How Not to Raise a Sexual Assaulter
You Never Really Know If You’re Raising Good Kids Until You’re Long Done
The political pandemonium of the past two years has left me extremely confused about a lot of things. But of one thing I’m now certain: It’s an assaulty world out there, ladies.
Since #MeToo erupted, the number of women who’ve come forward with accounts of handsy, tonguey, thrusty dates, bosses, strangers, and celebs is shocking. We saw our favorite sitcom dad and pudding peddler sent to jail over such accusations, and a volatile frat boy sent to the Supreme Court despite them.
So I wasn’t surprised when, in response to these reports, parents began expressing dire concern about the world their kids will inherit. However — I was surprised it was their sons they were worried about.
“It’s a very scary time for young men in America,” whined the confessed vagina groper who occupies the Oval. But he’s not the only one fretting. I’ve heard moms agonizing on social media that our poor boys are suddenly at the mercy of any wounded vixen who gets a wild hair to shatter their reputations. (Let’s be clear: These are white moms, as minority parents have long known how her-word-against-his accusations will end.)
And I get it. It’s our job as parents to think about how things will affect our children — from hot drinks left at the edge of a counter to long-overdue female-empowerment social movements. I have two boys, and I admit I’ve ached for them this year every time “white male” was spit from seething teeth.
Fortunately, the best way to protect your sons from being accused of sexual assault is still this: Make sure they never sexually assault anyone.
Our kids learn not to be sexual assaulters when we teach them, as toddlers, that the desire to touch someone else’s stuff is not a license to do so—and when we mirror that non-entitlement back to them by respecting their bodies and their autonomy, too. They learn it when they see their parents treat each other with respect, courtesy, and consideration, and by how their parents react when other people — even family members — treat women unfairly. They learn it when we refuse to conform to or perpetuate gender stereotypes in our homes, and when we speak up about misogynistic rap lyrics or, ahem, the lyrics in my Van Halen playlist. They learn it when we insist on talking about uncomfortable things — like the guy at work who makes creepy comments about Mom’s appearance, or why the porn they’ll no doubt see online doesn’t often depict healthy sexual relationships.
I asked some decent men I know why they’ve never sexually assaulted anyone. As a parent, I found their answers heartening:
“I was raised by and around strong women who were at least my equal and likely beyond,” said one.
“It would be dickish, cruel, and I couldn’t enjoy myself if the other person wasn’t into it,” said another.
“I was taught to respect others. That’s really all that’s necessary,” quipped a third.
Strong women. Kindness. Empathy. Self-respect. Respect for others. That’s not Tiger Mom stuff; it’s pretty basic parenting, right?
I like what Paul Hartzer had to say on The Good Men Project blog: “Instead of teaching my son to fear girls, I’m teaching him to respect them, to not treat them like objects, and to absolutely never assault them, sexually or otherwise. If he does that, I’m confident that under the extremely unlikely situation he’s met with a false accusation of sexual assault, it will be so lacking in credibility that it won’t affect him.”
You never really know if you’re raising good kids until you’re long done. But in the scope of Things That Currently Terrify Me, I’m not too worried about my boys finding themselves in Kavanaugh’s loafers. We were recently at a restaurant, and my dinner was burnt when it arrived — so I sent it back. There was an awkward silence as there often is when I confront strangers in front of my embarrassed kids. But my youngest son surprised me.
“Mom?” he said. “I’m glad you do that. I’m glad you speak up for what you want.”
Now about that Van Halen …
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