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Sifting through the countless articles, journals, and books about the topic of rape culture, there are two major stances that people tend to take: either it exists or it doesn’t. Not a lot of these sources have directly touched on what angle I will be using them towards, about secondary education dress code perpetuating rape culture and patriarchy, however, I selected my sources very carefully since material written on rape culture is not all that hard to come by. I selected sources that both went towards and against my argument because of the importance of showcasing my knowledge of the counterargument and what other people have already said. I chose sources that range from full support of my thesis to denial of the existence of the platform that my thesis is based upon. I have also chosen sources that will help me to define certain terms of my research so that my readers and I are on the same page. That being said, I have organized my sources in the order that I will most likely be using them in my essay. Those sources that I am using to define certain terms will go first. After that I will acknowledge my counterargument to get it out of the way to move onto arguing my actual thesis and those sources will come last. Regardless of which source I am talking about, they all acknowledge that there is a cultural framework out there regarding the sexualization of women and it is affecting everyone in a negative way.
Before readers can really step into my piece, there is a little bit of framework that I must do. To completely understand why gender is an essential part to my piece, I must explain first why everything that we do or say is gendered, whether or not we know it. To show the framework of gender, I have chosen a piece called Framed Before We Know It: How Gender Shapes Social Relations by Cecelia L. Ridgeway, a Social Sciences professor at Stanford with her Ph.D. in Sociology from Cornell. Ridgeway talks about gender being a cultural frame that is a way we have categorized humans for centuries. She says that we don’t consciously mean to frame people, but we do. This will allow me to talk about how we might not see how our dress codes are sexist and what type of implications that they have, but that they are sexist and harmful nevertheless. Ridgeway talks about our framing of gender being at macro-level when we implement them into our structure and our institutions, which is exactly what we do when we enforce our sexist school dress codes.
Another thing that my readers might have formed preconceived notions on is what the normalization of rape culture is, which could allow them to misinterpret my piece, I am going to define it for them. I will be setting the lens for my paper from Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Abuse and Harassment by Heather R. Hlavka. Hlavka has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Minnesota and is a professor at Marquette University. She has 9 publications, the majority of them having to do with sexual violence, along with many other contributions and manuscripts. In her piece Normalizing Sexual Violence: Young Women Account for Abuse and Harassment, she talks about how essential young womanhood is and the implications that several violent, abnormal things young people are taught to be normal have. Hlavka uses the word normalization to talk about this process. A lot of her work ties into Ridgeway’s work, just with different vernacular. In a way, the process of normalization that Hlavka talks about is allowed because of the cultural frameworks we have set that Ridgeway talks about. Hlavka notes how normalization leads to unreporting of crimes and victim blaming. She says at one point, about the females in her sample, that, “Young women overwhelmingly depicted boys and men as natural sexual aggressors, pointing to one of the main tenets of compulsory heterosexuality. Incorporating male sexual drive discourse, they described men as unable to control their sexual desires” (Hlavka 344) which really helps to paint a picture of what normalization is. I will use Figure A to explain the different levels of rape culture: Victimization, Degradation, Removal of Autonomy, and Explicit Violence. By showing Figure A, I am able to explain that if any one of those things on that pyramid seem “normal” to you, maybe rape jokes or cat calls, that is the epitome of normalization.
Though Hlavka talks a lot about how we ingrain objectification into young female minds, my piece is not just about how we teach women not to get raped, it is also about how we teach boys to rape. I’m using a chapter from The Sexualization of Childhood edited by Sharna Olfman called Pornography, Lad Mags, Video Games, and Boys: Reviving the Canary in the Cultural Coal Mine by Matthew B. Ezzell. In this chapter, Ezzell points out all of the ways that we normalize raping for young men. Ezzell talks about how oversexualized females are in things that boys come across every single day. The earliest thing he mentions is video games and comics where women have hypersexualized bodies. He talks about how the violence in these video games towards these hypersexualized women encourage a type of violence towards women in the minds of our young boys which translates to abusive and aggressive sexual tendencies. He then talks about lad mags, (e.g. Maxim, GQ, etc.) where some terms and phrases in those magazines sound like they could come straight out of a rapist’s mouth and how we allow young men to read these magazines and think these phrases and terms are normal. Lastly he talks about the violence against women in pornography. With the lack of sex education in schools, a lot of pubescent boys find their versions of normal sex from things like pornography. But with violence against women being so popular in porn, it perpetuates the idea that men can abuse women sexually.
Someone who would truly deny that things like porn and lad mags would have anything to do with rape would be the writer of Are school dress codes sexist and oppressive?, Margaret Wente. Wente is a well-known columnist for Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. One of the things that Wente is known for is her complete denial of the existence of rape culture and her alternative reference to it as “the war on men”. Though she would not argue that young women are the ones being negatively affected by the sexualization of women, she would argue that the image of women and people in power are being affected by somewhat of a whinier, more emotional generation of females. In this article, she starts out talking about about how being a principal nowadays is difficult because people always have something to complain about, which she now believes is the “war on men”. Wente talks about how young women are just fighting for their 15 minutes of fame when they take to social media about their issues with things like school dress code and slut shaming because they “won’t be able to dress like that in the work world”. She says that social media is allowing the new face of women’s rights to be young, skimpy girls. Wente uses strong and aggressive vernacular to get her points across, such as skank and hooker when referring to younger female students.She uses a more shameful tone towards the young women to exude some sort of guilty feeling in them. I feel like through using this type of language, she does lose a bit of credibility. She should be able to express her concerns with middle school girls without verbally attacking them, however, this type of aggression, especially towards any type of feminist movement, is what makes Wente and her work known.
Luckily, not everyone is on Wente’s side. I was able to find several articles and journals to help support my claims. The one that I am going to explain here is a piece by Laura Bates called How School Dress Codes Shame Girls and Perpetuate Rape Culture. Bates is a British feminist writer for Time Magazine. In this piece, Bates gets very close to hitting on my exact thesis. She talks about how the messages that we teach young people through our school dress codes are infinitely damaging. Bates claims that some of our most powerful lessons that we carry with us forever are taught at school and that if we teach young girls that they are a distracting we are damaging all young minds. Bates’ piece goes along with what Hlavka was saying about normalization. Bates says that by ingraining words like “distraction” into younger minds we undermine the importance of a woman’s education in comparison to a man’s education and we tell her it is her responsibility to hide from predators instead of trying to eliminate the predators in the early stages of education. This will be a great source to show the popular points in the battle against dress code. Bates creates a very basic platform that will allow my readers to easily follow. She represents a lot of claims made by the anti-dress code community and will be a great “for dummies” base to ease my readers into my platform which involves heteronormativity and patriarchy and several other concepts that can be tough to understand. Using Bates’ piece will allow me to set my readers up on a platform they feel comfortable on before throwing some curve balls at them.
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