Rape, consent, and sexual assault are hot topics right now, with the recent release of Donald Trump's disgusting comments about women and Brock Turner's release from jail after serving a three-month sentence for sexual assault. It's estimated that one in five women in the US has been the victim or rape or attempted rape, and that nearly to one in two women has experienced sexual violence in her lifetime (sources here). One in four girls (and one in six boys) will be sexually abused before they turn 18 (source here).
A lot of women are the victims of sexual violence. Which means something else: a lot of men are the perpetrators of sexual violence. As the mother of two boys, it feels like one of the worst--and most important--questions I can ask: how do I not raise rapists?
Of course I don't have the answer to that. No one does, though I have to think that every parent believes that their child would never commit such an act. Of course my kids are too young, at two and three, to begin meaningful conversations about sex and consent, but I do wonder exactly how we can begin to build the right framework of values and character such that our children recognize and respect personal boundaries, both in sexual and non-sexual situations.
I recently read an essay that addressed this question, and the words of the author, Jamie LeBoeuf, resonated with me.
The parenting philosophy that is in danger of raising a rapist is one that teaches children that they can have anything they want. It teaches that when someone tells them no, they can continue pressing the issue. It reinforces the idea that pushing past the personal boundaries of others is how you gain success. It makes them believe that they are special and that because of this, people will overlook their anti-social behaviors and attitudes.
If we are to be responsible parents, we must equip children with the skills to handle being told no. Of course this is not the only value that needs to be instilled to prevent the next generation of rapists.... But the ability to respect the word “no” as a boundary is a fundamental life skill that many children are lacking.
Teaching this skill is our responsibility as parents and it is done, as a start, by not giving in after we have said “no.” It is done by not allowing our children to become masters of emotional manipulation. We must allow children to learn how to manage anger and frustration, not by removing it for them, but by allowing them to work through it and sometimes live with it. The world will tell them no at some time or another. And they will need to know how to manage the feelings that come with hearing it. If we are to be responsible parents of boys, and say we care about rape culture, and about raising responsible young men, this has to be a top priority.
I've been thinking about this a lot since reading it last week, considering the ways that we gave in to our own children to avoid tears, screaming, and fights. I'll admit that sometimes our boundaries are a little too flexible, and you might hear, "Okay, but just one more" in our house more often than we'd like.
This line stands out: We must allow children to learn how to manage anger and frustration, not by removing it for them, but by allowing them to work through it and sometimes live with it. As a parent, it's easy and natural to help our children when they need it, and to try to quell their upsets. But I realize that isn't always our job, so I've been practicing backing off more, letting them roar and wail with anger rather than appeasing them.
*And now for a humor break.*
While obviously I'm not going to show this to my children while they're young, I love this video that sums up consent quite well (warning: adult language).
Copyright ©2015 Emmeline May and Blue Seat Studios - via YouTube
I also love this video from Amy Schumer, with Josh Charles.
One small thing that I have focused on as a parent is not forcing our children to hug, kiss, or in any way touch anyone that they don't want to. When we see family or close friends, I often ask August if he wants to give someone a hug. If he doesn't want to, I don't force it. Instead, I will often ask if he wants to give that person a high-five--he almost always does, and if he doesn't, I don't insist. I allow my children to engage in the physical interaction that feels right for them, even if that means none at all.
I'm new to raising boys (really, I'm still just raising babies, right?), and I'd love to hear from you about books, resources, methods, anything you recommend that can help a parent navigate the tricky waters of raising boys. (And if the third is a girl, I'm going to start asking for help navigating the tricky waters of raising a girl!) Please share your thoughts, comments, and recommendations below. You can also email me directly.