Fiction as Reality: The World in Which We Live

I hosted a Socratic Circle a few years ago in class after reading Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World with Accelerated English 11 students. We were discussing the idea of utopia vs. dystopia, but I should step back a moment for non-educators. A Socratic Circle is a form of discussion for comprehending others’ viewpoints after reading or viewing or even listening to something. The students are to lead the discussion by asking and also answering their own questions in collaborative fashion. The teacher is supposed to monitor and not talk, participate, or redirect. You can imagine how some of these turn out…usually it takes five minutes for someone to even start the conversation, and it is quite difficult not to correct them or make harrowing facial expressions as one does when they hear odd opinions spouted as fact. Well, on this day, the Socratic actually started fine. The kids defined dystopia and pulled examples from the book and then one girl asked the group, “What would your utopia include?” Immediately the quietest boy in class answered, “Rape everyday.” No one said a word. We were stunned. My face, however, exploded in fiery red emotion. The kids looked at me, taking in my social cues, then looked back at him. They kept quiet. And then, I lost it. Socrates would not have been proud of me that day. I broke all the rules, but I just could not figure out how a junior boy would dare to think that rape is perfect for “his” utopian society, or even think that it was something to joke about if that was what he was trying to do. I was baffled. Later I reflected on his why. Why would a kid think that is ok? Why do people, even adults, still make excuses for males today who continue to assault and victimize?

And that’s the issue at hand. We know the story. We’ve heard it how many times? The question should be: what are we going to do about it? One of my students this year, a senior, had an answer. She created an awareness powerpoint and visited classrooms and even held a presentation in the media center. Her research was shocking, especially to many of the seniors who knew they would be headed off to college soon. Things like, “Fraternity members are 300% more likely to commit a rape than any other male student on campus,” really got them thinking. Me too.

Did I want my son joining a fraternity? What about a sport? Sports are similar to groups of frats-I spent a lot of time at the SVSU baseball house, so there’s that. Wouldn’t I raise my son differently than how boys are objectifying women today, or is it too imbedded in our culture, our media, our film, and music? That it’s ok to catcall and whistle at that lady in a short dress or high heels. Well, it wasn’t ok for Emmit Till. But that’s because he was a minority-on all accounts, right? Apparently it’s always ok for entitled white males with money and prestige. You see, this isn’t a female issue; it is a problem among men who desire power who have not been taught that women are equal beings. It’s an issue of assault and struggle and pain. We keep lambasting our girls about tempting men with tank tops and short shorts, but how about we do something in terms of teaching young men appropriate discourse? Manners? The difference between a drunk murmur and consent? Perspective.

A close male friend of mine informed me that he is beginning to understand the female perspective by listening to Anna Kasparian discuss issues on an indie news station, The Young Turks. He is in his late forties. He is from an average midwestern American home. But he didn’t realize how soceity has shaped his unequal perception of women until he heard it from a news anchor. Think on that a moment.

My worried eleven year old shouldn’t have to take an additional pair of Bermuda shorts to school just in case her shorts are deemed too short by a teacher or principal. It is her body-her rules, but society keeps telling our women otherwise by continuously allowing men who have prestige and power to dominate women, and now our school-aged children fear the wrath of male scrutiny about their bodies.

What are college campuses telling our young men? And women? I just finished reading a book of fiction called The Last Good Girl by Allison Leotta, a former federal prosecutor who specialized in domestic violence, sex crimes, and crimes against children. I recommend it to everyone. It follows the “story” of a college freshman heading to her first on campus party, set in what feels like Ann Arbor, MI. The story is the one we all know too well, but what the author delves into is the legal aspects of the case. Perhaps what we all should be researching more of… Why entitlement is so rampant in the system and why so many young white males get away with assaulting and raping young women just like the recent story of the Stanford swimmer. Now while I know The Last Good Girl is fiction, research and statistics are scattered throughout the text allowing the reader an escape into a story, but reminding them of the truth: it happens daily on every college campus and we are not doing enough about it. In fact, even in the title, it begs women to think differently. Is being a “good” girl according to societal standards really worth it?

1 in 5 women heading to college this fall will be assaulted. That means 12 of my female seniors who just graduated will face this tragic moment that redefines their lives and identities in the next few months, probably during “Red Week” which is the week right before classes begin, commonly known as Orientation. Please arm your soon to be freshmen or friends’ kids with knowledge and safety precautions. Allow them to speak on this matter. Encourage them to use their voices.

I urge you to further your research and use your voice. Too many female voices are silenced each day due to humility, shame, fear, and frustration. We need to talk about this in an honest way with every gender and at all levels of socioeconomic status.

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