Note To The Reader: This post has sensitive subject matter, and for victims of sexual violence there are subjects which may trigger high emotions. Please read at your own discretion.
I’ve been watching the surge of the hashtag #yesallwomen with some interest. Interest, and a mixture of other emotions like sadness, dread, humiliation, and also hope.
There are so many thoughts that are sparked in my brain when I start thinking about women’s rights, raising good children, and wondering where the next generation will go with their beliefs and actions. These thoughts flood my brain and for someone who loves to write, I have a hard time putting my thoughts down into words on the screen.
My struggle with putting these words down is multi-faceted; Firstly, I believe in equal rights between men and women. Secondly, I am raising a young boy who will one day become a man, and that is where I believe the focus of this huge issue of rape culture should be honed in on. Thirdly, I am a survivor of sexual violence, and the subject itself is hard for me to digest.
Equal rights is a much easier phrase for the general public to digest than “feminism.” If I titled this post, “Raising a Feminist Son,” or something like that, I would have narrowed my audience down significantly, and immediately. This is sad for me. Feminism has been warped and twisted and caricaturized to the point that it is now a laughable cause.
But it’s not. It simply means equal rights for men and women, nothing more, nothing less. Women in the past century in the United States were not allowed to vote. Women are still sold in marriage in parts of the world. Women are physically weaker than men, and therefore women tend to be physically more vulnerable. The fact that the idea of helping women achieve equality in their own way is laughable absolutely humiliates and disgusts me to the point that I have a hard time talking about it.
Anyway, I believe in women’s rights, feminism, and above all, equality. The hashtag #yesallwomen reeks of feminism, equality, and touchy subject matter for many people. It is easily laughed at because of this. The idea that women are constantly being undermined, advanced upon, and treated as less of a human than a man is hard for men to grip because they’re the ones doing it. Of course it’s hard for men to understand, they aren’t in women’s shoes and they are the ones usually doing the undermining. Hard news, boys, but it’s the truth.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard something derogatory about women in any given workplace I have experience in, I wouldn’t have to work. Whether or not the comments are intentionally degrading women, the fact of the matter is that they still are derogatory. I hear them regardless. And they’re never aimed at me, let me be clear, but I am surrounded by it, and I have been. And I am not alone.
But that’s not my point! My point is that it is a diminishing tactic: To laugh at something like the word feminism is a way to minimize its legitimacy, but this is nothing new. This is not newsworthy.
All I’m saying is that #yesallwomen promotes equal rights, and that scares and upsets people. It’s baffling to me, but so it goes.
As I am thinking about the fact that what, 1 in 5? 1 in 10? 1 in 2? are subject to sexual violence in their lifetime, I think about the people who are doing these horrible things. Who are these people, these men? Who raised them? How were they raised? Are we talking nature or nurture? What is going on that some men can rape or harm a woman, and that some men don’t?
It makes me nervous to parent a boy who will one day become a man. Will he be respectful? Kind? Gentle? Will he be cold-hearted? Do terrible things? How can I steer him in the right direction so that he will someday be the man who women trust and do not fear?
What horrible questions for me to even have to consider. I know that my father would have raised such a man, had he had a son. My father, my grandfather, my husband; these are people who women trust and do not fear. Is it enough for my son to be surrounded by these men? Is it enough to have their influence?
As a mother, I struggle with determining how my son’s (male) mind will work, and how I can instill values that make him not only a good human being, but a good man. Someone who will not rape or molest or violate.
It is not surprising that boys who grow up exposed to sexual violence could be more prone to commit these acts. Or perhaps it might deter them from committing them. There are no clear answers.
The ones that scare me are the men who do these terrible things and there is no “logical” reason for it; their families are sound, their childhood was not filled with horror, they appear to have no history of violence or mental illness.
And let me clarify, the person who violated me was the latter; a normal person. This happens, and it happens often.
Being a parent of a child is scary no matter what; there are terrible things that can happen to a son or a daughter, regardless of sex or gender. If I had a daughter, I would be afraid of someone violating her. But, I have a son. I am afraid for him; not because I suspect him to have inner demons or that he has demonstrated some sort of mental illness which makes me worry about his future actions, but because he is a man in a society that supports mysogyny and male dominance. He is being raised by a feminist mother and a feminist stepfather, but that doesn’t mean that he will not be heavily exposed to a culture that is basically putting its stamp of approval on rape, sexual violence, and general lack of respect towards women.
But I have some hope. I know that I am doing my part to have four-year-old-appropriate “body chats.” I am not shy about my body, nor do I insult my own body in front of Will. I never insinuate that he should be embarrassed about his body, and if he has questions about girls and boys and their bodies, I answer them. He knows where baby sheep come from, so it will be no big stretch of the imagination to figure out where baby people come from.
He’s not ready for any more of a conversation than that; but my point is, even at four, he has a concept of self-privacy and bodily respect. These are the things that I hope our generation is instilling in their children. It is folly to think it is universally happening, but I like to think that if even a good percentage of parents are doing this, then we are taking the proper steps towards raising men who have respect for others bodies and lives.
I have hope for the next generation, but only if this generation of parents is willing to have tough talks at young ages, and to teach their BOYS to become good MEN.