Ms. Sands assigned the girls “an impossible assignment about female solidarity.” – Sex Education
Maybe you and your “ride or die” became best friends because of a mutual love for obscure anime. Or you and your sorority big bonded over your taste in cult horror classics. You don’t have to look far to find another gal that shares a few of your interests and passions.
But what if you were to look beyond that? What if you were to gather all the women in the world in what would be the largest conference room ever, and ask them this simple question: what unites you?
Season 2 Episode 7 of Netflix’s Sex Education tackles just that. Six mismatched girls have been sentenced to group detention when their teacher finds an offensive slut-shaming remark lipsticked onto the girl’s locker room mirror. When none of the girls confess to committing the crime, Ms Sands punishes them through what she later describes as “an impossible assignment in female solidarity” – she instructs them to find a common thread that unites them as women.
The girls struggle into the late hours of the afternoon, bickering and fighting about who is to blame for their current predicament, until Aimee, a rich student formerly belonging to the popular clique at school, bursts into tears.
When asked why she’s crying, she opens up to the ladies about having been sexually assaulted on the public bus the other day. A man standing behind her masturbated and ejaculated onto her pants. Left powerless and traumatized by the incident, she’s been unable to ride the bus since, leaving her frustrated and ashamed as is portrayed to the viewers over the last few episodes’ course.
The girls fall silent for a moment following Aimee’s recount of her incident, broken by Olivia, one of the “it girls” at the academy. Olivia speaks up about her own experience with having her body violated. A while back, she tells us, a man groped her on the platform of a train station, also crowded not unlike Aimee’s own experience. She describes her disgust and claims to have felt like public property to this man who handled her inappropriately.
Quickly after this, the scene spins around the girls in the room, who, one by one, share their own stories of how male entitlement has impacted their lives.
Maeve, the cool girl with an unfazed expression and personality, was constantly catcalled and berated by the boys in the trailer park where she lives when she was younger. Vivian, the ambitious study-hard, tells us she’s been disallowed by her mother from going to the public pool after she confides in her mom that a man flashed her underwater at the age of eight. Lily, the director of the drama club, speaks about the plethora of open dicks she’s witnessed on Chat Roulette. Ola, new to the school and her bisexuality, speaks about being followed home one night after work only for the follower to disappear after her dad appears. Through a play on dramatic irony, the girls inadvertently find a solution to their assignment.
As an experienced viewer of young adult coming-of-age dramas, it was clear to me what the scene’s purpose was. There was no element of surprise when the scene resolved by the girls realizing that violative experiences by men are what brings them together.
So many women have experienced such occasions. I myself, at 14, remember being flashed by a male rider on an empty subway car one night commuting home. I was just young and bemused enough to understand something was wrong but not do anything about it. I remember laughing it off with my companion at the time, only for repulsion to fill my mind when I got into bed that night to sleep. I wasn’t sad that it happened to me, just angry that it had happened.
These sentiments are echoed by Aimee, who closes the story-telling round by exclaiming she too, isn’t sad about what happened to her, “just angry.”
Rightly so, Aimee. It is bewildering and outrageous the sheer volume of men in our world who unabashedly feel entitled to women’s bodies and spaces. “Why are men so obsessed with getting their dicks out?” Olivia asks. Perhaps it is a power thing, Maeve offers.
Power dynamics are one of the major factors at play when it comes to sexual assault and harassment. The show barely touches on this concept, staying focused on its theme of female solidarity with the scene transitioning quickly to the girls’ realization that they can bring their detention to an end. They exit the room, faces bearing refreshed expressions, reporting to Ms Sands that non-consensual dicks are what unite women. How disturbing it is to think that if our lives were movies, most would be marred by the monstrosity that is toxic men?
As women, we must stick together. As we move forward in an era defined by the rise of empowered women taking down brutally powerful men, it couldn’t be more important to show support for other women who’re paving safer paths for our daughters and nieces to walk on. This might be as simple as sharing a story in solidarity, retweeting a tweet as a display of camaraderie, or offering a safe space to vent.
The girls apply their lessons learned in solidarity, with the bunch greeting Aimee at the bus stop the next morning, riding the bus to school with her in solidarity.