My sons are the love bugs in our family. Jonah and Gabriel are six and three, and they are full of affection for their older sister, and for me. They are the ones most likely to share hugs and kisses, to remind their sister that she is adored, and to draw hearts for my husband and me. Their thoughtful, loving, and strong spirits have always made me feel confident about what kind of men they will become.
But I must admit that Steubenville has shaken me. I feel challenged by what it means to raise boys against the backdrop of what is becoming our rape culture. How do I teach my sons to understand and respect girls when there is a larger culture and marketplace that shamelessly hyper-sexualizes very young girls? How do I teach my sons about respectful physical interactions when most boys learn about the female body through mainstreamed, hardcore porn? What rules of personal responsibility can be sketched out for them when there is still a narrative that "boy will be boys" when it comes to assault or rape, but girls are expected to be responsible for themselves and for how they are treated by others? What notions of masculinity can I share with them that have nothing to do with subjugating, objectifying or denigrating women and girls?
I am grateful to have a husband who models for his sons a masculinity that is rooted in love and respect for women and girls, that is demonstrated everyday in the way that he loves our daughter and me. I am also grateful for many of the posts by other parents that have appeared on this website and other social media sites as we struggle together to do right by our children. Part of the work is having these public square conversations about our children and sexual violence. And I take comfort from Zerlina Maxwell's five points on how to teach boys and men not to rape. She writes:
1. Teach young men about legal consent:
2. Teach young men to see women's humanity, instead of seeing them as sexual objects there for male pleasure:
3. Teach young men how to express healthy masculinity:
4. Teach young men to believe women who come forward and not to blame the victim.
5. Teach young men about bystander intervention.
Folks like Neil Irvin and Ted Bunch of Men Can Stop Rape and A Call to Men are teaching these new lessons in manhood to other boys and men.
Nevertheless, there is a very pervasive rape culture, against which it feels daunting to teach our sons healthy constructs of masculinity. But this is what we must do, as mothers and fathers. Our children deserve no less.