I feel a chill come over me each time a man and especially a woman dares to say:
“Aren’t you worried about some girl ruining your son’s life?”
After the chill, I feel grief.
After the grief, anger.
After the anger, despair.
My mind flashes on RAINN’s statistic:
“Every 98 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 8 minutes, that victim is a child.”
Do my friends mean to suggest that my job as a mother is to turn away from girls who have for centuries been sexually assaulted in fear of some hypothetical accusation against my son in the future? (A statistically negligible one at that.)
What also chills me is this other well-meaning admonition:
“Teach your sons not to rape.”
I’ve got to say… I’ve raised two boys and I’ve skipped that one.
The idea that I would have to “teach” my boys not to assault another human being just because that being is female is appalling.
This is a close second to:
“Teach your sons to respect women.”
“Respect women,” is something I’ve never said to my boys, but you can be sure it was everywhere implied. Because women. Are human beings.
It’s the little things.
My boys were raised in a home that practices boundaries and respect, kindness and consideration, anger and connection.
As they came of age, we let them know that their relationship with me had to change in some ways. Though I would always be their mother, I was also a woman, and they were becoming men. Given the difference of size and strength between us and given the history of what it is to be female in a society that perpetuates inequity, my boys would have to be even more mindful of any physical expressions of frustration, anger and persistence in my proximity.
We practiced this. I reminded them. Over time I shared some of the experiences of what it was to grow up female so that they might be more aware and sensitive to the adult gender dynamic between us and between them and women in the world even perhaps if they were innocent of any harm.
All along, since they were very small, we practiced responding to and respecting: No.
If they said, “No,” to tickling, we stopped, no matter how much fun we’d been having.
If they said, “No,” to more kisses or hugs, or to kissing or hugging a friend or relative, we allowed for that.
If they said, “No,” to an experience that made them uncomfortable, we listened, even when it was awkward, say with a doctor or other authority figure.
Violence was neither a form of discipline or a form of entertainment welcomed in our home.
Killing was not a game celebrated.
Degradation was not a source of enjoyment.
Trash talk was a conversation about chores.
The older of our two boys was not permitted to physically intimidate or violate the boundaries of the younger brother; and the younger, in turn, learned to reciprocate.
If the day comes that “some woman” accuses one of my beloved boys of rape, I will be horrified, not because my boys were always “good boys” or “played sports” or “studied hard” or “worked their tails off” (all of which they do) and not because “I taught them better,” but because to violate another in this way is one of the most trauma-inducing acts of violence known.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine: “Rape is about four times more likely to result in diagnosable PTSD than combat.” (The Guardian)
The odds, however, for “ruined lives” have long worked in favor of my sons. Not because they have been raised in a responsive and disciplined home without violence. Not because we engaged in a consciousness practice that allowed us to feel and express emotions, including anger, as well as monitor and modulate those emotions. But far and beyond because my children had the good fortune to be born male (not to mention white, educated and middle class.)
Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to go to jail or prison than other criminals. “Only 6 out of every 1,000 do.” (RAINN)
I love my sons with all my heart and respect the men they have become, but it is the humanity of your daughters that most concerns me and which I endeavor, along with my sons, to uphold.
We, my friends, are a family of feminists, which is to say, we aspire to recognize the human rights of all, particularly those whose basic dignity has been threatened for so long.
My sons and husband join me each year as NGO representative at the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) with a shoutout to the revolutionary work of MenCare.)