The world we are passing on to our children is not the world we were given. A double edged sword, that.
My daughters have more career choices than ever (Doctor! Lawyer! Engineer! Physicist! Space Archeologist!)…but they are also living in a world where too many boys think that an appropriate response to a declined date request is a bullet to the offending girl’s head.
My younger daughter, not even a teen, has already been told that she was a “bitch” by a classmate when she declined to be his girlfriend.
For generations (and, too often, still today), girls were taught to encouraged to be soft spoken, and ever mindful of others. We told them to be gentle with male egos. We reminded them to preserve the masculinity of their husband or boyfriend. We told all the things they should not do and, in doing so, we took away their voice.
Admittedly, we now “allow” women to say “No,” but we never really tell them how. We never “undid” all those years of conditioning.
After so many years of passivity, the word feels foreign to the tongue. Harsh even. Women dance around the word, fearful that using it, owning it, certain that it will somehow be too much. Woman are taught to take the blame for not wanting to date, to sleep with someone, for not liking someone….
It’s not you, it’s me.
I’m not in a good place right now. I wouldn’t be good for you.
You deserve better.
Too often, women shy away from the direct reason; it seems cruel.
I don’t like you like that.
I don’t feel that way.
I don’t want to.
As if owning our emotions makes us mean. As if being real makes us a bitch. But then, that’s what women are told, isn’t it? Remember my eleven year old? Not wanting to be someone’s girlfriend = Bitch.
Today, women are labeled bitches for everything that conflicts with the Entitled White Male’s perspective*:
Don’t like a boy? Bitch.
Don’t want to have sex? Bitch.
Break up with a boy? Bitch.
Date someone else? Bitch.
Don’t appreciate an unsolicited dick pic? Definitely bitch.
Just ask the guy who sent a dick pic to complete stranger with the note “You have pretty eyes.” [Because, clearly, her eyes were so incredibly sexy that they must have wanted it—her “come-hither” eyes obviously lured him into sending such a picture. Did you SEE how her eyes were dressed? The eye shadow! The mascara! She wanted it. Sure she did.] The dick pic recipient’s response was funny…and tragic. Funny, because she definitely put him in his place; tragic because she had to. Someone certainly needed to; clearly, no one had bother to before.
My daughters live in a world where a boy rapes an unconscious female behind a dumpster. They live in a world where, tragically, this is not uncommon. Sports heroes, and their bright shiny futures, are given more consideration than the battered victim.
We tell our daughters to watch how they dress, what they drink, where they walk, when they walk, to look in their back seats, to lock their doors, to travel in packs. We teach them to take self-defense classes, to carry pepper spray, to carry alarms and whistles to call for help. What do we teach our boys? When do we talk about the boys?
Companies now manufacture a necklace that can detect the presence of date rape drugs.
Amazon carries small “test strips” for the same purpose. Did you turn your back on your drink for a moment? Better use a test strip!
There is even a special, protective line of clothing to help avert would-be rapists. No seriously. A company has designed Anti-Rape Clothing to help a woman avoid sexual assault. Apparently it is no longer enough to try to dress modestly. No, now women must wear clothing specially designed to help that physically deters rapists.
One inventor is even working on something akin to a “killer tampon”—a device that women can insert in their vagina and which then slices off a portion of the penis of any uninvited guest. While, in theory, this may seem perfectly fitting (after all the $#&$*#&%* tried to rape someone!), but it doesn’t consider what happens afterwards. Now we have a rape victim who is (obviously) in close quarters with an injured and angry rapist. Not a good combination.
Admittedly, rape is not new. Angry ex-boyfriends are not new. Ex-boyfriends who break into your house in the early hours of Mother’s Day when you are in highschool are not new.** And maybe the sense of entitlement that seems to underlie so many of these stories is not new…but it isn’t getting any better.
We don’t think twice about marketing devices to help women “keep themselves safe,” but we turn a blind eye to anything that might prevent a man from raping. Because there are so many things that can keep a man from raping. No, not devices…something so much more powerful than pills or potions, than gadgets or guards. Words.
Words have more power than we realize, and they are one of our most underutilized tools. And I am not talking about internet shaming. I’m talking about actual conversations. No, really. But not just talking…also listening. Too often the two don’t go hand in hand.
My youngest child is a boy, and every time I hear or see a story about rape, or abuse, or discrimination, or assault…I holler up the stairs for him. I ask him to come down, because we need to talk. Teachable moments being what they are, I stop what I am doing, and he stops what he is doing, and we talk. I read him the stories (sometimes calmly, and sometimes with tears streaming down my face as I try to choke out the words). I show him the videos (sometimes he reaches for my hand to “pinky promise” that he would never be like That Guy).
Afterwards, I ask him what he would do. I share with him things that I have gone through, or his sisters. I suggest that he consider how he would feel if the story had happened to one of his sisters, to me, or to his beloved grandmothers.
I see the horror on his face as puts familiar faces to the newspaper headlines.
I remind him that not every girl will like him. And that’s okay. There is nothing wrong with him. Or her. I coach him on how to deal with a rejection—a declined date or unshared affection.
We talk about photos taken and shared—what is appropriate and what is not. I remind him that the internet makes things timeless. Things that are shared here cannot be unshared. I tell him that the internet is like fire: it can keep you warm and toasty or it can burn you to pieces—it depends how you use it.
We talk about respect. Both for ourselves and for others.
We talk about sex. A lot. He is only eleven, and already the neighborhood boys of his age are talking sending texts to the neighborhood girls informing them that they “want to fuck” them. No, really. At eleven.
My daughter showed me the text her friend received: “I want to . . . you and [Name of Another Friend].”
Whatever small bit of tact that I might possess was noticeably absent in my response. “I hope she told him to go Dot Dot Dot himself,” I snarled.
I try to explain to my kids that sex isn’t something you do, it is something you share with someone you love. And we talk about what love is…and what it isn’t. Love isn’t just attraction or desire or butterflies or giddiness. All of that pales in the presence of love. And I have told all of my kids that I want them to find love.
Love built on respect and loyalty and trust and devotion. Love that gives at least as much as it takes. Love that takes its time. Love that gives time. I told them that I don’t care what type of package that love comes in. I promised them that if they bring home someone who is kind and respectful and generous with their heart that we will love their partner, too.
Love is love is love.
Teaching love will do more to destroy rape culture than any mass-marketed device that we sell to women. Teaching love will do more to squash the dangerous sense of entitlement than the ridiculously inadequate jail terms handed down for the poor misunderstood athletes rapists.
Let’s use our words.
We’ve talked enough about What she wore. Where she was. What she drank. Who she slept with before…
It’s time for a new conversation. Let’s talk about our boys.
Let’s talk to our boys.
*Yes, I know not all men are like this. Yes, I actually do like men, in general. Quite a lot actually. Some of my favorite people are men. Yes, it is sad that I need to add this disclaimer. Yes, this is the kind of thing I am talking about.
**And I know they are not new because this happened to me when I was in high school.