Op-Ed: This is Not a Bipartisan Issue, It is a Cultural One


In my high school health class of freshman year, the conversation about consent lasted maybe ten seconds. Our gym teacher stood in front of the class with a meager PowerPoint beaming behind him and asked, rather matter-of-factly, "Boys, you know 'no means no,' right?"

PHOTO: Win McNamee / Getty Images

PHOTO: Win McNamee / Getty Images

The boys of the class replied with a unified "yes" in a dull and bored tone. And that was that. There was no further explanation on what consent looked or sounded like, examples of how consent is always needed -- nothing but that quick exchange. I will never forget this moment because, three months later, I was sexually assaulted by a boy in that same class.

But this is not about my story, this is about the way we, as a society, have perpetrated a culture where something as horrible as sexual assault can happen -- the same culture and chain of events unfolding before our very eyes.

On Wednesday, Brett Kavanaugh's high school calendar was released. While this may seem like a futile piece of evidence from Democrats against the Supreme Court nominee, the document spoke volumes in a cultural sphere. In Kavanaugh's calendar from 1982, when he was 17, the weekends are all marked up with plans for parties and beach getaways -- a clear indication that Kavanaugh was a heavy partier. Shortly after, Kavanaugh released a statement admitting to heavy drinking in his high school days. This evidence painted a clear picture of what Kavanaugh's high school days must have looked like -- one where he was immersed in partying and drinking at a young age, unfortunately, just like most American teens.

On top of that, pictures of Kavanaugh's yearbook were also released. Among the pages of Kavanaugh and his friends clearly being the stars of the football team, "Renate Alumnus" was written throughout. Apparently, this was a reference to a girl who attended a Catholic school where boys from Kavanaugh's school often interacted with. The "alumnus" part seems to suggest from classmates of Kavanaugh's that this was a sly way to brag about their victories with Renate.

PHOTO: Jim Bourg / Reuters

PHOTO: Jim Bourg / Reuters

Even so, many people stood up defending Kavanaugh against this behavior tying to his sexual assault allegations. These defenders claimed that Kavanaugh should not be prosecuted based on his actions from high school, that these days were too far away from who he is as a person now. In some ways, this may be true. I'm sure Kavanaugh has learned some things in his 35 years since he was in high school. But what these same individuals, and those that agree with them, fail to realize is the impact high school can have on American teens. What happens in those four years can deeply impact a person's formation. Being caught up in a culture where whoever drinks the most and 'conquers' the most girls is sure to have a lasting effect on Kavanaugh as a person.

The scariest part is that Kavanaugh is not the problem, he's simply at the forefront of the nationwide issue. There are plenty of men just like him. These men grow up being excused for their inappropriate behavior by our society. We tell them to keep the locker room talk confined to the locker room, rather than just to not use it at all. We rationalize their crude comments as jokes. We don't teach them "no" still stands even when she changes her mind or when you're both drunk. We push them to be ambitious in all their endeavors, blurring the line where that ambition should stop before it's dangerous.

And it all starts in high school, sometimes even before that.

We as a society have conditioned these boys to always be excused, even for their worst crimes even when there is ample evidence. We've done this by allowing their behavior and attitudes to be brushed aside. We have looked the other way and encouraged boys to be louder, more persistent, and overall, aggressive in any and all of their pursuits. This type of encouragement mixed with high school politics often creates a horrible environment where most girls, like Dr. Ford was not, and are not safe.

The most dangerous aspect of this cultural issue is that, too often, these boys grow up to be men just like Brett Kavanaugh. They are the police officers, the lawyers, the teachers, the judges, the president. Too many of these men are the same ones who were in high school comparing their beer ratio to the amount of girls they could conquer. They are men who hold powerful positions in today's society and thus, keep the cycle going.

As a solution, I can only offer awareness. We can only break the cycle if we are aware it is going and aim to teach not only the girls to protect themselves, but the boys how to act. Still, we must break this cycle and in turn change the culture. Right now, a brave woman is standing before the entire nation and sharing her story of how a high school boy assaulted her, who is now a nomination for the highest court of our country. Meanwhile, girls and women are shaking at home remembering their own assaults. It's a terrible sight caused by the societal norms and ways we've abided by for so long.

The #MeToo movement is just beginning, but the rest is still coming.

Lead Image Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images