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.

Classroom Resources

What is Sexual Assault?

When the Rapist Doesn’t See it as Rape

This article discusses a study in which college men admitted to having sex with someone who didn’t want to.  It debunks misperceptions about sexual assault: that it is perpetrated by strangers or that sexual assault involving alcohol is just a “misunderstanding” or something the survivor “regretted.” NOTE: SOME GRAPHIC MATERIAL

Rape Myths

These are responses to common myths about rape.  They are put together by a nonprofit in the United Kingdom, but they also apply to the United States and sexual assault.

University of Iowa Sexual Misconduct Policy

This page details the university’s policy in sexual misconduct cases involving students.  The page gives definitions of the different types of sexual misconduct, the rights of alleged assailants and survivors, and details the process of making a complaint.

Iowa Laws – Sexual Assault

This is the section of Iowa law that details sexual assault, sexual abuse, and voyeurism, among others.

What is Consent?

Consent Ed

This website provides useful information about what consent is, common myths about sexual assault and consent, sexual assault, rape culture and taking action.

Consent & Alcohol

The Missing Key to Fighting Sexual Assault on Campus

This article is a good primer in the current debate surrounding alcohol and consent in laws and university policies.

The Steubenville Rape Case – Rape Case Unfolds on Web and Splits City

This article records the events surrounding a sexual assault in Steubenville, OH.  Two high school boys assaulted a high school girl who was incapacitated by alcohol.  The article does a good job of showing sexual assault in context: the reactions of the police, townspeople, assailants, survivor and her family. NOTE: SOME GRAPHIC MATERIAL

Who Are You? (Note: some graphic material)

This video a group of actors show the possible events leading up to an alcohol-facilitated sexual assault. The video also points at the different moments in the evening when I bystander could have prevented the assault.

Survivor Accounts

We’re Called Survivors Because We’re Still Here

This is a letter to survivors of sexual assault that seeks to give advice and emotional support.  For those who have not experienced sexual assault, it provides a good window into the thoughts and feelings of one survivor.

Dear Harvard – You Win

This letter originally posted in the Harvard Crimson (school newspaper) details one woman’s battle to have her institution punish her assailant.  It also details the impact of the assault on her emotional, social and academic life.

What Many Men Don’t Understand about Sexual Assault

In this article, a young man who was sexually assaulted while traveling abroad details what he learned about the assumptions and misperceptions that many people have about sexual assault.

MaleSurvivor

A nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness about sexual abuse against men and boys.  They provide information about the issue as well as resources for survivors.

Sexual Assault in the Military

This article discusses the issue of sexual assault within the military and shows a spotlight of how male victims of sexual assault are systematically silenced. On a rhetorical level, the many quotes included from interviews with survivors, psychologists and military personell provides a window into how we talk about sexual assault. NOTE: GRAPHIC MATERIAL

Voices of Courage

Link to a free E-book or audiobook in which survivors tell their stories of assault, recovery and growth.

Sexual Assault & Gender

Sexual Assault in the Transgender Community

According to recent statistics, one in two transgender individuals will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, making them one of the communities most vulnerable to sexual assault in the country.  That vulnerability and the misconceptions many people have about transgender people means that trans survivors often do not get the support that they need.  This website is a good primer on transgender issues and how to best support a transgender survivors.

Rape and the Gatekeeper Narrative

This article in the Harvard Crimson does a good job how the gatekeeper myth (that men always want sex and women are the one that decide whether or not they have it) leads to unhealthy attitudes about sex and sexual assault.

Miss Representation

This is a documentary that explores how women are affected by the rhetorical portrayals of female characters and figures in the media and popular culture.  It addresses these issues in relation to sexual assault, eating disorders, pay inequity and other issues.

How Movies Teach Manhood

This TEDTalk by Colin Stokes (embedded below) discusses the stories marketed to boys and girls, and how those stories affect the way we envision our lives and perceive the world.  He argues that exposing children to different stories is an important part of educating children and can help shape their later behavior for the better.

Men Can Stop Rape

Website of an organization that seeking a new response to sexual violence.  The creators of Men Can Stop Rape realized that while most sexual violence is perpetrated by men, most prevention efforts are targeted at women.  Men Can Stop Rape tries to share some of the burden of violence prevention, while also teaching men that being manly doesn’t mean being violent.

