My son is naive and innocent, even for a 9-year old. As in, still believes in Santa and the Tooth Fairy innocent, couldn’t care less about girls innocent, does not watch PG-13 movies innocent, and has no clue where babies come from innocent. My kid is a kid, is a kid, is a kid…and that’s just fine with me.
I knew one day he’d come home from school all full of first crush and ask me questions about things like kissing, holding hands, and how the heck he got out of my tummy…or how he got in there in the first place?! I expected these questions to crop up organically over time, signaled by hormones, a book passage, or even lyrics on the radio. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d have to explain it all at once because of a presidential debate.
When my son asked if he could watch the debate with me, my initial thought was just say no; as I would have to a movie full of mature themes. You know Buddy, not this time, maybe when you’re older. But playing out the conversation in my head I knew it would be met with: Mom, everyone will talk about it at school. Everyone watches them. I’m really curious; I want to know what’s going on in the election. Wanting to prevent him from getting all his political information-and misinformation-at the school lunch tables, I reluctantly agreed. Isn’t it sad that instead of fostering his interest in the political process, I feared it?
Knowing the moderators would be chock full of “hot mic” soundbites, I steeled myself for what was coming. Where better to blow my kid’s mind and sexualize him too young, than in the comfort of our living room couch—hosted by Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper?
Pretty much right out of the gate, we established some working definitions. As in right after the first question.
Mr. Cooper did not pull punches.
We received a lot of questions about the tape released on Friday. You called what you said, ‘locker room banter’ — kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals. This is sexual assault, You bragged about sexually assaulting women. Do you understand that?
Here. We. Go.
Genitals - I know in our house (even though I have taught you the actual terms) you and your brother prefer to use the word wiener, pee-pee, mommy part, or your all-time favorite, flinger-flanger, and very rarely, penis; but from now on let’s use genitals. Yep, that’s a solid word to add to your vernacular. Doesn’t it have a nice ring? Oh, and why did the man with white hair, asking all the questions, just ask Donald Trump about grabbing them? Well, that leads me to our next term.
Sexual Assault - Hey Bud, I know right now all you care about is playing baseball and mastering John Williams’s Theme From Harry Potter for your piano recital, but let’s talk about grabbing girls. Oh, and since I can tell by the look on your face that you are horrified, let’s talk about the fact that there are people, men, who do things to girls you’ve never even heard of. And yes, it’s scary. And now, thanks to a reality TV star turned ‘politician,’ you know.
Corrupting Your Soul: 1 Innocence: 0
Consent - That is when a person agrees to let someone touch their body. Hmm, you look puzzled. No, you don’t have to ask to touch someone’s arm in basketball or tag them in PE. It’s more for like kissing…and stuff. (This is like teaching my 3-year old algebra before he learns to count. It’s in the wrong order.) The people who are…kissing…or touching, both agree that it’s ok. I know you can’t even fathom wanting to kiss someone, let alone ask them if it’s ok, but stay with me, you were the one who wanted to watch this in the first place!
With enough new knowledge already ricocheting around in his too-young-brain, I was just hoping we could avoid discussing rape culture or p- - - y. Pleeeasse. I don’t think either of us can take it.
Now for the questions.
Why does he keep interrupting her? He’s soooo rude.
Why is she smiling, even though he’s being soooo rude?
All right. Let’s unpack this.
Because she’s a woman, it’s important not to seem angry, or edgy, or emotional. Women are supposed to smile and make everyone feel comfortable, make men feel comfortable. And that’s called sexism. For centuries men have run our country, and the workplace, and the White House, and that’s called male privilege. And honey, she’s smiling because if she does show anger, or frustration, or really any emotion at all, it will overshadow her message and her credibility, and she will be reduced to an emotional woman unfit for the presidency. In contrast, you can see the male candidate angrily pace the stage, and intimidate, (and sniff?!), and interrupt and pretty much be an erratic mess—unable to string two words together to form one coherent thought. But he won’t worry for one-second that he needs to hide his emotions, or anger, or arrogance…and that is called a double standard.
And even with all that subtext, Hillary has to smile. Women smile to hold their ground, to show that we can take it, to be the bigger man. I have done it too, we all have. But tonight I am not smiling, because my son’s innocence got a serious overhaul and it’s now bursting at the seams with NSFW footage…and I helped put it there. That makes me angry. I had to watch his face twist in confusion as he visualized hateful acts against women. That makes me emotional. I could have kept him from watching; but he would have gone to school and heard God-knows-what over a game of kickball, and still come home needing to know everything I told him tonight. Even more, after the inevitable clarifications, for what was lost-in-translation between families and lunch-lines.
I’d rather he hear it from me the first time, through the ears of the naive little boy I know he is. In the privacy of his own living room, where in a few months his Elf-On-The-Shelf will be striking a pose next to the picture frames on the mantle; perfectly free of sexual implication. Tonight, thanks to a self-important, misogynistic, vile, narcissistic candidate for president, he was stripped of some of his innocence and I am not smiling about that.
And Donald, while Hillary has to smile and watch you drop kick women into your filthy-locker-rooms-of-ol’. I am not smiling because what you call “locker room talk” is everything I have protected my child from being exposed to-before he’s old enough to kiss someone, or hold their hand. Your “locker room talk” is a thousand Brock Turners waiting for permission. Your “locker room talk” is exactly the kind of thinking I am working my butt (or shall I say a**) off, to keep my two future-young-men from ever condoning. Your “locker room talk” is so habitual for you, that you don’t understand why it is obscene to others. You are a fish swimming in filthy water for so long, you can’t even see the waste. Your “locker room talk” is forcing the hand of parents across our country to have conversations with their children that we are not yet ready to have—about concepts older than their years. Parents like me are not smiling, we are angry. We’ve had enough.
And Hillary, on behalf of all of us, who had to search for the right words to explain sexual assault to our young children, I want you to know that we are angry right along with you. We know you are smiling because you are the bigger woman; and for the sake of the bigger picture—you have to smile. But we don’t have to, and we are all not smiling right along with you.