When my son was very small, I belonged to a mother’s listserv. This was the early days of Yahoo groups, when Facebook was students-only. And on that listserv we discussed various things. Where in town to get free stuff on your birthday. Groovy Girls. Flu symptoms. SSRIs. Our nipples. Al-Anon. The usual, I guess, with maybe some extra emphasis on hemp baby slings and homeopathic teething tablets because we’ve got a lot of that stuff in Austin.
Nobody really judged anybody, even on the cosleeping and vaccination fronts. Really. Then there was the one time when we talked about rape. Yeah, that didn’t go too well. It wouldn’t even have come up if I’d kept my big mouth shut. Or my fingers still. Whatever.
If I had kept quiet, we’d have gone back to margaritas, diaper bags, and the pediatrician blacklist. But I couldn’t keep my coffee-hole shut when one of the posters lamented that her schmancy anniversary dinner was spoiled by a noisy slut in the bar area who was getting passed around like a jar of pickled eggs. (I am paraphrasing. Nobody actually passes around pickled eggs.)
She was table-hopping, sitting in laps and taking pictures, all the while disturbing decent diners who’d paid for sitters and waited all year long to eat a $15 taco plate in the glow of the sunset over Lake Austin. Why, there wasn’t a minute of peace until the woman finally left. With three men she seemed to have just met. One or two posters clutched their pearls at the state of things. How awful to have one’s date night spoilt by a doxy! Had she no shame?
I understood this reaction -- to a point. I’m an introvert, and I don’t dig a ruckus while I’m eating, especially if boiled crustaceans, wooden mallets and a plastic bib are not involved. And screw with my date night at your peril; trust. But something seemed ... off about the story.
Maybe it was the part when three men drove off with a woman who may have been too drunk to consent to what might have happened next. I thought and thought. I waited for someone else to interject. On a list populated with awesome yenta mothers, surely someone else would worry. Wonder. Surely. Right? Any minute. No. So I went first.
Do you think, wrote I -- I’m paraphrasing here -- that the woman in the bar could have been alcoholic having a blackout? Maybe she should have been cut off but wasn’t? Were we going to have a conversation about this person in which we failed to at least consider that she was out of her wits for some reason and should have been helped rather than snarked at? Apparently we were. Right around that time I had alcoholism on my mind because I was reading "Drinking: A Love Story" by Caroline Knapp. A person dear to me had just gone into rehab, and I was stunned by the feeling of never having suspected anything was wrong until the family called to tell me about the intervention. I’d had no idea.
I didn’t know enough to recognize the signs. I’m anosmic -- I cannot smell stuff -- which makes me the perfect enabler. So I began to read. I read books. I read situations differently. I realized I was fortunate to have only a bystander’s knowledge. I figured I ought to at least be a knowledgeable bystander.
At the time of writing this, at least, I also have only secondhand knowledge of rape. I consider myself stone-cold fortunate it hasn’t happened to me. I am not one of those people who believes women can prevent rape by dressing modestly, never drinking and leaving the house only at midday with a cell phone in one hand and keys in the other. I’m really a lot more like this. Which did not go over well.
Don’t you think, asked one poster, that we’re expecting too much of our sons? I considered that. At the time I was hoping my own son would use the potty, so I agreed specifically that I should not quite expect him to understand that people who are knee-walking drunk cannot consent to sex. We’d put a pin in that for later.
And then I quit the listserv and I didn’t go back, even after the moderator asked me to. I didn’t say it then. I will say it now: We need to teach our sons about rape. We need to expect much, not little, from them and from the men they will become. We need tell them what rape is and that it should not happen to anyone. This is the only loving way to parent.
Fortunately, I have a trick for that. You ready? Teach your kids the BDSM consent model. Why? Why not? It’s clear, it’s relatively simple, and it explodes the myth that you can’t negotiate boundaries in the bedroom without invoking
(1) contract law or Robert’s Rules of Order or
(2) Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No.”
Kinky people aren’t joyless Puritans (unless role-playing as such, perhaps), but they still prioritize mutual consent and basic ground rules. And you don’t teach it all right at once, of course. You start off by scaffolding the message down to the age-appropriate basics, like how it’s not okay to just reach out grab other people’s stuff or pull their hair. Ask first and respect the answer. If you’re doing something I don’t like and I ask you to stop -- let’s say shouting in my ear -- you should respect my limits and stop right away. I will respect your limits, too.
You can ramp up the learning as the kids grow and develop their own awesome little identities. You don’t have to stage a big dramatic sit-down lecture or shit like that, either. Seize the opportunities. They will arise. Then you can move on to “If you aren't sure that your partner has consented -- has said 'yes' -- then you need to talk until you are sure.”
Item: We were having Family Rock Band Night, which we used to do before the disc was scratched beyond the point of playability, and my kid selected “Saints of Los Angeles” by Motley Crue during his turn on Pick Your Playlist Madness. I nearly dropped my bass as “A girl’s passed out naked in the back lounge, now everybody’s gonna score” crawled across the screen and issued from our young frontman. Teachable moment ahoy! Also, I have a strap for my bass, so nothing fell.
We finished the song to simulated applause. As the crowd roared, I threw the double horns. “Thank you, Berlin!” I yelled. “And remember! Having sex with someone who’s passed out is not okay. It’s rape. Tip your waitstaff!”