raising boys (not rapists)

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.

caused byWe 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.

True 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.

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#Outlander, the Icky Bits, and Nutella

I haven’t weighed in on Season 2 of Outlander yet.  Maybe I was letting it sink in, perhaps I needed to process it a bit…to decide just what I felt about it.

Other fans shared their thoughts and opinions.  I heard talk about how Episode 1 Jamie seemed remote, hard to relate to, almost wooden.   They bemoan the change and how Season 2 Jamie isn’t “their” Jamie–how he’s not the same as Season 1 Jamie.

And, of course, they are right.

They mention the rape, talk about his PTSD, and how he is traumatized.  Yes, yes.  Of course he is.  But a lot of these comments are followed up with the something like, “I’ll be glad when the old Jamie is back.” 

What they likely mean, of course, is that they will be glad when camera focuses less on Jamie’s pain and trauma and gets back to the good times.  They want less screen time that focuses less on his nightmares and more on his smile, his wit, and his cute tush.

And I get it.

I do.

Or maybe they simply mean that they want his suffering to end.  That’s not bad, right?  I mean, they really like Jamie.  Who wants to see someone they like in pain?

But, really, if one of our BFFs suffered a trauma, would we try force “normalcy” on her so quickly?  Or would we give her time to cry, to grieve, to bury her pain in a pint of Ben & Jerrys (or a pint of Guinness, I won’t judge), and to curse the son of a bitch that hurt her…all while we planned his very painful and humiliating demise?

Sometimes you need to hang out in your sweat pants and watch bad Lifetime movies while eating Nutella straight from the jar.  Sometimes that chocolate-hazelnut goodness is all that gets you through the day.

These episodes…they are Jamie’s Nutella Days.  The guy has earned it.  Don’t try to take the jar away just yet.

Yes, broken Jamie is painful to watch.  Broken Jamie doesn’t want to think about Sexy Time.  Broken Jamie is short tempered and doesn’t whisper sweet nothings in Gaelic.

Geez.  Next thing you know, Broken Jamie will start talking about bills, and carpool, and he’ll leave the toilet seat up…

But the thing is, people are like that.  Life is like that.  Love is like that.

There are things you simply can’t rush.  You can’t rush healing.  You can’t rush forgiveness (of yourself or of others).  You can’t rush growth, or understanding, or love.

One of the things I love so much about the books is how Diana Gabaldon doesn’t rush things.  She doesn’t write Jamie’s rape and then pretend it never happened.  We are reminded of it– Jamie is reminded of it—over and over and over again.

Diana Gabaldon did not merely craft a character and a scene.  She crafted scars for him to bear, specters to haunt him, guilt to chain him, and faith to heal him. Her books gave Jamie—and the readers—time to work through what happened and its implications.  She breathed life into fantasy.

Jamie’s rape casts a long shadow, and it reaches through the books and colors events for many years to come.  I appreciate that what he endured was not a simple plot device that, once used, is swept under the rug.  The thread of Jamie’s sacrifice is woven through all of the books…through each page (oh, so many pages) of all of the books (those wonderfully long books!).

Have I mentioned that I love long books?  (Thank you, Diana!)

I do.

Because you can’t rush a good story.

Stories are more than just the good parts.  Life is more than just the good parts.  Love is more than just the good parts.

So I will watch patiently.  I will bear witness to the painful bits, the heartbeats of sorrow, and the moments of aching longing, because these times are the building blocks for what is to come.

Things get better.  They do.  Wounds heal.  Disappointments fade.

Both on screen and on the page…and in life.

Until then, pass the Nutella.

The Ghost of Lady Geneva (a/k/a Rape in Outlander)

Sometimes books we love…characters we love…strike a nerve.  Books tiptoe into territory that really should have a trigger warning (why has no one come up with a font called Trigger Warning that we could all easily identify?)  Characters sometimes behave in ways that polarize readers.  Books can divided and books can unite, and sometimes they do both at the same time.

Outlander is particularly good at doing this.

Yes.  This is another Outlander post.  Deal with it.

While Jamie Fraser is one of my favorite literary characters, there are times that I want nothing more than to throttle him.  Normally I don’t feel conflicted as I am reading a story, but later—as my mind lingers on a scene while I am driving, or showering, or trying to tune out my children as they bicker–bits of a scene will float back up and I will re-examine it, turn it over, and prod at it.  By now, I should know better than to prod things.  Still, I prod.  I am a prodder.

Earlier this week, there were some comments made on another one of my posts about the Lady Geneva kerfuffle.  [SPOILER ALERT:  If you don’t recognize the name Lady Geneva from the Outlander books, don’t read any further.  You have been warned.]  When I first read about the incident, I took it in stride.  When I read, especially when I read the Outlander books, I have learned to try not to assume too much and to keep reading, because Diane Gabaldon has a way of making things Work Out.  I trust her writing; I trust her story.

Anyway, back to Lady Geneva…  (If you have strong feelings about Lady Geneva, what transpired, or how Jamie behaved, go grab your copy of Voyager so we can talk.)

(THIS IS WHERE THE TRIGGER WARNING FONT WOULD SHOW UP, IF I HAD ONE…)

I have a lot of conflicting emotions about this scene.  First, I was horribly angry with Lady Geneva for blackmailing Jamie into bedding her.  I was also angry at Jamie for not finding a way out of it.  I kept waiting for him to out-think her, to out-maneuver her scheming, but he didn’t.  I was unspeakably disappointed.