The Everyday Sexism Project

Creator Laura Bates discusses how she came to form the Everyday Sexism Project in response to the casual sexism (including assaults) that has become “normal” in British and American culture.  She also discusses the backlash she experienced when she tried to bring this sexism to the attention of others and the strength she found in sharing her stories and the stories of other women.  The Everyday Sexism Project is a source of solidarity and a way for people to share their strategies for combating sexism.

What is Rape Culture?

What is Rape Culture

This is a smart and well written primer on what rape culture is and how it functions in our communities.

Rape Culture Is a Contract We Never Actually Signed

This blog post discusses the ways that rape culture keeps people from having healthy, happy sex lives even when they don’t experience rape or sexual assault.

Teaching Materials

The Campus Culture Project offers two trajectories of lessons or short, in-class activities that prompt students to think about sexual assault and the cultural narratives that surround it. The lessons are specific enough to teach sexual assault prevention in a focused, meaningful way, while flexible enough to be incorporated into many different course schedules.

See the two tracks of curriculum materials at the links below. Each track contains 9 lessons.

CCP 2 – Lesson Plan & Overview

Below you will find an overview of the three units and  nine individual lesson plans for Series II of the Campus Culture Project. The full plan, complete with instructions, assignment prompts, and more, can be downloaded by clicking the link below.

Lesson Plan: CampusCultureOverview2

Unit 1 – Confronting the Rhetorics of Rape Culture (What is Sexual Assault?)

Lesson 1 – Rhetoric in our Campus Community: Instructors introduce the Campus Culture Project and students discuss the role that rhetoric plays in influencing their college expectations

Lesson 2: Rhetoric Surrounding Sexual Assault: Rape Culture
In this lesson students will be introduced to the emergent cultural conversations centered on so-called “rape culture” in order to situate the Campus Culture Project within this larger dialogue.

Lesson 3: Redefining Sexual Assault
Students confront their assumptions about sexual assault through considering how it impacts people of different genders (“it’s not just a woman’s issue”). They leave with a definition of sexual assault that brings together everything from the unit.

Unit 2 – Communication, Consent, and Community (What is Consent?)

Lesson 4:  Gender Norms, Power & Rape Culture
Today, students will be focusing on the issue of hegemonic masculinity (and femininity), and how such gender norms help to produce a rape culture. They will strive to articulate how such norms are culturally embedded in and learned from the rhetorics that surround them, and how we might re-think these norms in order to dismantle rape culture.

Lesson 5: False Accusations & Victim Blaming
This lesson introduces students to two of the dominant myths endemic of rape culture. These issues further center the relation between power and sexual assault, and thus allow for a more in depth discussion about empowerment and consent.

Lesson 6: Consent & Alcohol
Students discuss the relationship of alcohol and consent while considering current laws and debates. They will continue to craft their definition of consent, and building toward a safer and more supportive campus community.

 

Unit 3 – Commitment to Campus Culture

Lesson 7: Our Campus & Others
Students consider the actions that other campuses are taking to combat rape culture and sexual assault on their campuses. Students consider emerging laws and policies that are targeting sexual assault (e.g. Yes Means Yes Campaign in California).  

Lesson 8: Bystander Intervention Training
The Women’s Resource & Action Center and the Rape Victims Advocacy Center leads Bystander Intervention Training for participating sections to give students strategies for preventing sexual assault.

Lesson 9: Changing Campus Culture
Students will brainstorm ways to change campus culture with regard to sexual assault and make a commitment to do so.

Teaching Materials – Series II (Rape Culture)

Here you will find all of the teaching materials for Series 2 of the Campus Culture Project (CCP). This lesson is designed to instruct students to understand the rhetoric about sex and sexual assault around them, and puts the CCP into conversation with larger cultural dialogues about “rape culture” in the United States. It focuses on the relation between sexual assault and power, and guides students through ideas pertaining to gender and sexuality, cultural myths about sex and sexual assault, and more. It is ideal for students who may have more experience or knowledge with discourses of sex and sexual assault, and who are more prepared to take on more complicated and confrontational issues pertaining to these issues. View the full lesson plans, complete with instructions and assignment prompts by clicking the link below.

