I was raised to be a strong, confident, and capable woman. I was brought up never even considering that I might not be viewed as equal to that of any man. But somewhere between the unfathomable rise of Donald Trump and the outrageous injustice that is the sentencing (and even shorter sentence) of convicted sex offender, Brock Turner, something changed. It occurred to me that the rest of the world may not see most women the same. Yes, I know it’s naive to have taken me thirty-one years. This past year I became a mother to a little boy named Casey. With every passing news report, I feel more and more desperate for him to grow up knowing a woman’s worth. I don’t want to just teach him about equality and fairness, but to show him the value of women and their differences. His father and I want him to grow up not just respecting women, but fully understanding the responsibility of his inherent privilege as a man. That’s why it is our job as parents to be raising respectful and responsible boys.
Different But Equal
This past summer, I read so many inspiring posts from moms of daughters. They are doing everything they can to raise strong girls. Teaching them to be smart and confident in who they are, even if that is different from a man. Joanna writes on our sister blog Motherhood and Merlot, “Vulnerability and emotion are not weaknesses of women… they are what make us strong… and they give us the ability to see and feel things that give us confidence and strength.” Teaching daughters these things is so important, but it’s not enough. Women are only half of the equation. I want my son to know that this difference doesn’t make a woman a second class citizen.
Nor does a man showing emotion make him any less masculine. My husband has struggled with this exact sentiment. He was raised in a household where his parents have very traditional gender roles. They also have very traditional gender interactions. Lack of open communication and emotion is a barrier we have overcome together. He has often been quiet and broody; foregoing emotion, as he was taught. I have had to coax emotion out of my husband by being my own vulnerable self in front of him. Conflict resolution has been an adventure since he grew up not communicating issues openly. In fact, he told me he had to learn to appreciate strong women as an adult. How he came to choose a woman with strong opinions who isn’t afraid to voice them (and loudly) is a mystery, but he did. And he has never once tried to stifle my will or ignored my wishes. He tells me he wants to show Casey how our marriage is an equal partnership made up of different pieces. But that’s only the beginning, and Casey is up against a whole world of conflicting ideologies.
Sexism, Rape Culture & Male Privilege
Fifteen minutes surfing the web or watching the news proves to me that far too many men, young and old, have not been taught to respect women or feel responsible for their own actions towards women. Even more alarming is far too many people (men and women alike) don’t see disrespecting and vilifying women as a disqualification to becoming President. Even though America nearly impeached a previous President who lied about his illicit affairs. Regardless of what party you identify with, the common denominator on both sides of the aisle is the objectification of women. We have legally had the right to vote for ninety-six years and we still don’t have a female President. I promised myself this wouldn’t get political. Believe it or not, I’m a registered Republican. I still don’t know how I’m going to vote.
What I do know is far too many women are discounted because rape culture persists, even in the most civilized nation in the world. I was deeply moved by the statement of Brock Turner’s victim. What she spoke at his sentencing is over 7,000 of the most powerful words I have ever read. The unnamed victim met Brock Turner at a frat party on the Stanford University Campus. Both admitted to having too much to drink. They left the party together while she was still conscious, but shortly after he was caught assaulting her naked unconscious body behind a dumpster and attempted to escape. She didn’t remember anything after her first drink, but he claims she wanted it. He said she was too drunk to stand and fell behind the dumpster, but affirms she was sober enough to consent. There were witnesses that interrupted him and detained him until the police arrived. But because she couldn’t remember, the prosecution told her to expect to lose; that he would get to tell the story of what happened and that she couldn’t prove she hadn’t given consent.
He was still found guilty of three counts of felony sexual assault and attempted rape by a jury of his peers. The Judge, a Stanford athlete and alumni, nullified the convictions (which normally carry a minimum of two years each in prison), by sentencing him to six months in county jail. In his decision, the Judge said he believed Turner’s version of the events, even though the jury did not. He acknowledged the physical and emotional trauma of the victim, but decided since alcohol was a mitigating factor, that a prison sentence would have “a severe impact” and “adverse collateral consequences” on Turner, who had already lost a swimming scholarship and a chance at the Olympics. After three months of good behavior, a rapist walked free. The only positive thing from this sentencing is the California State Legislature unanimously passed a bill to close the loophole that gave this Judge the power to set him free.
As a parent, the most appalling part was a statement written by Brock Turner’s own father. In a plea to reduce the sentence to probation and no jail, he says of Brock: “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve…that is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.” He is reducing three counts of what would be considered rape in most states to “20 minutes of action” and blaming even those actions on drinking to fit in socially. He paints his son as the victim of social pressures in a drinking culture and doesn’t acknowledge the actual victim at all. It’s no wonder Brock Turner refuses to acknowledge his own actions when his father is so ingrained in male privilege, he can’t even refer to them as anything more than “the events from that night”.
A Parent’s Job
It is our job as parents to teach our children; to show them by the example of our own lives. What Brock’s parents and so many others have neglected for too long is to teach our sons about being respectful and responsible boys. While I applaud the many parents who are teaching their daughters to be strong and confident, or are teaching their daughters the beautiful message of being in control of their own bodies, it’s clearly not enough. How can women stand up for themselves if they can’t speak? We have to teach the male gender that he is responsible for her protection.
Therein lies the importance of what we must ingrain into our boys every step of the way: the absence of “no” versus the presence of consent. Apparently, that is a very murky line for some men. In Brock Turner’s mind, his victim wanted it. Not because she said yes, but because she didn’t say no, never mind that she was incapacitated. Assuming a woman wants sexual attention unless and until she says no is the height of male privilege. Blaming a victim for the crimes committed against her is an archaic legacy of rape culture, but it’s not going away anytime soon.
Teaching our sons to truly respect women means we must make sure they understand equality. We must teach our sons to respect a woman’s right to choose if, when, and from whom she receives sexual attention. The absence of no is not an invitation. It is our job as mothers and fathers to show young men the responsibility of his privilege. That it is his responsibility to hear “yes” every single time and his obligation to stop every time a woman asks. We as parents must teach our daughters to speak boldly, but we must teach our sons to listen.