Boys cannot just be boys | Windows and Mirrors

What happens when bad behavior does not come with consequences?

On the morning of Nov. 7, more than 100 students lined 228th Avenue Southeast outside of Skyline High School in Sammamish.

They held up signs with sayings such as “Don’t tell me how to dress! Tell them not to rape,” “ISD…How would you like to be kept in class with your rapist?” “Time’s up” and “Horrible day to be a Spartan.”

The students were out to show support for sexual assault survivors. The demonstration was prompted by two former students — a pair of sisters — who filed a lawsuit against the Issaquah School District for allegedly not protecting them from bullying and harassment after one of them reported being raped by two of the school’s star football players.

“I wish that would’ve happened when I was [at Skyline],” said Jane, the former student who reported being sexually assaulted in 2014 and whose name has been changed. “I would’ve loved to have all of that support.”

But what happened to Jane was in a pre-#MeToo and pre-#TimesUp era — a time when sexual assault survivors were much more hesitant to come forward and share their stories. Because back then, it was still OK (well, not OK because it is never OK, but more socially acceptable) to shame and blame the assaulted rather than the assaulter.

Despite the harassment she faced, including comments that she should transfer to a different school, Jane, who was a junior at the time, chose to stay at Skyline through graduation.

“If I left, they could come back,” she said, because part of the protective order against her assailants — who later pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation — stated they could not come within 500 feet of her or her school. In addition, Jane’s sister was also attending Skyline at the time and was bullied and harassed. Jane’s sister eventually transferred to a different school.

Jane added that if she left, it could discourage another girl from coming forward if she were assaulted. She made the conscious decision to endure what she did in the hopes of making things easier for others.

Although the #MeToo movement is in full swing, it is still difficult for survivors to come forward — even those in powerful positions. Imagine the kind of courage it would have taken Jane, a 16-year-old with almost no one to support her, to choose to stay at her school. She was taking a stand and saying #MeToo and #TimesUp before it was a thing, but no one at her school was listening.

Well, they’re listening now.

“We’re ashamed and disgusted with ISD,” said Skyline senior Sasha Burckhardt. “They shouldn’t let rapists stay in school and not protect the victims… we want this to stop.”

Burckhardt attended last week’s student demonstration, holding up a sign that read, “ISD: Talk about rape, don’t hide it.” In addition, he said the school and people should stop being apathetic about rape and sexual assault claims and toward survivors.

The district’s apathy and inaction sent Jane the message that “they didn’t really care,” she said. It was a message that discourages anyone — especially girls and women — from coming forward and sharing their truth. She also saw it as a message to discourage people from standing up for others.

And for the boys, Jane saw it as a message that they could do what they want and get away with it because powerful people will back them up, saying they didn’t do anything wrong.

Ayush Varadhan, a senior at Skyline who was also at last week’s protest with a sign that read “Make ISD Accountable Again,” agreed.

“I know that this is an issue at Skyline and probably every high school in America,” he said. “A lot of the boys’ actions go unchecked because of the whole ‘boys will be boys’ idea…the school should support the victims instead of shaming them.”

Boys will be boys.

It’s a phrase used quite often to excuse bad behavior of boys and men. But what happens when we just let boys be boys? Especially when those boys become men?

“It teaches them that they can just do whatever they want,” said professor Julie Shayne, senior lecturer and faculty coordinator of Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies at the University of Washington Bothell.

Shayne said the subtext beneath the phrase is the idea that this is just the way things are and nothing is going to change it. But, she said, we are not born with pink or blue hats.

The gender norms and gender roles we have come to expect from males and females are not biological. And if we just accept that they are biological, we become complacent.

Shayne said that can lead to the assumption that all men are rapists and all women are potential victims.

Now, I don’t see all men as rapists and I absolutely do not see myself as any sort of victim.

But if at each step, people allow boys to be boys, Shayne said it facilitates a culture of rape and girls and women get blamed for being raped — whether it’s because we’re dressed a certain way, had been drinking or are out at night. It’s “our fault” because we “allowed ourselves to be violated,” she said.

Rape culture is also what leads to hundreds of girls and women being sexually assaulted by a doctor who was revered in the sport of gymnastics. It leads to dozens of women being harassed, abused and mistreated in Hollywood. It leads to a man accused of sexual assault being confirmed to the highest court in the nation. It leads to a young woman being “slut shamed” at her school for coming forward about being raped.

But with #MeToo and #TimesUp, perpetrators and those who protect them or brush aside their bad behavior are starting to face the consequences.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has started the process to strip USA Gymnastics of its title as the sport’s national governing body (something I, as a former gymnast, am conflicted about as I’m glad the organization is being taken to task for its inaction and for putting winning medals above athlete safety, but also saddened because so many people — especially the gymnasts themselves — who did not have anything to do with the sex abuse scandal will be affected by this). The employees at Google, including in Kirkland, held a company-wide walkout earlier this month protesting how the tech giant protected executives accused of sexual misconduct. Executives and other powerful people in any number of industries are losing their jobs.

As human beings, we learn and grow when we face the consequences after we do something wrong. Many times, this prevents us from repeating bad behavior — or at least has us hesitating. But if we let bad behavior slide, or let boys be boys, we don’t give people the opportunity to grow or mature. Which, really, is a disservice to boys and men as well as girls and women. Because how can we expect boys and men to treat girls and women with respect when we don’t really expect them to?