How Comprehensive Sex Ed Can Address Violence Against Women
Originally Published: October 6, 2014
Revised: December 11, 2018
On May 23, 2014, six people were killed and 13 people were injured after a killing spree in Isla Vista, California. The killing spree started in an apartment building and then spread to other locations, which included a sorority house, a delicatessen and finally, the streets of Isla Vista. Shortly before the attack on the sorority house, the perpetrator, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, uploaded a video, explaining why he was doing this. He also sent a manifesto to a few people close to him, including his therapist and his parents. In this lengthy autobiographical manifesto, he chronicled his history of hatred towards women and the events which he says incited his murderous rampage. He believed he was wronged by women for their refusal to date him, and in his recordings, Rodger claimed he was going to kill these people as an act of retribution and revenge.
This extreme violence against women is one of the most destructive consequences of misogyny, which is defined as the hatred of women. What’s almost as shocking as Rodger’s attack is that there are people—some of whom identify with the Men’s Rights Movement—who sympathize with him and defend his acts of violence. These men believe this tragedy could have been avoided if women had not rejected Rodger. According to this logic, it’s the women’s fault Rodger went on this killing spree. This sort of victim-blaming allows tragedies like this to happen. I believe one way we can address violence against women, and stop blaming women for it, is by teaching comprehensive sexuality education.
An important part of sexuality education is understanding how other people feel and not just focusing on one’s own desires.
Learning About Healthy Relationships
What does comprehensive sexuality education have to do with addressing violence against women? Well, it emphasizes the importance of communication, consent and equality in healthy relationships. Learning about healthy relationships and what consent is means relationships are seen as partnerships, not situations where one person—usually the girl—“owes” sex to the guy. This is something Rodger, who was very troubled, did not understand. In his writings and his video, he claimed that women were the root cause for his misery and only they can take responsibility for fixing it. Rodger believed women “owed” him something and that they only exist to pleasure men sexually. This means that for some men women aren’t seen as people in their own right. This type of thinking is sexist, misogynistic and dangerous.
Comprehensive sexuality education provides an opportunity for people to learn that sex isn’t just about one person’s sexual gratification. Healthy relationships are about two people. Some men only look out for their own sexual gratification. When they can’t get it, they feel angry, but that doesn’t excuse hateful, violent actions. An important part of sexuality education is understanding how other people feel and not just focusing on one’s own desires. Sex isn’t just about what one person wants; it’s about what people mutually agree on. And sexual behaviors are only OK if both partners consent.
A Culture Where Misogyny Is Unacceptable
We have to stop looking at disasters like the shooting in Isla Vista as just an isolated attack committed by one man, because it’s more than that. This tragedy happened because of blatant misogyny, and we need to educate people in order to create a society in which dehumanizing any person is unacceptable. If we sit by while guys say things like, “I hate that slut because she won’t put out,” then that teaches guys that it’s OK to objectify women and that women exist solely to serve men. This thinking is sexist, offensive and false.
Sex ed can help create a culture where misogyny isn’t tolerated. If we are taught from early on that partners don’t owe each other sex and that consent is absolutely necessary, we are better prepared to call out our friends’ or classmates’ sexist and misogynistic language and behavior. Sexuality education is important because it can help create an environment in which people are more inclined to intervene when they hear or see things like victim-blaming and misogyny.
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