Raising boys to be non-rapists
Trigger Warning: Rape, here’s a recipe for Chestnut Fennel Soup instead
I found a new parenting blog that I really like, PhD in Parenting by Annie. It is the kind of smart science based parenting writing that Raising Hellions would be if I were in any way qualified to write a smart science based parenting blog. Instead I write this blog, where I get to swear and write about my weird music taste and link to people with smart science based parenting blogs.
I recommend browsing through the back catalog of PhD in Parenting postings about breastfeeding, values, or kid’s health, but the one that first brought her to my attention is from January 4th; “Will your son be a Rapist”. This is admittedly a sensitive subject, hence the trigger warning at the top. If you don’t know what a trigger warning is… what the fuck are you doing on the internet. Google it FFS. Here, I’ll do it for you.
Like a lot of great blog posts this one picks up rolling a ball that another writer started rolling. In this case a piece at Frisky by Avital Norman Nathman about the Steubenville Ohio high school rape case. Read up, it’s pretty appalling shit.
Both Annie and Avital have chosen to focus on an aspect of this kind of incident that is often overlooked. Beyond the frankly disgusting record of a small town protecting its star athletes at the expense of a justice for one so obviously wronged; past the predictable victim blaming and the hands thrown in the air “kids these days” there’s nothing to be done shrug from the professional finger waving crowd; they have both chosen to tackle a question close to my heart. What can we as parents do to prevent our BOYS from showing up in a news story like this?
Nobody wants to think of their son as a potential sexual assaulter. I know I don’t. I look at my sweet, sweet son and I know in my heart that he would never hurt a fellow human being, let alone violate and disrespect them in the way this 16-year-old victim was subjected to. But I’m also not living in a fantasy bubble. I’m sure the mothers and fathers of the boys involved thought their sons weren’t capable of such horrific, violating actions either. In fact, most of the town is still in denial, and they’re not the only ones.
I think it is partially because most families don’t talk openly about sex and sexual relationships with their children. The parents prefer to assume that the children aren’t having sex and the children prefer to assume that the parents aren’t having sex and both do everything in their power to support that facade. But it is, of course, also because of rape culture.
Rape Culture is your Google homework for tomorrow Hellions readers (both of you), start with Ophelia’s post about Steubenville over there.
I look at my own son and wonder. I know he looks sweet and innocent now. But what will happen if he grows up to be starting shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds like his father would have been if he had been able to actually hit a baseball? Or maybe he grows up to be a dashing leading man on stage or screen. Or a rock star. Or maybe he just makes it big on the stock market and becomes a high paid CEO, or Thor forbid a politician. Or heck just being a guy in some countries.
All of the above are examples of men who have gotten away with rape, who have been defended from accusations of sexual assault because we as a society have chosen to value them higher than we value the lives and livelihoods of our daughters, sisters and mothers.
And it gets worse. When we look to prevent rape, what do we talk about. What could the victim have done differently. We talk about her dress, her drinking, her drug use. Was she out in the wrong neighborhood, with the wrong crowd, with the wrong guy. Maybe she should have been armed. Maybe she should just stay home.
All of which have proven to be horrible failures as rape prevention tactics. We almost never talk about what the rapist could have done differently.
So lets give it a try attacking this matter from the other side. Lets talk to our sons when they come of age as much as we talk to our daughters. “Don’t rape anybody” is a good start, but not enough. Make sure our boys know what that means. Teach them about consent.
The best part? This tactic WORKS. The inestimable Greta Christina dropped this track today
The “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign is a public service rape prevention campaign launched in Edmonton in 2010, and adopted by other cities in Canada, which took the radical step of aiming its message, not at potential rape victims, but at potential rapists. It took the radical step of educating potential rapists about what rape actually is. It recognized the role that alcohol commonly plays in rape — and it educates potential rapists that having sex with someone who doesn’t consent, or who is too drunk to consent, or who is passed out and therefore unable to consent, is rape.
And it appears to be working, the number of reported sexual assaults in Vancouver fell by 10 per cent. Ok, that’s Canada so take it with a big grain of… well Canadians have their shit together more than we Amercans do on a lot of things. But still, its promising.
It is my contention that we as parents, especially us secular parents, have a responsibility to prepare the ground so that our boys (and girls, its rare but it happens) are already receptive to the message of “Don’t be that guy” campaigns. It’s a place where I think we can make a huge difference simply by doing the job we already accepted, being intelligent and involved parents.
PS. This is one of the longest and certainly the most controversial post I’ve done here. Comments will be heavily moderated. I should really have a comment policy. Tomorrows job.