The things third graders say about the Chris Brown/Rihanna case…

26 02 2009

So my friend sent me an article, Lessons from a fallen idol, which has more on the Chris Brown/Rihanna case and the distressing nature of some of the discussions that have been occurring among elementary school children. Before I even read the article in its entirety I couldn’t help but be frustrated and upset with the title of the article. “Lessons from a fallen idol?” This speaks to the media maltreatment of women: they love to elevate women and put them on pedestals and then just as quickly to bring them down and tear them to shreds. Also, it implies that because Rihanna was in an abusive relationship and injured, she is no longer worthy of being an idol. This adds to the negative stigma on domestic/relationship/sexual violence survivors and omits the perpetrators from the narrative. Perpetrators are able to get away with it because they tend to be invisible in the picture and thus all the attention gets focused on the survivors.

The article writes that a third grade teacher at the Neighborhood Charterhouse School in Dorcester has said that his eight year old students have been very opinionated regarding the Chris Brown/Rihanna case. Unfortunately they are schpealing out your typical misguided victim-blaming language and siding with Brown or coming up with excuses that justify his actions. Many children fail to grasp the severity of relationship/domestic violence (the article calls it “domestic dispute” – what a nice euphemism) and are echoing what they hear and see on television and at home.

“That was the first thing I started hearing – excuses,” said Shiggs-Quiroga, 28, who has been teaching for five years. “The same girl who brought it up had said to me . . . ‘If he did that to me, I would bail him out.’ I said, ‘Really?’ I was like, ‘Oh my God. How am I going to have this talk now?’ “

An eight year old girl essentially saying that she would return to her boyfriend and let him go if he abused her and got in trouble for it is problematic. It shows how deeply ingrained and pervasive victim-blaming attitudes are in our society and how children are indoctrinated so early on into our violent, sexist, misogynist, victim-blaming rape culture that sanctions violence against women and even broader gender based violence. Obviously third graders are very young and may have difficulty truly understanding domestic violence for what it really is, but there need to be conversations with young people that rectify misogynist language, attitudes and ideology that perpetuate the pervasive victim-blaming in society. These kids are echoing what they see and hear in the media and in their homes, and schools have a responsibility to educate students and correct harmful and false beliefs that reinforce and sustain oppressive structures in society.

Schools are a microcosm of society at large and tend to be often violent places. In addition to physical bullying and fist fights, educational settings can legitimize violence occurring in the world by failing to intervene and challenge and alter students’ perspectives that enforce various forms of violence in society: institutional/structural violence that excludes membership from certain individuals or groups as well as behavioral violence that manifest in escalating physical violence. Inaction is one of the greatest flaws in perpetuating injustice and oppression, and to connect this back to a previous post, Tufts’ failure to reform and improve its sexual assault policy to make it more accessible to and friendly to survivors is a form of structural violence. It creates an atmosphere that is hostile and unsympathetic to survivors and basically sends the message that sexual violence is clearly not their problem, or an important enough problem to be addressed.

But to go back to the article, the author writes:

Worth noting is that the same 8-year-old told her teacher that Brown had reason to hit Rihanna because she gave him an STD. That made Shiggs-Quiroga’s head spin.

The young girl said, “I heard she gave him – diabetes!”

Believing that Brown had the right to hit Rihanna because she gave him an STD is ignorant because no one deserves to be hit especially not by someone you love, someone close to you or someone you are intimate with. It also touches on a larger problem: the stigma around sex and the lack of comprehensive sex education that can result in unnecessary health problems that could’ve been unavoidable if people were more informed. Instead of punishing someone for giving you a disease one should be educated enough to make safe choices to prevent any infections or diseases.

Another important thing – an eight year old thinking that diabetes is an STD? This just clearly shows why we need to have comprehensive sex education so that people are aware, informed and prepared. In education, there is a false binary between issues around gender, sex and sexuality and “academic” material like math, English, science, history, etc. However issues around gender, sex and sexuality are so integral to identity and lifestyle issues/politics and are important aspects of child development/growth that never gets discussed because it’s pushed to the sidelines as irrelevant.

It’s never too early to start having conversations around healthy sexuality and healthy relationships so that children can make more responsible choices about sex and sexuality that are safe, healthy and informed. They should have the facts, information and “rules of the game” before it applies to them, before they become involved in romantic relationships. If we want to prevent violence it’s important to educate our children, like the Gandhi quote “If we want peace we have to begin with the children.”



One response

26 02 2009

I’m actually not sure if the fallen idol part has to do with Rihanna or Chris Brown.

But I did think it was really disconcerting that third graders are aware of this issue and are reacting to it in such a way (and yeah, the little girl thinking that diabetes is an STD was pretty horrible). It does show that messages about abuse are spread VERY early, and that we need to start talking about violence and relationships much earlier than, say, high school or college. Such education, and sex education (in the case of STDs), would of course need to be age appropriate. But this article makes it clear that such age appropriate education is necessary; I don’t think we can stick our heads in the sand and just say, “Nope, the kids are fine!”

What I did LIKE about the article, though, was the obvious position of the teachers and the Globe staff. The one teacher quoted above realizes that s/he might have to talk to h/er students about the issue to correct the misconception. If a teacher can teach h/er kids at such an early age that abuse isn’t okay, and that abuse is never the victim’s fault, imagine the difference in the type of society we will have when that generation of children grows up.

As for the actual Chris Brown/Rihanna issue, I can’t listen to Chris Brown’s music anymore. In my experience, and with my knowledge of sexual violence, allegations of violence aren’t usually falsely reported, and I don’t want to listen to the music of someone who would abuse a loved one. I just hope Rihanna’s okay.

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