The recent media coverage of the convictions in the Steubenville rape trial overflowing with pity for the rapists , has highlighted just how seriously messed up our society's relationship to rape is.
It's understandable to feel sad for the survivor of the assault and the perpetrators -- they're all children. There's really no silver lining here. But it's not OK to equate the survivor's suffering with the perpetrators', and it's definitely not OK to overshadow the survivor's horrific reality with concern for the football career of two teen rapists. And it terrifies me that, right now, young people all over the country are watching national news stations showing more concern for rapists, than for survivors.
With the weight of just how monstrous these boys' actions were, I spent a chunk of the weekend going over my own plans for how to teach my child, a boy, to find what these boys did to be repulsive. I want my child to never laugh at a classmate tweeting about a rape he just committed. I want my child to stand up for girls who are drunk and just want to go home. And I most definitely want my child to know how not to rape.
I know these goals cannot be achieved by silently crossing my fingers. I'll have to actively counter rape culture, and it will have to be throughout his childhood. I can't wait until he goes out on his first date to say, "Hey, make sure you and your date consent to everything you two do tonight."
I mean, those may very well be my parting words as he goes out the door, but I want those words to be layered on top of a lifetime of learning about respect, boundaries and empathy, that have given him the awareness he needs to be a good date. But how exactly do I do that?
Currently, my child's two, so teaching him to respect others begins with respecting him. I listen to him when he says he doesn't want to be hugged or kissed, because that's what I'd do if he were an adult.
When we're saying goodbye to friends around his age, I say "Ask your friends if they want a hug or kiss goodbye." It helps introduce to my child the concept of asking for consent, and my behavior is an example of someone acting out of concern for other people's boundaries being respected.
It's also important for him to be exposed to positive images of girls and women, and it's never too early for that. It frustrates me a bit that positive images of marginalized identities are framed as good for people with the same marginalized identity. For example, we're going to see a local production of Pippi Longstocking next month. Naturally, I'm super excited, and telling everybody.
A few people have responded with, "Oh, that's such a good play for girls to see." While that's true, it's also a good play for all kids to see. All kids need to see girls breaking stereotypes. Little boys need to know that girls are dynamic, valuable, and can be whatever they want to be, too, just like them.
What I'm struggling with right now is his interactions with other adults. I know, ideally, I want other adults to ask to hug, kiss, and cuddle him, and respect him when he says no. So many do, but not everyone.
I cringe every time someone asks my child for a kiss and he says no, but they grab him and kiss him anyways, while smiling and laughing. What does that teach him about how others can treat his body, and how he can treat others' bodies? I wish I spoke up more when this happens, but sometimes the awkwardness of the moment stops me.
There are also the times when he says no to a touch, and the adult who asked begins to fake-pout. If this were an interaction between two adults, I'd feel comfortable calling that pout coercive and annoying. But because my child is little, the pouter thinks he or she is being silly and adorable.
Sometimes I find myself giving into the discomfort caused by the pout, and asking my child to just hurry up and give a hug, and that's not the lesson I want to teach him.
As he grows, I plan on defining consent as the presence of yes, and not the absence of no. This is generally a helpful definition for navigating a world shared with other people, but especially when it comes to sexual encounters. Along with The Talk about the birds and the bees, will be the talk about what consent is, and why it is important.
Combining the mechanics of sex with the ethics of sex makes perfect sense to me. I'll probably still stumble and blush while explaining it all, but consent is too important to leave out. If I don't teach him, who will?
This summer, Reddit had a thread where rapists "explained themselves." It was gruesome to read. A lot of the people posting were just straight up misogynists, but one thing that stood out to me were the large amount of comments by rapists who realized after the fact that they had raped someone, and they wished they hadn't.
What if, when these commenters were young, they were explicitly told that coercion is not consent, inebriated and unconscious people cannot give consent, and that it's easy and important to ask for verbal consent when they hook up with people? If these men had been more aware, maybe they wouldn't have raped.
I wish I lived in a world without rape, victim-blaming and rape apologists. I wish everyone felt safe and respected. Looking at the big picture, I know that abolishing rape culture is going to take a lot of diverse, thoughtful work from all different people. Raising my child to not violate another parent's child is an important step that I can take.