Speak Your Mind: What boys need to be taught

(Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

Maybe if we teach 13-year-old boys to act like adults, then we won’t have adults acting like 13-year-old boys.

The first time a teacher ever noticed my clothes was in ninth grade. It was a 30-degree day in September. The heat was unbearable. In my best efforts to stay cool, I was wearing a tank top. Unfortunately, my bra strap was showing. To make the class a less “distractive learning environment,” I was sent to the lost and found to find a sweater to cover myself up.

That was the first time I ever felt sexualized. I was 13-years-old. I was still a child.

Girls and young women are being told we finally have gender equality. But school dress codes are just one example of how far away we are from true equality. Dress codes teach girls they’re a distraction to boy’s learning environments. And every time a girl is sent home, kicked out of class and punished for their outfit, they are taught their right to a distraction-free learning environment is not as important as their male peers’.

Why do we still need to have this conversation? Because this is still an issue affecting women all over the globe.

Remember when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his 50 per cent female cabinet by saying, “Because it’s 2015.” But 2017 was the year of sexual harassment. If you’ve been reading the news, you’ll realize women aren’t celebrating equality. They’re standing up against sexual harassment and assault.

Harvey Weinstein is a prominent film producer. He’s also been accused by more than 80 women of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.

James Toback, a director and screenwriter, has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by more than 310 women.

Comedian Louis C.K. thought it was O.K. to masturbate in front of young female comedians who looked up to him.

United States Senate candidate Roy Moore cruised malls for teenagers and brought home a 14-year-old to undress and assault.

Today Show host Matt Lauer thought it was O.K. to explain to female colleagues what he would like to do to them with sex toys and had a button at his desk to lock the door when he decided to take things further.

And what about President Donald Trump? We’ve heard his locker room talk, and from the 16 women who accuse him of sexual harassment or assault.

And many more of these incidents go unreported and unnoticed.

In all these cases, men took advantage of their power. Some of these men have made public apologies for their actions, but, at that point, it’s too late and the damage has already been done. While the behaviour is inexcusable, it’s behaviour they’ve been taught their whole lives is acceptable. The solution isn’t hoping to correct grown men’s behaviour after they’ve already committed sexual harassment or assault.

The solution goes back to my ninth grade classroom.

If we really want to end the sexualization of women, harassment and assault, we need to teach men these lessons long before they become problems. Young boys should be taught girls are more than just a distraction in the classroom. Boys need to learn that a woman’s appearance is not, and should not, be responsible for their behaviour.

So what should be taught in sex education class? I talked to some young women at St. Thomas University and this is the curriculum we came up with:

Boys should be taught consent is not merely the absence of the word no.

Boys should be taught girls are allowed to turn down dates without having to give an excuse.

Boys should be taught just because they buy a girl a drink at a bar doesn’t mean she owes him.

Boys should be taught to look a girl in the eye when they’re talking to them.

Boys should be taught it is never O.K. to touch, grope or harass a girl for any reason.

And boys should be taught that teasing, chasing and pulling hair on the playground is not an appropriate way to show affection.

That’s just the start of what can be taught.

I think back to that day when I was treated as a distraction and I believe it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. We need to learn from this #MeToo movement. But if anything is going to change, it has to start at home and in the classroom.

Speak Your Mind features speeches written by communications and public policy students.