Changing our culture: Eliminating the normalization of rape is project of North Peninsula Teen Collective

by Dana Wilks on July 8, 2015

Editor’s note: Danielle Hamer and Jacob Kaplan-Lipkin contributed to this article.

As a society, we define the culture in which we live. Through the Marcus Social Justice Fellowship, a program of the North Peninsula Teen Collective, 12 Peninsula high schoolers had the opportunity to engage with the community and discover where its deepest issues lie.

After reaching a consensus of addressing the challenge of rape culture, we set out to turn bystanders into upstanders and end the normalization of rape. Throughout the process, we were guided by the three pillars of the Marcus Fellowship: 1) imagine, 2) inspire, and 3) impact.

Imagine: We began by engaging our friends and peers around the same topic that brought us together initially — social justice. Through conversations, we opened up meaningful dialogues about the problems that we see as the biggest ones facing our community today.

We also discussed which ones we have the possibility of making an immediate impact on and specifically, what we’d be willing to take the time to impact. Afterward, we each presented on an issue we felt passionate about: gender inequality, mental illness, genocide prevention, immigration, rape culture, and gun violence. The passion in the room was palpable as each Fellow shared what hit closest to home for him/her.

We held an intellectual and democratic debate over the pro’s and con’s of each issue and the possible impact we could have on each. What most attracted us to the issue of rape culture was our ability to change it, as well as its pertinence. Rape culture, the phenomenon of rape being pervasive, normalized, and trivialized in society and media, is something we all see on a regular basis. As one Marcus Fellow said: “We decide our culture, and this is a culture we can impact.”

Inspire: While many of us have had previous experience with programming, event planning, and social action, the Marcus Fellowship introduced us to design thinking, a concept that was fairly new to us all. As we learned and discussed the methodology of the “problem-solving” protocol that makes up design thinking, each fellow was encouraged to reflect on what problem or issue they would first attack through the design thinking process.

We interviewed adults and teens with whom we are close, asking them to pinpoint how rape culture can be most effectively addressed. We crafted “How Might We…?” statements to aid us in forming a concrete mission. Our guiding statements:  “How might we turn bystanders into upstanders?” and “How might we stop the normalization of rape?” helped us to construct a plan rooted in a firm objective.

Making use of this, we went full force into creating a social media campaign, using the hashtag #NotMyCulture to express our ambition to wipe out jokes, casual comments, and misguided blame concerning rape and sexual assault.

As teens, rape culture is something that’s unfortunately and uncomfortably close to home. Mainstream music and popular media tend to marginalize rape and its victims by condoning assault. But this does not have to be our culture. Given the peer nature of this issue, we are also blessed with an immense capacity to make a change.

Further, we all saw the issue as a Jewish one, following the principles of shalom bayit. We were inspired by the powerful injunction: lo ta’amod al dam re’echa — you shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. And that’s why it’s not just the Marcus Fellows, but all of society who can — who need — to not be bystanders, but upstanders.

Impact: We need your help; the 12 of us cannot do it alone. You can begin by watching our video. Share it on social media with the hashtag #NotMyCulture, and learn more at Teen Collective.

Every two minutes, another person becomes a victim of rape. In just two minutes, there are so many things we can do to combat rape culture. Sign this petition urging Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women Act.

When you hear a rape joke, speak up against it, reminding people that rape isn’t funny. Call your local radio station and tell them to stop playing sexist music that promotes rape culture. Question the people on the street whom you hear catcalling — move them to think about what they are actually saying. Participate in’s Project Shutdown, “fixing” ads that sexualize women.

Together, we can eliminate rape from our culture.

Author of this post, Dana Wilks, will be a junior at Menlo-Atherton High School

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