Life Orientation textbook: Teaching girls that rape is their fault


On a summer ‘civvies’ day at school, when I was 16, the teachers lined up all the girls in front of the entire assembly, and measured each girl’s skirt and top. Those whose items of clothing did not meet the arbitrary length standard of that year were then asked to stand in a separate line - the metaphorical scarlet letter before being told to go home and change their clothes. Boys were not subjected to this. 

READ:“Rape justification” textbook sparks outrage

I remembered this day very clearly, devoid of anger or indignation because it was all I knew and it was what I thought was normal. Cut to ten years later, I am now both angry and indignant, yet each time I’m the victim of sexual harassment, each time I hear a catcall, a wolf whistle or an unsolicited opinion of my body, I first look down to see what I’m wearing.

One would hope that subjects such as Life Orientation would address these issues that teenagers deal with in their day-to-day lives. But I remember Life Orientation as a blur STD fear-mongering and passionate condemnation of the Keith Richards lifestyle.

To this day, I wonder why topics of gender dynamics, gender identity, sexuality and race were barely touched on, let alone explored, in that syllabus. However, despite my personal opinion of its shortfalls and inadequacies, Life Orientation in 2016 should, at the very least, not infringe on basic human rights.

That went out the window yesterday with this photo:

Once I had gotten over the shock of reading it, I struggled to count how many things are wrong here. The first relevant statement comes in when the character Angie said “I lied to my parents and told them I was going to a friend’s house”. Sure, plausible – high school girl lies to parents about going to party with friends. Cliché, but no one’s asking for a great plot.

Interestingly, it’s reiterated with “I lied because I knew they would not give me permission”. Then this pans to “we drank a lot of beer and spirits”. Ending with Angie being bullied into a room, and raped…

“Question one: List two ways in which Angie’s behaviour lead to sexual intercourse.”

Angie’s behaviour lead to sexual intercourse.
Angie’s behaviour lead to sexual intercourse.
Angie’s behaviour lead to sexual intercourse.

There it is. Nonchalant rape culture in a textbook designed to orientate lives. The victim blaming is so blatant, so unabashedly blasé, that you actually have go back to the narrative to see whether you had read the correct one.

The most ridiculous part of it is that the textbook isn’t even questioning whether or not it was Angie’s fault – like your average Twitter troll would do. Instead, according to this book, Angie – who was locked in a room and raped – simply had sex. Moreover, this statement was just a ‘factual’ opening to ask the real question – what behaviour of Angie’s lead to her rape?

In 2016, it cannot be an option that a high school textbook with this kind of outdated, discriminatory and dangerous rhetoric is being taught in schools.

From my own experience of rape culture, I can take a guess that the two behaviours that this textbook is asking for is likely Angie lying to her parents [emphasised more than once] and Angie drinking alcohol.  Girls, don’t lie to your folks or have drinks because then your vagina is free game. 

On top of that, calling rape sex, and then asking students to explain what the victim did to land up ‘having sex’, is not only factually wrong but a giant middle finger to the bill of rights. This dangerous rhetoric is what instills silence into girls, and what makes boys believe that forcing a girl to have sex is not the same thing as rape.

It’s the very thing celebrates sexually active high school boys, but punishes girls for the same thing. It’s a direct reflection of the misogyny and masculinity that dismisses male violence and diminishes women’s agency. It’s the rhetoric that creates Brock Turners. 

We know now that drinking is not the cause of sexual assault among young people. Men are. Being disobedient or defiant is not the cause of rape. Being alone, or naked, or drunk, passed out, are not the causes of rape. Rapists are the cause of rape. This knowledge should be common in 2016 and the Department of Education has a responsibility to vet their textbooks, coursework and content to ensure that it’s current, factual and does not violate human rights.

In 2016, it cannot be an option that a high school textbook with this kind of outdated, discriminatory and dangerous rhetoric is being taught in schools. 

This Life Orientation textbook, created to help teenagers explore their identity, rights and self-awareness, remains no more than a chastising abstinence tool and a proponent of rape culture at its worst.

Perhaps now, in black and white on a textbook, it will be easier to see that rapists are not monsters. Rapists are just men who have been taught that it was Angie’s fault.

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