The Awesome And Terrible Responsibility of Raising Boys

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Date night with NicholasAt present, the web is a hornet’s nest of outrage over the light sentence given to the swimmer convicted of rape—and his father’s response—and his victim’s lengthy, no-punches-pulled response to her attacker.

And all of this makes me think about myself as a parent, and what this means about my particular responsibility as a parent of boys.

I have for a long time been convinced that the terrible ugliness that is sexual assault is a multifaceted problem. Saying that always lands me in hot water—usually by being accused of “blaming the victim.” So let me be clear: rape is no one’s FAULT except the perpetrator’s. No one is “asking for” rape, no matter what they wear or say or do.

Yet it’s a dangerous oversimplification to pretend that outside factors don’t come into play. Men are visually stimulated; it’s a biological reality. Alcohol removes inhibitions, and people under its influence say and do things they know are wrong and would never do if they were in their right minds.

Does any of this excuse rape? No. Men who rape are responsible for their actions, no matter how much alcohol they’ve consumed, no matter how much alcohol their victim has consumed, and definitely no matter what a woman is wearing.

But if we want a solution to this problem–which has been a plague of humanity as long as humanity has been around–we have to address every facet that exerts an influence. I have a lot of opinions as a woman about women’s responsibility, but what I really want to focus on today is the men.

See, another thing we’re not supposed to do is talk about sex when we’re discussing rape. Rape isn’t about sex, we’re told, it’s about power. But sex is the tool being used by men who rape, so you can’t pretend it’s irrelevant. And here’s the thing:

We have a cultural problem with sex. Men are taught–conditioned, even—to view women as objects to fill their desires. (See how that ties into “power”?) They are encouraged to measure their self worth by the size of their genitalia. The culture of boyhood teaches them to appeal to the basest, grossest part of their nature. In childhood, it’s fart humor and poop jokes. In college, it’s the bragging rights, the “let’s sit around in the lounge and turn every discussion to a joke about sex.” (In grad school a group of us one day were having a conversation about conductors, and I was talking about working under so-and-so, and this guy goes, “See that’s your problem. You’re always UNDER instead of on top!” Har har. You’re so witty. Excuse me for a moment while I add you to the list of “people not worth talking to ever again.”)

It’s not that girls never do this, but it’s not part of the girl culture the way it is for boys. Boys are conditioned to view their own gratification as paramount, and to belittle something that, truly, is the most intimate act in the human experience. I mean, as women, we are literally inviting someone else to take up residence inside our bodies. This is no trivial thing!

And this is the world my sons are inheriting. The world I’m supposed to be preparing them for, the world they will have to navigate. I already see them having to choose whether to buy into the boy culture or to stand aside from it, as their father has chosen to do.

Blog Dance 1I love being a mother of boys. I love how they just lay it all out there. I love the adventuresome spirit and the pursuit of thegrandiose and heroic.

I also love that they have, in their father and myself, a model of a relationship based on deep respect and a willingness to call each other out when one person is in the wrong. Whatever other flaws we possess as human beings, I am secure in knowing we are showing our kids what it looks like to treat the opposite sex with dignity. I know they are seeing a relationship in which the good of the other is paramount, and that it’s a two-way street. In which we set aside “me” (I’m tired, I had a hard day, I’m in a bad mood, I want to watch TV) for the good of the other. I love that we are raising boys who are watching the news and who are processing the world and trying to figure out how the puzzle pieces fit together.

It is an awesome and terrible responsibility, being a parent of boys. There’s no doubt in my mind that this ugly reality surrounding assault and the lack of dignity given to women can only be addressed if we get over our hangups about talking about sex. It can only change if we teach our children—all our children, but especially our sons, because let’s face it, for the moment, men still have more power to shape the world—how to treat everyone around them with dignity. It’s a hard lesson to teach, because it’s a hard one to model. It involves approaching choices with thought, rather than impulse, and considering how every choice impacts the people around you. It’s about moderation and self-control—two values that are really not a part of the consumer economy we live in.

This post has taken me pretty much forever to write, and as long as it is, I’ve abandoned almost as many words as I’ve included. So I’m going to hit pause for today and just conclude by saying that this awesome and terrible responsibility is why I am so grateful for the Theology of the Body—because in all the static out there about abstinence-based versus so-called “safe” sex education, this is the one philosophy that is really acknowledging the whole picture of humanity: What happens to the body also impacts the soul, and what injures the soul also affects the body. If we can use that reality to shape the next generation, it will make a difference
for the better.

Consent is NOT Sexy

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Photo by ctrouper, via Flickr

“Consent Is Sexy.”

That’s what the t shirt said. And clearly, the woman wearing thought it was a good slogan.

I do not.

First of all, I have to preface my comments by saying: I get it. The state of relations between men and women sucks. The way we talk to each other sucks. The way we talk about each other sucks. The humor about sex and relationships sucks. The idea that women even have to worry about being violated? Sucks.

But really? “Consent is sexy”? That’s the standard we’re shooting for? As long as they get permission, that’s enough?

Just how low are we going to set the bar?

There’s a truism about expectations. I’ve mostly heard it in the context of education: that people will live up to your expectations, or down to them. If that t shirt is any indicator, the bar we’ve set for how we expect to be treated is so low, it might as well not exist. As long as a guy doesn’t rape us, we’ll flatter their ego and call them sexy.

Really?

On the scale of sexual attractiveness, consent doesn’t even register. Consent is a prerequisite for claiming to be a man. If we women, in the name of sexual liberation, have chosen to fling ourselves at the feet of men for nothing more than “consent,” then we have brought ourselves very, very low indeed.

Consider this:

Among men who are part of a couple, 75% say they always have an orgasm, as opposed to 26% of the women. And not only is there a difference in reality, there’s one in perception, too. While the men’s female partners reported their rate of orgasm accurately, the women’s male partners said they believed their female partners had orgasms 45% of the time. (From WebMD)

So not only do the men get more out of sex, they’re also clueless about how little their partners get out of it.

And this is okay because…?

If a man wants to claim the moniker “sexy,” he needs to do way, way more than just ask permission. I realize this is a radical concept in the modern world, but sex is the capstone of a relationship, not an audition for it. Relationships between men and women have always been troubled because we’ve failed to make the effort to understand and respect each other for what makes us different from each other. But in the modern world we’ve taken it to a whole new level by making sex the end-all-be-all of existence.

And if WebMD is right, women haven’t gotten much out of the deal. Why are we so concerned about our God-given right to have sex with as many people as possible? What are we getting out of it? Has no one else ever stopped to ask this question?

Women were more likely than men to show inconsistency between their expressed values about sexual activities such as premarital sex and their actual behavior.

I can’t say for sure, but I think that means women say they recognize that sex is the capstone, not the audition, but their behavior says they’re willing to let men dictate the terms of the relationship.

So much for women’s liberation.

Down deep, I don’t think any woman really thinks this is okay. The focus on romance in fiction aimed at women indicates that we are all seeking authenticity, understanding, and dare I say it, something holy in a romantic relationship. Or perhaps a better word would be transcendence: something in our partner that gives us a glimpse of a reality beyond what we ever thought was possible.

To my fellow mothers–and fathers, too–I say this: we are the ones who form the next generation of men to view women with respect…or not. And too often we shirk our responsibility to point out what is wrong in the world, simply because it’s awkward. We’re so uncomfortable with our own brokenness where sexual matters are concerned, we feel unable to address the subject with our children.

But we have to get over it. We have to confront the ugliness within, look for healing within ourselves, and summon the courage to tell our children–beginning at a very young age–how the world is supposed to look.

Because they deserve better. And so do we.