Full Lesson Plans: Campus Culture Overview 2
Media packet for identifying messages: Media Packet     
Unit 1 – Confronting the Rhetorics of Rape Culture (What is Sexual Assault?)

Lesson 1 – Rhetoric in our Campus Community: Instructors introduce the Campus
Culture Project and students discuss the role that rhetoric plays in influencing their college expectations

Lesson 2: Rhetoric Surrounding Sexual Assault: Rape Culture
In this lesson students will be introduced to the emergent cultural conversations centered on so-called “rape culture” in order to situate the Campus Culture Project within this larger dialogue.

Lesson 3: Redefining Sexual Assault
Students confront their assumptions about sexual assault through considering how it impacts people of different genders (“it’s not just a woman’s issue”). They leave with a definition of sexual assault that brings together everything from the unit.

Unit 2 – Communication, Consent, and Community (What is Consent?)

Lesson 4:  Gender Norms, Power & Rape Culture
Today, students will be focusing on the issue of hegemonic masculinity (and femininity), and how such gender norms help to produce a rape culture. They will strive to articulate how such norms are culturally embedded in and learned from the rhetorics that surround them, and how we might re-think these norms in order to dismantle rape culture.

Lesson 5: False Accusations & Victim Blaming
This lesson introduces students to two of the dominant myths endemic of rape culture. These issues further center the relation between power and sexual assault, and thus allow for a more in depth discussion about empowerment and consent.

Lesson 6: Consent & Alcohol
Students discuss the relationship of alcohol and consent while considering current laws and debates. They will continue to craft their definition of consent, and building toward a safer and more supportive campus community.

Unit 3 – Commitment to Campus Culture

Lesson 7: Our Campus & Others
Students consider the actions that other campuses are taking to combat rape culture and sexual assault on their campuses. Students consider emerging laws and policies that are targeting sexual assault (e.g. Yes Means Yes Campaign in California).  

Lesson 8: Bystander Intervention Training
The Women’s Resource & Action Center and the Rape Victims Advocacy Center leads Bystander Intervention Training for participating sections to give students strategies for preventing sexual assault.

Lesson 9: Changing Campus Culture
Students will brainstorm ways to change campus culture with regard to sexual assault and make a commitment to do so.

Teaching Materials – Series I (Gender & Sexuality)

Here you will find all the materials (lesson plans, handouts, assignment sheets, readings) for Series I of the Campus Culture Project. Series I focuses on gender and sexuality, and walks students slowly step by step, through distinct issues of sexual assault awareness. This series is ideal for instructors interested in gender issues or those who feel their students have less previous knowledge of the issue.

Full Lesson Plans: Series I Lessons Plans
Unit 1: What is Sexual Assault? 

Lesson 1 – Rhetoric of College Life
Instructors introduce the Campus Culture Project and students discuss the role that rhetoric plays in influencing their college expectations.

Lesson 2 – Rhetoric Around Sexual Assault
Students consider how rhetoric shapes their attitudes about sex, sexual assault, and its survivors.

Lesson 3 – Redefining Sexual Assault
After gaining awareness of the prevalent messages around sexual assault, students turn to the rhetoric made by victims to redefine what sexual assault is.

Unit 2: What is Consent? 

Lesson 4 – Defining Consent
Students begin drafting a set of guidelines for relationships and consent that they would like members of their campus community to follow in order to keep everyone safe.

Lesson 5 – Consent and Alcohol
Students discuss the relationship of alcohol and consent while considering current laws and debates.

Lesson 6 – Our Guidelines in the Media
With their class guidelines finished, students research a series of pop culture images to see how their guidelines compare to societal norms.
Media packet for identifying messages within media: Media Packet

Unit 3: Commitment to Campus Culture

Lesson 7 – Our Campus and Others
Students compare their guidelines to the university code of conduct and to state laws to better understand why sexual assault remains so prevalent.

Lesson 8 – Bystander Intervention Training
The Women’s Resource & Action Center and the Rape Victims Advocacy Center lead Bystander Intervention Training for participating sections to give students strategies for preventing sexual assault.

Lesson 9 – Changing Campus Culture 
Students will brainstorm ways to change campus culture with regard to sexual assault and make a commitment to do so.