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Friday, March 9, 2012

Dear Parents--Especially Fathers

Dear Parents—Especially Fathers:

I hate being serious--I really, really do. But, we have some work to do.

The world needs your help. And, I am going to be specific!

The reading I did for International Women's Week was...scary. So scary, I have been forced to be serious one more day.

I just read a great quote: “Stopping rape is men’s work.” You, gentlemen, are uniquely qualified to make the world safe for out daughters.

After all, it is men that are largely responsible for making the world a dangerous place for women. Oh, please, don't even think of accusing me of "man-bashing" or I will report some more statistics.

So, gentlemen—fathers, especially—please join in making the world safe for our daughters by changing our culture of violence and seeing that your sons do not molest and rape them.

First a comment about this entire conversation: Much of the time when I have brought up this subject in a group, someone has immediately brought up their grave worry that a girl might make a false accusation against h/er son. Yes, that could happen. But, that isn’t the topic and it is unlikely (the consequences of reporting rape are far too dangerous to the victim). So, don't even think of bringing up the issue of false accusations, either.

This makes me wonder if we are so fearful of falsely accusing sons, that we are willing to sacrifice our girls. On to today’s letter…

So many preventive efforts for so many of the world’s ills address the victims and coping. Yes, victims/survivors need to see the world as it really is and cope with whatever happens to them.

But, they wouldn’t need to if perpetrators stopped committing crimes.

Many of us are deluded in our understanding of problems such as rape and sexual molestation, or even extreme poverty--we comfort ourselves that we live in a "just world"--it helps us believe that nothing bad can ever really happen to us. But,we don’t live in a just world where people deserve what happens to them. Women and girls don’t deserve to be victimized by our sons. And, we need to stop it now.

Yesterday, I wrote a letter about the dangerous world that we are allowing our girls to grow up in: the rape and sexual molestation of women. I addressed the most frequent victims—women under 30 and college age women. And, I addressed the most frequent perpetrators. Those are NOT masked men hiding in allies.

Those who most frequently rape and molest women are their acquaintances, friends, intimates, and relatives—our sons, grandsons, nephews, neighbor boys.

This letter today is to tell YOU that your son needs to leave home with something besides condoms in his pocket and that is YOUR job.

Sons needs to leave the nest with a moral compass. A sure sense of right and wrong. A sense of morality that means that he treats all women the way that he wants his mother to be treated. Or better yet, sons need to leave home with a sense of values that means he would not do anything to a woman that he would not want done to himself. And, sons need the courage to stand up for their beliefs and values.

I suspect that talking with our sons and daughters about their sexual behavior needs to be far more graphic than we ever dreamt. Before my daughter went to high school, I went over with her every single word or phrase or experience that I thought a 9th grader could possibly have that might be unfamiliar—and thus embarrassing to her.

However 2 very shocking events occurred on her first day of high school. One, she over-heard girls at lunch talking about “being fingered.” Second, someone drank out of her soda can. She quickly adjusted to the sexually explicit conversation. She never adjusted to people drinking out of her soda cans and we had to increase her lunch budget.

Forgive me for being the parent of a daughter and not a son. But, I often wonder if parents of boys, because boys don’t get sexually assaulted nearly as frequently, are less vulnerable to STD’s, and never get pregnant, are less likely to discuss sexual matters in great detail with boys. And, when they do talk, do parents fail to use clear and meaningful language? Sometimes such vague language is used to discuss sex that neither person knows what the other is saying.

And, I am quite sure that a few parents are saying something along the lines of, “Sex is dirty nasty awful behavior. Then, when you get married, sex becomes beautiful. That slut down the street had an overnight guest again.” End of sex education.

My point is that YOU have an obligation to discuss sexual behavior with your boys and girls and it may have to be graphic. Scary graphic. And, you also have an obligation to discuss morality in a way that is not demeaning and degrading to women or men. Because it is time we stopped seeing men as animals, also. It is no surprise that my husband, father, grandfather and all of my uncles were men--and none of them were animals.

No matter what religion or personal beliefs that you have about sexuality and marriage, YOU need to teach your son that sexuality is natural and normal. Because men that fear or despise their own sexuality also fear and despise women and feel free to abuse them.

I guarantee you that your son is hearing the words, “bitch, slut, whore, and cunt” (I refuse to give these words magical power by using symbols--c@#$--to represent them.) at school. And, on the raido. In movies. On TV. On the internet. “We all have grown up in a rape culture, one in which many people have internalized victim-blaming, collusive, placating behaviors.” We live in a world where the sexual shaming of women is widespread and completely acceptable—and, that is where your son lives.

