The Time’s Up movement affects Westminster students

Last Sunday, the Golden Globes were a sea of black. Everywhere you looked, black tuxes, black dresses, and black heels populated the red carpet, were being talked about on every news network, and were being written about on every blog. Of course, it’s not unusual for stars to wear black to awards shows. But this year, the universal all-black dress code served a larger purpose than just ending up on a best dressed list. Wearing black was a sign of solidarity for the millions of women, both in Hollywood and beyond, who are victims of sexual abuse.

The issue of sexual misconduct has always been present in the world, but before October 2017 it was often swept under the rug. However, after over 80 Hollywood actresses accused movie producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and rape late last year, the lid that had so long been placed over these issues of abuse was ripped off, triggering a flood of sexual misconduct allegations against some of the most powerful men in the world. Stars like Kevin Spacey (actor, House of Cards), Louis C.K. (comedian), Matt Lauer (television journalist, The Today Show), and James Franco (actor, The Disaster Artist) were exposed as sexual harassers and blackballed from the entertainment industry. Powerful political figures like Democratic senator Al Franken and Republican senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama were dismissed from public office. And through a social media movement used both by celebrities and non-famous people called #MeToo, millions of women shared their stories of sexual misconduct, assault, and rape to shine a light on how deep the culture of sexual harassment and sexism penetrates around the world. Women, men, people of color, and LGBT people working in low-income industries saw their long-suppressed struggles with sexual violence brought into the limelight with the Time’s Up initiative, which was created to offer legal, monetary, and emotional support from over 400 Hollywood actresses “to women in every industry who are subjected to indignities and offensive behavior that they are expected to tolerate to make a living.”

But why does this matter to Westminster students? Sure, it’s sad that celebrity and low-income women live in fear of sexual abuse every day. But this global outpouring of accusations, arrests, and outrage is said to be a cultural tipping point that will change the way the world handles cases of sexual misconduct forever. Besides, the majority of us aren’t celebrity women and don’t come from low-income households. Sexual harassment doesn’t affect us. Well, that’s where you’re wrong. Although cases of rape and sexual assault are fortunately rare at our school (although not in high schools across the country: 53 percent of high school girls have been sexually assaulted while 1 in 8 high school girls have been raped), the sexist culture that makes both of these offenses possible plays a major part of every girl’s high school experience at Westminster.

From a young age, less is expected of boys in the way of maturity and self-control. “Boys mature slower than girls, so you need to be the bigger person and find a different toy to play with now that he’s taken yours,” teachers told me in preschool. Middle school drilled into me that “you need to cover up your shoulders and wear skirts down to your knees, or…” At that point, I could finish the sentence for myself: the boys weren’t mature enough or didn’t have enough self-control to look at a girl wearing a normal August outfit without thinking or doing something they shouldn’t. Taking responsibility for the boys, making life easier for them, that’s a girl’s job.

When we reach high school, this becomes a real problem. Because less maturity and self-control has been expected of boys for so long, they’ve been conditioned to believe that they can get away with doing almost anything they want since it will be excused as “boys being boys”; this is particularly true of their interactions with girls. Additionally, and although this is of course not true of all boys—many of them deal with plenty of their own issues as a result of consistently being seen as less mature and capable—a lot of high school guys at Westminster see girls as inferior to them, whether they realize it or not, because our society has trained them to believe that we exist largely to serve them, to help them with their tasks, to do their work. This belief that girls are here to make life easier and more comfortable for boys, when combined with the view that guys can get away with doing whatever they want since “boys will be boys,” spells nothing but trouble for high school girls because it creates an environment where boys feel entitled to making comments about and even putting their unwanted hands on girls’ bodies without fear of punishment. It feels like every girl either has been or knows someone who has been made to feel less than human—like an object that exists for the sole purpose of being checked out, cat-called, or hit on—by boys.

I don’t think—or at least don’t want to believe—that every guy who’s done something like this to a girl realizes that he makes her want to crawl out of her skin in humiliation. And I certainly don’t want to make it seem like this is only a Westminster problem; the very presence of the so-called Weinstein effect and the Time’s Up initiative proves that it’s a flaw present throughout our entire society. But it’s important to understand that the guys who create this toxic environment in high school without any consequences for their actions are the ones who will go on to end up on these public missives listing men in power who’ve been accused of sexual misconduct and harassment. They just are. It may not be all of them or even most of them, but you can bet that every single man who is currently being publicly destroyed by the collective power of millions of fed-up women around the world had that exact same “I’m not responsible for my own actions, so who’s going to get me in trouble?” mindset back in high school. If the world doesn’t start to change the way it educates, disciplines, compliments, and treats both genders from birth, then this public cleansing occurring in Hollywood today means nothing. It’s not enough to just snip off the leaves of the weed. We need to rip out the roots if we want real change.