Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Boys to Men

Every time one of my sons wants to use an electronic device connected to the internet, their father or I have to adjust the settings so that they can't easily access the vast variety of porn available at the click of a button. We try to limit their exposure, but I know they have already been exposed to whole lot more than I was at twice their ages.

The only way I know to try to counteract the effects of the worst of it is to talk to them about it. Talk to them about sex in general and porn in particular, and hope they come to see sex as something fun and wonderful for everyone involved, rather than a chance to use a woman as a spit sink.

I am raising two men, and I take that responsibility seriously. The statistics on sexual assault are horrifying - nearly 1 in 5 woman report being a victim of rape or attempted rape at some point in their lives - which means there must be an awful lot of "regular guys" out there assaulting women.

Every girl I know got told over and over again, starting in junior high school and continuing well into adulthood, not to go out at night alone; to hold her keys poking out of her fist when walking to her car; not to accept drinks from strangers; not to dress too provocatively; not to drink too much when you're with a guy, blah, blah, blah. All of this in the vain hope that somehow, by following all of these life-limiting instructions, girls and women can control whether or not they are sexually assaulted. You know who controls who gets sexually assaulted? The asshole sexually assaulting someone.

So why do we continue to have so many conversations with girls and not (it seems to me) with boys? Why aren't boys taught that sex isn't fun if everyone involved isn't an enthusiastic participant? That getting over on a girl who is falling-down drunk isn't sex, it's rape? That when a girl pushes your hand away and you keep forcing it back again and again it isn't a victory, it's assault?

I think mothers and sisters and health teachers can talk about consent until we are blue in the face, but not much is going to change until boys hear from other males in their lives that sex without consent is never, ever acceptable. And I just don't get the sense that these kinds of conversations are all that prevalent among men and boys. Why are so many men who wouldn't dream of assaulting a woman so silent about this problem? Even if they're not moved by the abstract moral question, you'd at least like to think they care enough about their sisters and daughters and nieces and mothers and co-workers and friends to want other men to cut this shit out.

Am I wrong about this? Guys out there - do you call each other out for sexist behavior, like many of you would call each other out for racist behavior? Fathers, do you talk with your sons about what consent looks like? Brothers and uncles, do you talk with young men in your lives about making sure everyone is having fun and receiving pleasure during sex, and not just sex as conquest? If so, how were those conversations received? If not, why not?

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