Nobody thinks their son is going to hurt someone.
It’s about time the subject of rape comes out of the closet. We’ve been pussyfooting around the topic for far too long, and our sons and daughters deserve more from us.
The topic of sex is messy. It makes us uncomfortable.
For many parents, the topic of sex is off-limits or best handled in the most general terms. Talking to our kids about sex fills us with dread because we don’t want to think about our kids being sexually active. Often when we are willing to talk to our kids about sex, we keep the conversation short and focus on the basic facts, safe sex and/or abstinence.
Our kids not only need our guidance, they crave it.
Our teens and twenty-somethings aren’t having more sex than past generations did (in fact, evidence shows that teens today are having less sex than their parents’ generation), but they may have a more casual approach to sex.
When you combine parental silence about sexuality with a culture in which children are rewarded for simply showing up, and then add easy access to instant-streaming pornography meant for adult eyes only — you have just created the perfect environment for breeding what feels like an epidemic of sexual assaults.
We all “know” that forcing a woman to have sex against her will is wrong.
We believe widespread acceptance of rape is a problem only in far off, under-developed countries. That it’s not a problem here at home. That rape is someone else’s problem.
Unfortunately, this isn’t true.
A study conducted in 2014 found that appropriate intolerance for non-consensual sexual interaction isn’t nearly as clear-cut as we want to believe it is.
According to an article in New York Magazine, researcher Sarah Edwards from the University of North Dakota and her team asked college-aged men to fill out two versions of a similar survey:
“One asked them which sorts of behaviors they would engage in ‘if nobody would ever know and there wouldn’t be any consequences.’ It included items that both used the word rape and that instead described the act of forcing someone to have sex against their will without using the r-word itself. Other survey items assessed the participants’ levels of hostility toward women, hypermasculinity … and attraction to sexual aggression.
Almost a third of the men (31.7 percent) said that in a consequence-free situation, they’d force a woman to have sexual intercourse, while 13.6 percent said they would rape a woman …
Edwards and her team found that the men who endorsed rape when the term was used had higher hostility toward women and more callous attitudes about sex … The researchers think that ‘men who endorse using force to obtain intercourse on survey items but deny rape on the same may not experience hostile affect in response to women, but might have dispositions more in line with benevolent sexism.'”
So basically, the same men who may champion women’s rights, who consider themselves highly evolved, may not see forcing themselves on a woman as rape.
In fact, according to this research, it may actually be an interesting possibility to these young men — they just won’t call it “rape” if they choose to do it.
We do the only thing we know how to do — we teach our daughters the anti-rape rhetoric we all know by heart:
- Rapists are not limited to the creepy predator profile we were warned about in our youth.
- Rapists are more likely to be someone we know rather than a stranger in a dark alley.
- Rape often takes place in “safe” places: apartments, homes, and cars of friends, even by a boyfriend.
- More often than not, rapists look like the men we trust most. They look like fun-loving, ambitious 20-somethings. They look like clean-cut students. They look like nice boys. They look like your son. They look like mine.
And still, nothing changes …
That’s because we continue to point our fingers in the wrong direction.
Fraternities, rap music, and video games do not make rapists. Wealth and privilege do not make rapists.
Poverty does not make rapists. Broken homes do not make rapists.
No matter how a woman dresses or acts, and no matter how many sexual partners she’s had, she never invites rape.
It is not a woman’s responsibility to not be raped.
We have to stop shifting blame to easy targets and instead wake up to recognize that vaccinating our boys against rape MUST start when they are young.
We need to remind ourselves that raising a young man who won’t rape isn’t a one-shot deal. It takes years of vigilant parenting to instill those lessons and set them firmly into place. We simply cannot pat these boys on the back as they leave home at 18, tell them that “No means no” and assume we’ve done our jobs.
Rape culture comes from entitlement.
Entitlement doesn’t come from wealth. Entitlement is formed when someone is allowed to think they are the center of the world, and their needs outweigh those of another — that they should be allowed what they want when they want it.
