In 1991 my husband, Doug,was enrolled as a Plant Science and Conservation major at the University of Maine in Orono. He walked into the first day of his Soils and Vegetation class that fall a little early. A few other male students had also arrived. When the professor, an older male, walked in he looked around the classroom noting that none of the female students on his roster had arrived yet and declared, “Oh good! No sluts here yet.”

Doug didn’t speak up at first, but sat in horror as each young woman entered the room, notebook and pen in hand, and ready to learn. When the class ended, he immediately went to the Dean of Life Science and Agriculture to report the incident. The Dean informed him that since the professor was close to retirement, they would take no action against him.  I would like to think that today, twenty-five years later, we have made enough progress that the school would do something when a young man steps forward as an ally to the young women with whom he is sharing an education, but I’m not so sure.

This fall my daughter, my niece, and many of my female students will start college in the United States where each of them will statistically have a  1 in 4 chance of being the victim of sexual assault while a student there.

When Donald Trump refers to his recently leaked remarks about women as “just words” or  simple locker-room talk and when others defend him and claim that all men talk like that, they are doing damage to more than the orange tyrant’s campaign. Words spoken from the podium have power not only over how young women view themselves, but  over how young men view them as well.

The other day in my high school English class, Hillary’s Mirrors ad started before a Youtube clip that I was about to show to my students. As the commercial played a few boys in the class said things like, “Yah, Trump’s the man.” As I tried to pause the commercial, I failed to address the incident in a meaningful, teachable moment sort of way; these days, the political realm is so contentious, teachers are afraid to discuss the election. I now realize, however, that not only did I let down every young woman in that room, I also let down those young Trump supporters as well.

When I return to school this week, I will address not only what happened in class, but the ways in which words like those spoken by Trump are harmful to our world and have long reaching effects on the ways that women and men view themselves and each other. They must understand that actions such as domestic violence and rape can result from such contempt. The Representation Project

We need to teach young men to not only respect women, but to stand up for them when they can. Each time a man nods and smiles or laughs at disparaging comments about women without speaking out against them, he’s condoning them.

Where I teach, our feminist club is advised by a cis-gender, straight, male teacher. What a wonderful modeling of allyship for the girls and boys we educate. As much as some are claiming it, it is false that all men talk like that. Some do. Others listen to it. And some speak out against it and work with us to make things better for the women of this world.

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