Knowledge Is Power

Hello, readers. It’s been some week, huh? While I have still been posting regularly this month, I do apologize for falling down in the review department and will be sure to have more up soon.

In the meantime, I thought this article about consent, relationship dynamics, abuse, and personal boundaries may interest many of you. I know I posted something similar recently, but this article particularly focuses on how access to library materials and other resources give young people much needed information that they may not be getting anywhere else, something very relevant to this blog and very important to me personally.

Many may balk at sex education in general, particularly consent education in elementary schools. However, concepts such as personal space and respect are not inherently sexual or sexualizing and are best taught long before these scenarios come up. In addition, it is an unavoidable reality that abuse and harassment, sexual or otherwise, effect young children and being able to speak up about abuse is integral to their physical and emotional well-being even at a young age.

This article discusses teaching consent at various age levels, as well as books, such as Speak and Go Ask Alice, that may be able to help students feel as though they’re not alone and even empower them to stand up for themselves, get help, and demand respect. This is not limited just to sexual assault and abuse but many other issues young people are facing, whether in silence or in complicit inaction on behalf of the adults around them. The Harry Potter Alliance recently brought this up in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, saying that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one of the books that helps them cope with tragedy and asking followers to share the books that help them get through hardship and make sense of chaos.

However, many of these same books are often kept out of curricula and school libraries out of fear that they will somehow corrupt impressionable young people. This quote from the article perfectly sums up my feelings on the matter:

“‘I get really frustrated with adults who think that this is too much for teens. If you only understood, first of all, what’s happening in the lives of teens, and what’s happening in their homes … one out of three girls is being abused, and a lot of teens have seen that happen,’ she told Campus Progress. ‘I want teens to know what these things look like, even if it’s not happening to them.’

She sees an educational culture in which adults and administrators are afraid of bringing certain issues into the schools that are already part of students’ lived experiences. What they’re lacking is not the knowledge that abuse and assault exist – but the resources, vocabulary and education to prevent them.”

Basically, we are failing our children because we are cowards. We are too afraid of addressing things that scare us. We are so afraid of what our children might do (or already be doing) that we ignore what is being done to them. By continuing to soothe ourselves with the notion of our children’s complete ignorance of reality, we are not protecting their innocence, we are protecting our own. We don’t want to deal with the terrifying ideas of rape and abuse and mental illness and suicide and bullying and relationship violence and the even more terrifying idea that our children already know about them. In so doing, we are condemning them, like the main character in Speak, to suffer in silence.

This is why I have long loved YA author Alex Flinn. She writes about domestic violence, child abuse, relationship violence, stalking, hate crimes, and school bombings because she writes what scares her and what she saw in her previous career as a lawyer. I have long felt that her book about relationship violence, Breathing Underwater, should be required reading in high schools, not only to keep teens from being abused but from becoming abusers. In fact, I once had a fascinating discussion with a young man who said that book made him aware of his own controlling tendencies. He now actively tries to retrain his thinking and behaviour because of it. This has become all the more important in the wake of Steubenville, as many are becoming aware of just how pervasive rape culture is and just how ignorant many are about what sexual assault is, what it looks like, and what to do about it.

This is not a women’s issue or a girl’s issue or even a teen’s issue. This is something that effects all of us, no matter what our gender, age, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic background, or relationship status. This is something we need to address, not merely to save future victims but to save future perpetrators as well. This article, as well as the one I posted previously, both mention how many young men, once exposed to information on consent and sexual assault, are horrified to realize that what they thought were consensual experiences weren’t. Those who commit sexual assault are not just malicious rape-monsters who stay up late thinking of ways to subjugate women, they are ill-informed young men who lack the information, experience, and empathy to understand the ramifications and perceptions of their actions.

That is why we need consent-based education. That is why we need to stop banning the books brave enough to do what we can’t. That is why we need to ensure that children and teens have access to the information that will keep them both from being hurt and hurting others. That is why we need to stop deluding ourselves and not only talk to our kids but listen. By banning books and keeping consent out of sex ed, if indeed our children are lucky enough to get sex ed at all, we are not only failing to help them, we are making it harder for them to help themselves.

As the article puts it:

“Books, libraries and online resources all provide alternative ways for students to access information about consent—something that’s made crucial by the barriers students often face trying to access information in their homes and schools.”


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About boundandgaggedbooks

Shannon is a freelance writer and folklore buff. She has a degree from Hampshire College in Creative Writing/Mythology & Religion, with an emphasis on epic/oral traditions, their anthropological implications, and their modern counterparts. Her work can be found in Fabulously Feminist, Wolf Wariors: The National Wolfwatcher Coalition Anthology, The Concord Monitor, Redhead Magazine, and The Climax.

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