Rape Culture & the Absence of Sex Education in Schools

Rape Culture & the Absence of Sex Education in Schools

Posted on September 28, 2018

The mandatory chapter on reproduction in biology class is a trying experience for both teachers and students. Most of us must have experienced the rushed, awkward manner in which the chapter on reproduction is studied- the teacher quickly rushing through the basics, hushed giggling and a general air of awkwardness and , at times, reproach. Sex is a taboo topic in school education and in Indian society in general, the prevalence of rape culture is thus alarming.

It might be contradictory to some to see the prevalence of rape in such a ‘conservative’ culture. Yet, it is obvious that rape and sexual harassment are normalised because sex is such a taboo topic. It is important to understand that sex education does not only entail talking about the how’s of sex- it also entails talking about consent, protection, respecting your partner and recognising sexual abuse. The last part is especially important as children as susceptible to abuse. In fact in most cases of such abuse, the proponent is a close family member or friend. Many people undergo great mental stress as they are unable to recognise or express this trauma, and they also often repress it. They might also be shunned or be told to keep quiet if they do. Understanding good touch/bad touch should be an essential part of sex education.

Rape culture exists all around us. As much as we outrage over reports that call India unsafe for women or question the need for women’c coaches in the Delhi metro, harassment and stalking are a reality. Friends have gotten stalked and harassed on the metro, one was reprimanded for wearing shorts – by a woman nonetheless ! Most public spaces are not safe for women… this might seem like a lecture on Intro to Feminism 101 but oh well. As long as we remain ready to protect abusers , shun victims and criticising steps that make public spaces safe, rape culture will persist.

A lack of understanding about sex, and thereby gender, enables sexist, misogynistic and homophobic behaviour. Boys are taught at a young age to tease and pester girls in order to get their attention, and perform masculinity in a certain way – not be affectionate with each other, be more aggressive, associate with the colour blue etc. Sex education in this regard can focus not only on actual reproduction but on understanding the difference between sex and gender and those who do not fit the binary. Transgender individuals are shunned and are a target if harassment. Section 377 has recently been repealed, and this is a welcome step in putting a stop to the harassment of LGBT individuals. However, such topics need to be more widely discusses in homes and schools, instead of just ignoring transgenders are they bang on car windows or inviting them for births. The latter is a part of Indian ‘culture’, but we also need to closely examine this selective shunning and our own behaviours and privilege.

Watching intimate scenes or condom ads when your parent are in the room is supremely awkward. This might be universal across cultures, continents and countries. But as soon as we make sex a completely unchartered topic, we falter. This is changing , very slowly, in urban household. Gynaecologists are more understanding, parents are trying to more open and friendly, especially with girls. Boys usually have a free pass to do as they please, and are let off with a slap on the back and a winky smile. Girls, those beyond the binary, and those who do not conform to standards of masculinity often have to bear shunning and harassment. This is not to say that there aren’t straight, masculinity-conforming victims of abuse. There are. And we need to bring them to the forefront as well. Sex education even among adults will enable us to see the manner in which societal pressure and standards are holding us back.

Rape culture is not inevitable, and something that is propagated via popular culture, laws and society norms. It can be understood and lessened, but joint efforts are required, one being a map for well-informed sex education. 

-Shruti Shreyasi

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