Messages Around Gender and Victim Blaming

Summary:  In this lesson students will discuss some of the problematic attitudes about sex that surround them in the media and general culture.  Once they have identified some of those attitudes, they will discuss the reading for that day about what psychologists call the Just World Bias that is one of the reasons humans to blame other people for the bad things that happen to them. This allows victim blaming to be explicitly discussed before student enter into the rest of the material.  To close the lesson, students will look at a comment on social media that blames a victim of sexual assault. Students will discuss this comment and its implications for survivors and other audiences.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Students identify some of the troubling messages about sex and sexual assault that they see in the media around them.
  2. Students will identify victim blaming comments and discuss what victim blaming is.
  3. Students will continue to hone their rhetorical analysis skills by considering the differences between intended audiences and unintended audiences.

Teaching Materials:

  1. Discussion questions and social media comment printed or projected
  2. “A Letter to Survivors” printed or online for students to read at home

Student Assignments:

  1. Due: “Monstrous Cruelty of a Just World” reading
  2. Due: Rhetoric of College Life short writing assignment
  3. Assign for next lesson: “A Letter to Survivors” reading

Notes from Previous Users: If you want, you can do the assigned short writing assignment as a freewrite at the beginning of class.  However, because I use this as our first lesson plan dealing with rape culture and gender, I like to have students turn it in the night before our class meeting so I have a sense of what opinions and ideas will already be in the room before I walk in.  – Annie

Outline for Class Activity

  • Small Group Discussion (5 min): Divide students into groups of three or four and tell them that they should assign roles in their group: one person to write down their responses, one person to keep an eye on the time to make sure they answer both questions, and one person to ask questions like “how” or “why” in order to move the conversation forward.  That person should ask their group mates to clarify vague statements or give more explanation. Project the meme so that students can refer to different elements of it in their discussions
    1. Discuss your responses that you wrote about this College Life meme.  What is this meme saying (or not saying)? What messages does it send about sex, gender, and what men and women want?  
    2. Do you agree with those messages?  What connections do you see between these messages and sexual assault?  Even not related to sexual assault, how might these assumptions make achieving a healthy relationship difficult?
    3. Remember that most rhetoric has an intended audience (the group the argument was made for, like children for children’s books) and an unintended audience (people outside that group who are still experience the argument, like the parents who read the books to their children). Who is the intended audience for this meme?  How do you know? What different effects might this meme have for those different audiences?
  • Large Group Discussion (10-15 min): Hear the responses from each group.  Lead the class towards the following ideas:
    1. The meme implies that men don’t care about women’s companionship; they only care about women’s bodies and the possibility of having sex with them.  Conversely it implies that women resist having sex and care more about companionship. These messages not only disregard the fact that women have a range of sexual desires and preferences, but also disregard the fact that some men may wish to refrain from sex.  In this way the meme limits who men and women can be, what they want, and how they are perceived.
    2. The meme also displays entitlement: we bought expensive gas and thus we deserve sex.  This reduces sexual partners (in this case women) to objects whose bodies can be bought.
    3. The meme stereotypes men and women, and makes it okay for men to care only about sex and women only about companionship.  When it is assumed men only want sex and women never do, it follows that men would think they always have to coerce a woman into having sex.  By implying that men “deserve” to have sex with women, it shows a disregard for what women want (including women’s desire for sex if/when they want it).
    4. The meme’s intended audience is probably straight, cis-gendered men, because it refers to women in the third person and implies heterosexual relationships with the image.  While some people in that group might find it funny, others (particularly survivors) might find it troubling.
    5. Point out to students how these assumptions might make a healthy sex life difficult.
  • Small Group Discussions (10 min): Ask students to turn to the article they read for that day “The Monstrous Cruelty of A Just World”.  Note: these questions are designed to get students to engage with the article and instructors are encouraged to adapt the questions based on current topics or modes of analysis in their classes.

How would you describe the intended audience for this article?  How do you know? Would you include yourself in that intended audience?  

    1. As an intended or unintended audience member, are you convinced by this article?  What arguments or pieces of evidence do you find most convincing and why? Where do you find yourself resisting the article or not believing it? Why do you think that is?
    2. What connections do you see between this article and the messages portrayed in the meme?  

After students have spent some time working, introduce the following comment, that was posted on social media in response to a sexual assault case in which a 12-year-old girl was assaulted by an older acquaintance.

“This is awful.  It’s too bad she met with the boy at his home.  Something she never should have done.  A 12 year old girl shouldn’t be associating with a 16 year old teenage boy.  Some girls are advanced at this age and she could have known what he wanted her to do when he invited her to his home.  No doubt she didn’t expect his friends to be there.  I hope she is okay and learns from this bad experience.”

Ask students to continue by answering the questions below.

    1. What are some of the unintended messages of this comment?  According to this comment, who is responsible for the sexual assault?
    2. Consider the various groups that fall into intended and unintended audiences of this comment.  What effects might this comment have on the parents or friends of the survivor? On other survivors?  On the friends and parents of the assailant? On other assailants?
  • Large Group Discussion (15 – 20 min): Work through the questions with students recording their ideas on the board or on a WordDoc (creating a continuous list from the meme).  Ideas to lead them towards include:
    1. The article documents a psychological phenomenon that causes us to blame people for bringing on the bad things that happen to them.  This can lead to blaming sexual assault on the victims that can cause more psychological harm and isolation.
    2. If conversation is going well, you might invite the class to consider if they’ve heard other instances of people blaming bad things on those they happen to, whether sexual assault survivors or others.  How common do they perceive it to be? What are the broad effects this has for disadvantaged groups?
  • Wrap Up (5 min): Assign homework for the next lesson and discuss with students how this (all the messages they have found within the meme and the comment) is some of the rhetoric out there about sexual assault.  For the next assignment they will spend some time reading rhetoric created by survivors themselves in order to better understand what sexual assault is and how it affects people.

In the next lesson, we will continue to look at some of the rhetoric surrounding sexual assault.  We will look at some rhetoric surrounding gender that affects us and our relationships, but we will also consider the rhetoric of survivors and what they want people to think.  We are looking at all these different messages so that we can start answering the question: What do we think about sex and sexual assault? What do we think once we know what the rhetoric around us is saying?  To do that, we’re going to read an article for next week. It is a letter that one survivor wrote to her fellow survivors in the world. For those of us who don’t already have close experience with something like this in our lives, it will be a good start to understanding the people around us who have lived through sexual assault.  As you read I want you to think about one question that may seem obvious at first: why is sexual assault bad? We all know it’s terrible, but in the words of this survivor, what exactly makes it so terrible? So many leaders in universities and governments talk about “sexual assault prevention”? But what do they really mean when they say that?  What exactly are we trying to prevent?

Have you used this lesson plan?  How did it go?  Leave a comment with suggestions and we’ll incorporate them or add them to our “Notes from Previous Users” section.