Thursday, March 28, 2013

Counteracting Rape Culture: Eight Lessons I Hope My Boys Will Learn

It’s probably one of the most demoralizing corners of the internet. The comment section, where ignorance and stupidity know no bounds. I don’t know how I found myself there, but there I was, after reading a depressing article about a 16-year-old girl raped at a party by two football players in Steubenville, Ohio. It was one of those stories that makes you question the world we live in, (one where hackers are the only ones who seem to be able to uncover the truth) but nothing could prepare me for the vitriol and ignorance I found in the comment section. (Note: I didn't link to the original article I read- I can't find it/remember which site)

 “She shouldn’t have been drinking! ”

“What did she expect? Getting drunk at a party.”

“She got what she deserved!”

“Men can't help themselves- they don’t have the same kind of control that women do when it comes to sex.”

I’d like to think that people this ignorant couldn't figure out how to turn on a computer, let alone use it, but I’d be wrong. There were countless comments like these. Feminist theory calls it Rape culture”- “a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.Victim-blaming is a key component of rape culture. I’d like to think that as a society, we have moved past rape culture, but events like Stuebenville have illustrated that Rape Culture is still thriving.

Is this the culture that led these boys in Stuebenville to not only rape their victim, but to boast about it on social media? Is this the same culture that drove football coaches and others to blame the victim for her own rape and to protect these boys from any repercussions? I think so.

As a mother, tragedies like this make my heart hurt. They make me afraid. How do I raise girls who understand that they are not objects? That they should never let anyone objectify them or mistreat them? That they shouldn't feel shame for another person's actions? I've tried to convey this message to my daughter, but I also have two sons.  Here is a little list I put together of lessons I can teach my sons now to, hopefully, counteract this ignorance that seems ever so prevalent.  

Lessons I hope to teach my boys to counteract Rape Culture:

1.       Respect other peoples’ authority over their own bodies. Don’t tickle, kiss, hug, or touch another person without their permission. If someone asks you not to touch them, listen. If you are rough-housing with your friends and one of them asks you to stop, listen.
2.       You are not entitled to anything. I don’t care if someone is eating freshly-baked pie right in front of you- you have no right to another person’s food without their permission. The same applies to a person’s body. The way a girl dresses or acts does not entitle you to treat her like an object, EVER.
3.       Follow the golden rule. Treat people with the same respect you’d like to be shown. Treat every person as a thinking, feeling being. Be kind.
4.       You are accountable for your own actions. You will have to face the consequences of your choices. It’s better to learn this as a child than an adult. I know you hate going to time out or not getting what you want all the time, but that’s life, dude.  
5.       Don’t ever mock anyone for their appearance. Women are not required to be eye candy for you, or anyone. I know you will be bombarded with images of posing women- images that objectify them and make their very existence seem like it is only for your amusement and pleasure. Heck, judging from the number of provocative Facebook profile pictures I have seen, sometimes women seem to believe this lie. Ads and television don’t reflect reality. The overweight woman in the swimming suit is just as entitled to wear what she wants as the thin woman. We all come in different shapes and sizes. Besides, physical beauty can’t hold a candle to inner beauty.

6.       You are not more important than anyone else. I don’t think we will ever truly grasp just how invaluable each person is. We all have something totally unique to offer the world. Learn to treat each person with the same respect you would give your dearest friend. 
7.       Learn to deny yourself. That second slice of cake? Another hour of playing on the Wii? Get use to not always indulging in what you want or what feels good. Self-control is learned, not something you are born with. Practice it now. If you can master self-control, nothing is out of reach.
8.       Compassion. I know we live in a world that acts like being a man means being a tough, emotionless robot. That’s also total B.S. I knew your father was a “real man” when I saw him cup a spider in his hand and take it outside rather than squish it. He refuses to kill anything, even bugs. There is nothing manlier than using your emotions and energy to help or enrich the lives of those around you. Compassion is one of the most sincere forms of love and respect you can offer.

What would you add to this list? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 


  1. I don't feel like I had to search very long to find a few comments like those quoted in the beginning.

    To put any amount of blame on the girl is ridiculous. Sure, both sides made choices leading up to the rape, but ultimately the choice to rape was made by the boys.

    And I think effectively teaching even one or two of your lessons would dramatically change our young men's behavior.

  2. Great write up.

    Regarding #1, with a range of ages to deal with I often default to a "It's just not appropriate behavior" response when explaining why you shouldn't touch, tickle, pinch, someone else without their permission.

  3. Wow!
    I was raped when I was 13. I didn't call it that then because I went horseback riding with an older boy who gave me vodka to drink and I could barley remember the incident. I always thought is was my fault, that I was a bad person for letting it happen. I never told my parents. I was ashamed. My life was changed forever.
    It wasn't until I had my daughter in my mid-thirties and read Reviving Ophelia that I began to understand the profound impact that one act had upon my entire life. And to call it rape, which is what it was.

    I love the lessons that you hope to teach you sons. I too hope to teach my children those things and I am grateful for your eloquent reminder.

    Much gratitude, Tia