[Mild trigger warning for language]
Since I started working schools, I feel like I’m constant Language Police duty. At my last school it was “no homo.” Here, it’s “That’s gay,” variations on the f-word (no, not the four letter one), and something I didn’t expect at all: rape analogies.
“Analogies” might not even be the right word. “Trivializing” might be more like it. As someone who reads about sexism and homophobia in gaming communities (and someone who’s too spatially challenged to play Halo on XBox Live, but has occasionally watched her more adept older brother play with strangers), I’m aware of rape (as in “You totally just got raped”) as a common term among certain groups of gamers.
So how does this get passed along from person to person? And more specifically, how do I get boys as young as fourteen in my library talking this way?
I had very limited success talking to a group of ninth graders about this a few months ago. I took a hard line and made it clear that I wouldn’t tolerate the language in my space. Mostly the guys were apologetic–it’s a very polite student body, and most of the kids I see get very freaked out about getting called out in any way. I haven’t heard anyone in this bunch talking this way again, but I still didn’t feel like I made much of an impression.
Then again today I had a group of mostly junior boys mixing their casual homophobia with their rape trivializing. And these are guys I see in the library just about every day. I like them. They’re good eggs. One of them asks me how I’m doing every morning, makes conversation, even reminded me to vote yesterday.
So today I decided that when the lunch bell rang I’d ask them to stay for a minute, and I let them know that I was hearing things I didn’t appreciate. I made it clear that I’ve heard this from other people–I wanted to nip any “But everybody says that” arguments in the bud–and I tried to give them an explanation that might actually sink in, something a little deeper than “Don’t say that.”
“Rape is really serious, and it’s an issue that a lot of women have to deal with in their lives,” I said. “When you say something about it like it’s a joke or no big deal, you can alienate women around you without even realizing it.” I told them the same goes for homophobia. I let them know that I didn’t believe they were trying to be homophobic, that they were probably just using “gay” in place of frustrating or annoying, but that the people around them might hear that differently.
I also told them that I know some of the younger guys look up to them. They scoffed at that (and told me how “evil” and annoying the freshmen are), but I’m hoping the idea might make them think a little differently about things.
How do you handle weighty issues like these–ones that seem like no big deal if your social circle treats them like jokes–with teenage boys?