Tag Archives: consent

Raising Boys When Trump Can Be President

Issues of sexism and patriarchy have never been the focus of this blog, but they’ve come up a few times. We wrote just over a year ago about Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect in light of a seemingly endless train of sexual assaults prominent in the media. Well, now Donald Trump is President-Elect of the United States, and women everywhere (and we don’t think we’re being hyperbolic when we say everywhere) are frankly, scared. We certainly are here in Canada. The day after the election, our experience of greeting other women was that we asked each other, with a sombre, knowing tone… “How are you?” None of us had to say why we were asking.

Simply put: the recent election showed us that a man can have double digit sexual assault accusers – and be shown on video, bragging about how he assaults women – and still be elected president. This is the part that’s hurting the most post-US-election, that a man can say terrible, terrible things about women and minorities, on tape, for years – he can even make that kind of divisive, hateful rhetoric the basis of his campaign – and that’s still apparently not a disqualifier for being elected president.

There are so many small, seemingly-innocent ways in which rape culture is perpetuated in our society – from the “boys will be boys” excuse we so often hear when male children engage in violent or aggressive behaviour that we would never accept from female children – to the many, many, MANY examples of pop culture ‘love’ stories where a woman resists a scoundrel-type hero who initially forces a kiss on her only to have her (of course!) fall in love with him in the end.

And while there is a big jump from watching a blockbuster to assaulting someone, there is no doubt that the message is sent, over and over again, that male aggression and dominance is not only acceptable but to be admired. No one starts out as a rapist or even remotely sexist, but these repeated messages, both subtle and not so subtle, are steps along that path.

Electing someone to his country’s highest office who has been open about his disrespect for women as objects worthy of either a) sexual assault, (if attractive enough, in his opinion), b) dismissal as a nuisance to employers (if pregnant/mothering), or c) dismissal as a “nasty woman” (if daring to disagree/state facts/aspire to a position for which she is actually qualified), is, yes, TERRIFYING.

It’s basically the cherry on top of a sundae for rapists, assaulters, abusers and garden variety misogynists to reassure them that, regardless of how they treat women, no pansy-ass-liberal-PC-police can stop them from achieving their ambitions in the world, because hey, it’s still a MAN’S WORLD. It says that, not only is this behaviour acceptable, it’s acceptable in a person with enormous influence as a leader and a role  model.

We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach our sons that women are equal to men as it is. We thought it was going to be hard enough to teach them that traits commonly associated with women (cooperation, openness, nurturing, and emotional intelligence) are just as valuable, and necessary for a vibrant life, as those commonly associated with men (independence, strength, assertiveness, and reason).

How are we going to explain this to them? How do we explain to them that the country where their grandfather and aunts live has a President who thinks Mommy shouldn’t have the right to make her own choices about her reproductive health, even though Daddy should? A President who thinks that  if one of their aunties gets pregnant, she should have to forego employment security, because she apparently ‘deserves’ what she gets for being knocked up, even though the father of that baby would not be similarly disadvantaged for becoming a parent? A President who, if he was in the same room with Mommy, or one of their aunties, or any woman they know, would feel entitled to size her up, decide if he felt like ‘grabbing her by the pussy,’ and believe that because he’s famous she would ‘like’ such treatment?

How do we explain that, while this man became President when people knew that these were his beliefs and voted for him anyway, that this standard is NOT OK for them?

We are feminists. Our husbands are feminists. We hope to raise feminist children, who will grow into feminist men, men who respect women – and all people – as equal human beings.

Donald Trump’s election has not, as we’re sure some of his supporters might hope, cowed us into some sort of bizarre acceptance that it’s a “man’s world” out there. All it has done is made us more sure in our principles, bolstered our confidence that the work of feminism is far from over, and made us even more determined that our sons will know, each and every day, by our words and actions, that misogyny is not okay. Even misogyny by quiet bystanding. Even misogyny in its subtler forms. Even misogyny masked as “locker room talk” or excused as “boys being boys.”