As I read, though, I felt a bit sorry for Lady Geneva.  Just a wee bit, mind you, because she had no say in her life.  She was arranged to marry a much older man whom she didn’t love.  Her first sexual experience was to be with someone for whom she felt no feelings or attraction.  While this was not an uncommon occurrence in that day and time, for an independent spirited woman like Lady Geneva, it must have felt unbearable.  So she tried to take back some measure of control—she tried to fashion the “first time” that she wished to have rather than the one allotted to her.  In another context, this might have been strong, independent, perhaps even admirable.  The problem is that by blackmailing Jamie to behave in the way she desired, she took away his control.

It was actually Jamie’s tenderness (albeit somewhat grudging) towards Lady Geneva that made me feel some measure of compassion towards her.

There was some tenderness for her youth, and pity at her situation.  Rage at her manipulation of him, and fear at the magnitude of the crime he was about to commit.

Even though he thought her a “wee bitch” for threatening him and his family, he still tried to instill in her a recognition of her of value.  I tried to teach her, to initiate her, to guide her.

“A man should pay tribute to your body,” he said softly, raising each nipple with small circling touches.  “For you are beautiful, and that is your right.”

Ah, but here is where things get tricky…  (Feel free to go pour yourself a dram, if you like.  I had to.)

Lady Geneva said, “Stop it.”  She screamed, “Take it out!”  Damn.  That is pretty clear.  By today’s standards (if this was not a scene in a beloved book) most women would consider that rape (remember: No means No!).  Was Jamie’s behavior tantamount to rape?  By 18th century standards, I’m not so sure.  Certainly Lady Geneva didn’t consider it so.  And, since she is the one involved, I think it is important to consider how she views the encounter.  Well, it turns out, she is eager to get back on the horse (so to speak) and, a few pages later, she tells him, “I love you, Alex.”  Hm.  Okay.  I’ll admit it.  I am relieved.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving Jamie a pass.  There is still the part of me that still feels like Jamie’s giving in to Lady Geneva’s demands somehow was a betrayal of me Claire.  And it definitely was not one his finer moments.  It wasn’t one of those Jamie Moments that you want to point out to your spouse or BFF and swoon over.  But readers are a forgiving bunch, and they have a knack for making excuses for the characters they love.  I wondered if I was guilty of this, too.  This is what has been plaguing me.  Was I making excuses for Jamie?

The thought rattled around my head for a while, when it finally bumped up against another thought.  In my 42 years, I have heard time and time again that “Rape is about control.”  Well, clearly Jamie lost his own self-control during the encounter, but was he trying to control Lady Geneva?  Hm, well, considering he was the one being blackmailed, I don’t think so.  Lady Geneva, however, did try to impose her own position of control over Jamie.  He initially made it clear that he did not want to have sex with her.  Does that make Lady’s Geneva’s forcing of Jamie to engage in sexual relations that he does not want tantamount to rape?*

Some believe that it is.  Others, however, take it a step further.  Not only do they condemn Lady Geneva for her actions, but they are quick to demand some form of punishment.  Sure, what she did was reprehensible—seriously, blackmailing a man to bed you?  Way to keep it classy Lady G.

I get the anger.  But what I don’t get, and can’t condone, are some of the comments I have heard/seen that basically state that “She got what she deserved.”  Hm.  Well, true enough, Lady Geneva did ask Jamie to bed her.  That, however, doesn’t seem to be their intent, however.  Some think that Jamie should get a pass for forcing himself on her after she asked him to stop because she brought it on herself.  Um, WTF?  My 21st-century-self rankles at the idea of someone using a forced sexual act as a form of punishment.  Rape = Punishment.  It has to be said…especially with the increasingly common trend on social media for trolls to tell women who don’t agree with them that they deserve to be raped.  *shudders*

Wentworth is far easier to talk about.  Even though Jamie consented to the act, it is much easier to identify what happened to him as rape.  Wentworth was brutal.  Wentworth was degrading.  Wentworth went beyond the bodily trauma.  Wentworth was committed by that vile, damnable, broken, warped piece of shit Black Jack Randall**.  Of course we can comfortably call it rape***.  Rape was what happened to Jamie, not what he did. 

Holy, mother of…  Seriously?  *sigh* Diana Gabaldon doesn’t make it easy for the reader.  The characters are all too human.  They are flawed and messy and piss me off and make me want to throw the damned book against the wall, and sometimes I do throw the book.  But I have always picked it up again—because I have to know what happens.  I have to see how it will all play out.

We don’t have to always like the characters.  (Just as you don’t necessarily like your family…not you, Hubs.  I totally love you.  Please don’t ever have another heart attack.)  For some readers, this scene was a deal breaker.  Some threw the book and never picked it back up.  But when you throw a book aside because you don’t agree with one moment, one act, one scene out of so, so many…you lose the chance to question yourself, and what you think you believe, and what you really think when you confront uncomfortable truths.

I don’t know that I have positively untangled all of my feelings about the Lady Geneva kerfuffle.  Part of me still feels her ghost lingering in the books that follow.  I think about her and want to shoo the thought away, but sometimes you have to acknowledge a ghost to give it peace and let it finally rest.  And, honestly, she still haunts me.

*This is about the point where I want to give up and go pour myself another dram of Ardbeg.

**Just a reminder, I adore Tobias Menzies.

***Yes, I know that I didn’t cover ALL of the rapes in Outlander.