Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Teaching My Son to See Past Rape Culture
The Stubenville rape trial has been everywhere lately: in the media, on blogs, Twitter, my Facebook feed, and in my thoughts.
I've read a lot of articles and blog posts, and participated in online discussions about various aspects of this trial and the issues it has raised. I've discussed these issues with people close to me and with strangers from a variety of backgrounds. I've made the terrible mistake of reading the comments on news articles. I've shared some of these articles and blog entries within my own social media circles.
But in the last week, I realized there are a few things I feel the need to say.
I feel no pity for rapists. I don't feel sorry for the two "promising young men" whose lives have been "forever changed" by the rape trial verdict. I am disgusted by the way many mainstream media outlets have chosen to cover the trial, painting the rapists as victims and barely mentioning the actual rape victim except to mention that she was drunk and has a history of lying.
But it has me thinking. What happened in the lives of these two young men that made them think that digitally penetrating somebody who was too drunk to know what they were doing, much less consent to it, was OK? What made them think that it was a good idea to sexually assault someone, take photos of the victim, and then joke about it in text messages? What made their friends think it was acceptable to share those photos? And, most importantly, what can I do to make sure that wherever Moe goes in his life, he is 100% secure in the knowledge that this kind of behaviour is not only wrong, but reprehensible? And what can I do now, when he's only three years old, to start making this message clear?
I'll tell you what I, along with my wonderful parenting partner, am already doing.
We are doing our best to make sure Moe is in charge of his own body. That means that if we are tickling him, holding him, kissing him or cuddling him and he tells us not to, WE STOP. And if any of our friends are doing these things to him and he asks them not to, we ask them to listen to him immediately. If he wants you to put him down, put him down. If he doesn't want you to hug him, stop hugging him.
We insist that he says goodbye to people when they leave, but he has the option of either giving them a hug, a high five, or props. We will ask him, "Would you like to give this person a hug?" but he is allowed to say no, and we don't make a big deal about it if he does. He never has to hug someone if he doesn't want to. Not even me.
So, please, please, please. If you are hanging out with my son, ask him, "Can I give you a hug?" before giving him a hug. Ask him, "Can I kiss you?" before kissing him. And if he says no, please respect that and offer an alternative, like a high five or a fist bump.
Because how on earth is a child supposed to learn that you shouldn't touch someone if they don't want you to if he or she is constantly being touched without his or her consent?
The other issue that has been weighing on my mind is the result of a Facebook thread on a friend's wall. The thread became very heated because rape is a contentious topic and people have a lot of very powerful feelings about it. A few people were basically saying that my opinion was worth less than theirs because I have never been raped.
There are so many problems with this statement.
First of all, how on earth do you know if I've ever been raped or not? Don't assume I have, and don't assume I haven't. I have never stated whether I've been sexually assaulted because personally, I don't feel that it's really anyone's business but my own. Also, when it comes to expressing my thoughts about issues like rape, consent, and rape culture, WHAT DIFFERENCE DOES IT MAKE? I am a human being, and I have every right to have my opinion heard. Telling me that my opinion is worth less than yours because of my sexual past, my gender, or my sexual orientation is about as logical as saying that your opinion is worth more because I can't drive standard. You may not agree with me, but don't devalue my words because of who you think I am.
We can't have a dialogue if we start with the assumption that one person's opinion is worth more than another's.
And finally, I've seen a number of people indicate that they hope that the two rapists from Stubenville suffer a similar fate when they go to prison.
Wishing that these men will be raped in prison is condoning rape. And that is what the other teens were doing when they shared photos of the victim, and that is what mainstream media are doing when they talk about what a pity it is that these "promising young men are losing their bright futures". I don't wish sexual assault on anyone - not even rapists. Rape is never right, never just, never deserved.
If I am going to teach my son to see past the culture of rape in which we live, he has to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that forcing himself on someone else without their expressed consent is always, always wrong, no matter who that person is.
In order to teach our children to respect other people, we have be respectful of them and of others at all times. Even when you want to tickle them. Even when you're dragging them into a time out. Even when they have been dawdling for 20 minutes and they won't climb the fucking stairs and holy shit, kid, bedtime was half an hour ago and just go upstairs already.
It's a tall order, and nobody's perfect, but if we keep "respect and compassion" as our goal, we're starting in the right place.