a young person either living or dead who you really admire?”

Look up that person and share what qualities that your child most admires. While we all love following the Kardashians, our blog is devoted to role models who need to be rediscovered.