Entitlement comes when children are constantly indulged. When they are told “No,” and yet are able to whine, complain, throw tantrums, threaten, and negotiate until they get what they want.
Entitlement is born when bullying and bad behavior are tolerated over time.
Enough is enough.
We cannot continue to stand by and let our children fall prey to men who feel entitled to their bodies.
A mother who allows her son to manipulate, disrespect, and talk back to her says to him loud and clear that it is OK to disregard women. Parents who are too exhausted to demand respect teach their sons that wearing someone down is an acceptable means to get what you want.
Parents, teachers, and coaches who make excuses for boys contribute to the rape culture in this country.
How many times, as parents, do we just do it ourselves because arguing with our sons isn’t worth it? How many times do we allow our sons to put us down or ignore our requests? How many times do we chalk up violence or belligerence to “typical teenage behavior”?
How many times do we make excuses?
“He’s upset with his results.”
“He’s stressed out.”
These are all excuses.
“He is so busy.”
“He doesn’t like losing.”
“He hasn’t had an easy time with his father.”
“He puts so much pressure on himself.”
“He’s a good boy.”
“He works so hard to get good grades.”
The classic, evergreen excuse, “Boys will be boys,” should be struck from our language. The idea that bad behavior is OK or should be pardoned as a rite of passage simply because a child was born male is simply unacceptable.
This concept gives boys a green light to do whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want.
And our kids are paying the price.
If boys are allowed to get away with rude and disrespectful behavior at home, how can we possibly expect them to respect women who rebuke their advances, especially if alcohol is involved? How will they know what “No” means if they haven’t learned it from us over a lifetime?
We have to teach our sons that all people deserve respect — from the most invisible within our society to the most respected.
It isn’t enough to tell our sons to respect women no matter what they are wearing. That’s just insulting. Our sons need to grow up knowing everyone deserves respect. No one is asking for a crime to be committed against them — not the homeless, not LGBT folks, and not scantily clad women. No person is allowed to take what is not his whether it be money, goods, or sex.
No one, of any gender, should be violated — not in the classroom, the bedroom or the boardroom.
We have spent an entire generation gingerly handling our children. They were scheduled, helicoptered and soothed. Their self-esteem was our number one priority.
And they all got trophies.
We can’t teach our boys to respect by telling them, “No means no.”
We can teach our boys respect by expecting it at home, by modeling respectful behavior and by refusing to allow ourselves to be doormats, drivers, and short-order cooks.
No one gets a get out of jail free card. Nice boys who grow up to become rapists are raised by liberals, conservatives, and feminists alike.
Of course, it is possible to raise wonderful, loving men despite the occasional displays of ego-centrism and rule breaking. Consistency is key. Yes, there will be outbursts. Yes, your children — male and female — will push the limits and push your buttons. That is a normal part of growing up and breaking away.
The problem comes when we give our sons a steady diet of poor behavior excused by good intentions, rather than thoughtful discipline with fair and meaningful consequences.
Sadly, yes, sexual conquests still make for good ole boy, locker room fodder. Being seen as aggressive and dominant is still considered a positive trait among many men.
Conversely, no matter how much we empower our daughters, they still seem to lose their voices when it comes to sex. No matter how smart, articulate and strong they appear in the classroom or workplace, as a generation, our girls still worry about pleasing men. We need to talk openly with our daughters and let them know they have every right to speak up for themselves in the bar room and in the bedroom.
It is time to take rape out of the closet — and we must never allow it back into hiding.
Talk openly about sex with your kids and show them by example that respect starts at home.
We need to support our sons AND our daughters by giving them boundaries that foster self-respect as well as respect for others.
T-Ann Pierce is a life coach who helps men, women and young adults learn the life hacks needed to feel empowered and in control of their lives. Life is short. Why feel stuck? To contact T-Ann, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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