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.
We talk about consent a lot in our house because Jonah likes to put his hand under my shirt and touch my belly, it's one of the ways he self-soothes. He'll walk up to me anywhere, anytime and just shove his hand up my shirt and to be honest, I'm SO used to it that I hardly notice. It drives K crazy though, and she'll often remind me to remind HIM that he needs to ask permission EVERY TIME. Even if I say that yes, it's OK, if he wants to do it a few minutes later he has to ask again. We talk to him a lot about how it's never OK to touch someone else unless they say it's OK. This is another good post on teaching consent to kids of all ages: https://goodmenproject.com/families/the-healthy-sex-talk-teaching-kids-consent-ages-1-21/
Thank you for this link -- it looks great.
It's a weird balance being the mother of kids, isn't it? I love how comfortable we all are with each other, and how comfortable the kids are with my body--I hadn't thought about this issue of them asking permission.
August loves to show off BingBong to other parents at school. He'll lift up my shirt, which I genuinely don't mind, to hug and kiss my bump. One day I wore a dress to pick-up, and he just yanked up my dress to give BingBong a kiss!
I don't have any wise advice but I did want to say that you should watch "The Mask You Live In." Not specifically about consent, more about masculinity in general.
Thanks for this recommendation, Jessica. I've added it to my to-watch list on Netflix.
Great article! You might be surprised to know that it's not too early to start talking to your kids about sex. At age 2 kids can learn the correct names for their body parts. As parents it was important to us to be the first ones to give our kids accurate information, share our family values and open the door for future conversations. Check out this website for more information http://birdsandbeesandkids.com/
Well, it turns out we've begun the sex talks at home, as August has been asking questions about the new baby. He asked me how Bing-Bong is going to get out of my tummy, and yesterday he asked James how Bing Bong got in there to begin with. We've always used anatomically correct names for body parts--August and Leif have been talking about their penis from well before two years old!
Thanks for this link--I'll check it out.
Kids are so curious! There are some great books out there such as Amazing You and It's Not The Stork. Good luck!
I have great respect for sex advice writer Dan Savage. I think these 2 links capture a bit of the thoughtfulness and wisdom on this subject that he has had throughout his podcast over many seasons.
Thanks for these links, Sophia. I've always liked Dan Savage but haven't heard/seen these before.
Love this! I also love the idea of your children engaging in physical contact at their discretion. What do you do when a well meaning and loving family member or friend hugs them without permission?