Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

Silence for Dialogue

Today, schools all across South Africa held assemblies for students and teachers alike to pledge to stop rape.  Furthermore, students were instructed not to speak for the entire school day to represent the silence that rape victims often feel imposed on them.

I don’t know how I feel about this.  It reminds me of anti-bullying assemblies that I went to as a child.  Did those assemblies decrease bullying?  It sure didn’t feel like it.

(Side note: Shane Koyczan on bullying = one beautiful video

Not that I’m advocating against assemblies.  I simply don’t think they’re enough: assemblies attempt to solve society problems at a mass magnitude.  In theory, that’s the most efficient approach, right?

Only if it works.

I agree that it’s important to introduce these topics to kids.  But it’s also hard to engage children about controversial issues.

When I was a kid, one of my biggest confusions in life was about the character Slater in the TV show “Saved by the Bell.”  Maybe this proves that I had the easiest childhood of all time, but I think it also illustrates how children think.  Was Slater a “good guy” or a “bad guy”?  Was he Zach’s friend or not?

Kind of like Reggie in Archie comics, he oscillated between being a buddy and an arrogant antagonist.

I didn’t like that.  I wanted life to be black and white, because that’s how I thought it should be.  Maybe I watched too many Disney movies (why wasn’t I born a mermaid?), but I think most kids’ minds simplify concepts to make the world a little more understandable.

(I also think a lot of kids never learn to comprehend complexity and hence grow into close-minded adults, which explains the American Republican party – but that’s another topic.  Ok, ok, that was unfair: lots of Democrats are bigoted as well.)

The problem with assemblies and speeches is that they tend to paint rapists as monsters: they isolate “them” from “us.”  I also bet a million dollars (Canadian dollars, not Rand.  That’s how serious I am!) that most of today’s assemblies were conducted in a condemning tone.  I don’t think that blaming the male population – and further disheartening boys who may already be dealing with issues that make them more likely to act out through violence – will lead to any real solutions. 

When I was in middle school, we had a sex education class in which we were asked to brainstorm all the reasons people have sex:
“Pressured by her boyfriend.”
“To prove something to her friends.”
“Low self-esteem.”

Eventually one of the boys finally asked, “Don’t girls ever pressure boys into sex?  I saw a show where a girl slept with a boy as a ‘rebound’ and he was really sad and hurt afterwards.”

All the girls in the room turned to glare at him.  We “knew” that men were the villains in any sort of sex situation – why was this kid trying to make the story unnecessarily complicated?

I think it’s also telling that we all assumed that sex was bad.  The woman leading the session finally asked, “What about love?  Sex is one of the most powerful ways for lovers to express themselves.”  At 12-years-old, we were dumbfounded by this idea.  We’d watched movies and read books: we already knew that sex was about power, not love.

We’d also been taught to be slightly hostile towards the other gender.  People assume that it’s normal for little girls and little boys not to like each other, but I think it’s a cultural phenomenon.

I hope South Africa’s school assemblies are a step in the right direction.  I think they’ll only be beneficial if they create a rape dialogue that addresses deep rooted gender issues. On the other hand, if they further divide girls and boys, then I think they will unfortunately be a step backwards in the wrong direction.


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2 thoughts on “Silence for Dialogue

  1. I fully agree with some of your sentiments… dedicating a single assembly with a solidarity message is not going to change much if a dialogue is not encouraged; or at least a platform created for further interaction. More needs to be done, however with that said the issues of rape and gender based violence in our country is so publicized that it adds to over sensitizing people to the real issues; and as you have also so rightly pointed out pushes that gender divide, as majority of the campaigns portray girls/woman as the victims and boys/men as the perpetrators.

    I really enjoyed reading your post and I think this topic is controversial; but you have raised some great points that may just have encouraged the start to the kind of dialogue needed to begin addressing the real issues of rape and other gender based violence.

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