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Think About It: An Education in Antiquated Gender Stereotypes

October 24, 2016

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This post was guest-authored by Rosa Shipley ’17. 

I am disappointed at the implementation of the program “Think About It” as mandatory for class registration at Kenyon. I take no issue with the time that it takes to complete, nor, really, the fact that we have an online program implemented to educate us on the college atmosphere. I take issue, as many have, with this: The program engages a rhetoric of gender stereotyping and social construction that has potential to do more harm than good.

First, I would like to acknowledge the positive aspects of this program. They highlight well, particularly at the final portions, the opaque aspects of social and sexual conflicts in a college setting. The program also does a wonderful job of explaining alcohol’s measurements. I particularly appreciate the self-calculator as an informative and specialized tool for determining alcohol’s effects even before they occur.

However, as a student (and a young woman), I take issue with the alarmist nature and student-shaming implications the program promotes. It is important to contextualize that the program was made with Campus Clarity by the University of San Francisco, a religious-affiliated university whose mission is to “promote learning in the Jesuit Catholic tradition”. As Kenyon is supposed to be a secular institution, we can already see a disconnect in values; our institution should have no affiliation, nor promote affiliated values.

Additionally, the program absolutely fails to include non-gender-binary presence at all, so in this letter I am discussing only cis-gendered narratives.

I personally reacted to this program the way that I react to particular historical artifacts shown in my American History classes; the types of media that my professors show the class to communicate the antiquated ways that society once thought and how issues of personhood have progressed since the artifact’s creation. “Think About It” feels like a representation of archaic society, in real-time. It registers as a program that is dated in the constraints and societal limitations it poses. I would put it in the same category as “Abstinence Only” sex-education; it is an attempt to provide safety, but we know that it is both ineffective and also that it has potential to carry with it shaming implications. I credit Kenyon itself for giving me the language, analytic skill, and sense of awareness to take issue with this program and to provide constructive feedback to create a healthy campus environment.

I aim to convey why and how one might feel this way, using the program’s words themselves. I of course do not try to cover all the problematic aspects of this program, but ones that struck me personally as having value judgments that were particularly powerful and worrying.  I focus below on the language and graphics used in this program in order exhibit the ways that the cues add up.

1. First, the Part 1: Systematic Problems section about hook-up culture convey a message that hooking-up is not respectable and it will lose friends. The students express social distance from the person that they know who is “with a new guy every week”.

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By saying that people who hook up have “less friends” and more “awkward hook-ups”, we get the message that engaging in casual sex, or even frequently dating, will alienate and shame the person who does that. They constructed a choice between friends and casual sex, and that someone who may choose casual sex will not only be socially alienated but also disappointed by the inevitability of a failed hook-up. This rhetoric, no doubt, frightens people new to a dating environment by telling them that if they hook-up, they will lose potential friends. It presents social punishment for sexual activity.

2. In the presentation of unhealthy relationships, the couple Katrina and John argue over Katrina’s shirt. John forbids his girlfriend Katrina to wear her shirt outside because it’s “too revealing”.

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I The options for how to navigate this conflict are 1. Katrina changing and tabling the issue, 2. John being right, and 3. John respecting Katrina’s choice but discussing “if their values are compatible” later.

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We are met with this, when picking the right answer:

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Though it is wonderful that the right answer is “respect” of Katrina’s choice (as it is her body that is causing the disagreement) her values should not be a signifier in this conversation. It is crucial that this point is not equivocal. The attribution of values to clothing choice perpetuates rape culture and the “asking for it” narrative. We are discussing a woman’s top as a signifier for her self. This is shocking.

3. First, I suggest looking at this image without context. We see a woman struggling, and quickly. Her friends hold their heads in their hands with exasperation and worry. She seems to be a burden to those around her. She holds a cup in her hand, when her friends don’t. Why is she still drinking? She is out of control.

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These stick figures, though only drawings, illustrate the trope of “the drunk girl at the party”. They promote the narrative of women as helpless. That she is still drinking makes her a victim of her own doing. In the BACCHUS Maneuver, the male friend is the only one helping, the sole savior, while the female friend watches. The portrayal of her needing to be “rescued”, and the choice of a woman as a victim and a man as a protector, is highly stereotypical to the point of being damaging. Anyone can get too drunk and anyone can help.

These specific depictions of life on campus and of dealings with young adulthood are alarming and disappointing. I completely agree with a project to caution young adults, to guide them, to warn them, and to educate them. However, I feel this program has the potential to do more lasting harm than good.

I would also like to point out that in addition to possessing values that do not feel in keeping with Kenyon’s ethics (or those of its students), the organizations specific to Kenyon’s Title IX policy (i.e. Beer & Sex and SMA’s) were not consulted about the mandatory implementation of this program. This suggests a disconnect from the campus itself, a band-aid solution to what is unfortunately a much more complex endeavor of ensuring our Title IX policy works effectively.

I hope very much to discuss how we can implement a more positive program as soon as possible. I have no doubt that there exist other ways of educating students that are effective and beneficial our community.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    October 24, 2016 10:21 pm

    This is really thoughtful and well articulated.

  2. October 26, 2016 7:12 pm

    Brilliant.

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