And yes, this might sometimes result in us being moms who are “no fun,” who can’t “take a joke” or “let it go.” But we’re okay with that. Because the alternative – quietly laughing along because we want to be liked by our boys, or just being quiet, or simply eye-rolling at the sexist behaviours they will encounter in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations – is too horrible. We’re seeing the results now of what happens when people turn a blind eye to sexist, racist, and homophobic behaviour.

We love our boys, and we want them to be free to be complex, multi-faceted human beings. We do not want them to feel defined by what is between their legs, as Donald Trump seems to define women by what’s between ours. We want them to care so much about other people of all backgrounds, and to empathize with them so strongly, that should someone espouse the values and opinions that Donald Trump has displayed, they will call them out. They will stand up to the injustice – not “like men,” but just like decent human beings.

 

Teaching Our Boys About Sex, Consent, and Respect

I seem to see a LOT in the media these days about sex and consent – specifically, about teaching boys about consent as a way to reduce/prevent instances of sexual assault and rape. I work in a university, and there’s a LOT of news in our field about various institutions constantly upgrading and re-visioning their approaches to sexual assault – everything from peer education programs and helplines to better processes for reporting assaults and supporting survivors.

More attention to sexual assault and efforts to prevent it are GOOD. There’s no doubt about it. And as a mom with a son (even though he doesn’t understand such topics yet), I’m grateful that this push is happening.

At the same time, I can’t ever escape the feeling that no matter how many articles are published about the importance of teaching boys consent, no matter how many clever cartoons or YouTube videos go viral for explaining why the issue of consent should be a no-brainer, no matter how many universities, school boards, and public health organizations ramp up their efforts to address this issue… we still have a rampant rate of sexual assault and rape in our society. And that’s just CANADA. NORTH AMERICA. Places that are (supposedly) ‘advanced’ and ‘civilized,’ with ‘equal rights’ for men and women, where the work of feminism has already brought us to ‘the good life.’

Unfortunately, I don’t think all of these efforts are tackling the real root of the problem. Because the real root of the problem is not that many men think they are entitled to women’s bodies. The real root of the problem is not that women have been shamed for centuries anytime we express sexuality outside of a very narrow (yet precarious and shifting) set of boundaries that we are always in danger of transgressing. The real root of the problem is that our culture as a whole has never really been willing to address or challenge the core belief that ‘men are better than women‘. That masculinity is superior to femininity. That the traits commonly associated with men – rationality, physical strength, self-assertion, and self-preservation – are somehow inherently more valuable than those assumed to be their opposites (and therefore associated with women) – emotionality, physical nurturing, cooperation, and vulnerability. And worst of all, that this value system actually does mean, even to people who don’t want to admit it, that those who possess the former have more ‘right’ than those who possess the latter. (Sure, there’s a lot of talk around increasing the value of typically feminine traits, but I feel this is usually framed with an attitude that feminine traits are a nice, politically-correct side dish to the main course of masculinity, which just needs a little tweaking, rather than a full overhaul.)

So we need to address this problem, at its root. As a mother, this means teaching my son that cooperation is just as valuable as self-assertion – and that a balance is the best route to leadership. Teaching him that emotional understanding is just as valuable as rational thought – and that a balance will allow him to make sense of his experiences in a fulfilling way. Teaching him that vulnerability is just as valuable as self-preservation – and that a balance is necessary for successful relationships.

In a more tangible sense, it means never reinforcing for him (even indirectly) that it’s reasonable to write women’s feelings or perspectives off as ‘crazy.’ Never modeling for him that it’s ‘funny’ (even by remaining silent) to demean a male by calling him a female. Always encouraging him to see the value in other people’s perspectives – especially those that tend toward the feminine (after all, he’s going to get reinforcement of the value of masculinity from everywhere else). I will also have to talk to him about consent, sexual assault, and feminism. But those talks will make a lot more sense to him if he doesn’t have the subconscious belief that really, he is better than his female peers (for all the reasons above).

Only when we actually don’t believe in this binary hierarchy of values anymore – deep down in our collective, human, subconscious, most secret don’t-want-to-admit-it heart-of-hearts – will we be able to make a meaningful impact on issues like sexual violence, consent, and respect.

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