YOU need to tell your son in no uncertain terms that this is wrong and that YOU do not allow that words to be used in your home or in your presence. HE is not allowed to use these words or to engage in “sexual shaming” or the demeaning of women. Ever. It might not hurt to let him know that people do get arrested for verbal assault, as well.

Ahhhh…Huh. Then there is you and your behavior. If YOU or other members of your family are abusive to women or children (or anyone else), use abusive language to women or each other, use sexual shaming or “slut-shaming” language, stop it now. If YOU blame the victims of sexual violence, stop it now. The appropriate rules in a functional family are: No abuse of anyone or anything. No abusive language. No name calling. No blaming the victim. Period.

Have YOU looked at your sons’ cell phone and computer? Does your son know that adolescents have been prosecuted for having nude pictures of each other on their cell phones—child pornography. Yes, young people (and old people) send pictures of their genitals and breasts to each other on their cell phones. And, they get caught and those with pictures of under aged boys or girls get charged with crimes. Suspended from school. Humiliated.

YOU need to watch your language in other arenas, too. Make sure your sons don’t just know the medical/scientific and respectful names of their own body parts, but those of the female gender. Knowing the names of sexual acts and activities might even be a plus.

YOU need to make sure your son knows to “Ask first.” “May I touch you here?” “Is this OK?”

Does your son know that he can ask for later: “Tonight, will it be OK to…” “When do you think you will want to…?” But, he still needs to verify later, and still needs a "Yes!"

YOU need to make sure your son knows that “Yes Means Yes.” And, an unqualified “Yes!” is the only acceptable answer to a sexual questions.

“No means No,” and that mean stop. But, before any touching or any sexual activity at all (YOU may have to define that for your sons), wait for an enthusiastic “Yes!” No one can read cues—it is too much like mind-reading.

YOU must tell your sons not to beg or keep pushing for sexual activity until a girl feels like she has been run over by a semi-truck. That is an abuse of power.

Tell your son to stop the body blocking and physical intimidation--sexual and romantic relationships are not wrestling matches: A larger, heavier, stronger person in a physically intimidating position--such as a boy lying on top of a girl--who is insisting, pushing, groping, breathing heavily, begging...can be so frightening to girls that they are simply afraid to say, "No." Girls begin to feel that it is inevitable no matter what she does or says.

No, of course this isn't threatening to a 45 year old man--but, it can be to a 14 year old or a 22 year old. Reverse the genders and picture your son very intoxicated at a party--with a male partner, perhaps, in the same situation. Picture your son who is very intoxicated lying on a bed, with a bigger, stronger, heavier, perhaps older and less intoxicated young man breathing into his ear, begging, pleading, and groping. Not a pretty site. Yes, forgetting homophobia, it is exactly the same thing.

And, there are other scenarios. An intoxicated 15 year old boy losing his virginity to a 23 year old he has never seen before or since. What he would really have liked was to lose his virginity when he was older, completely alert, with someone he KNEW and was in love with. And, he is still sorry.

Fathers, parents, YOU must teach your sons that a girl (or male partner) who has been drinking too much or using drugs is not able to give consent for any type of touching, kissing, or sexual behavior—legally or morally. And, “drinking too much” may not be very much at all for a young person.

YOU must inform your sons, that only a person who is fully, awake, conscious, and sober can give consent to any sexual activity. When a girl (or other partner) says, “Stop!” it is time to stop. No matter what. We are not animals. Our sons are not animals. Don’t teach them that they are.

It is YOUR job as parents to make sure sons know that “circumstances” and “consent” are NOT the same thing. Being in a girl’s bedroom with drinks, candles, and music does not constitute consent for any specific sexual activity. It is not an invitation. It is not permission. Inviting someone to my kitchen does not give them permission to raid my refrigerator.

YOU must make sure your sons know that “making out” does not constitute consent for intercourse or any specific sexual touching. Having lunch with someone does not give h/er permission to cram food down your throat a few minutes later.

Making out while partially undressed is not consent to remove more clothing or to engage in any specific sexual behavior. Just as going to the beach in a swimsuit does not give anyone permission to remove another part of the swimsuit.

One part of the body may be OK to touch, but another is NOT OK to touch. Just as shaking hands does not give the other person consent to grope the breasts or genitals.

One sexual activity one day is OK but may not be OK another day. Just as it is OK for me to buy lunch for my friends today but not OK for them to steal my wallet tomorrow.

Have YOU made sure your sons know the tremendous amount of pressure that girls feel from boys? Have you made sure that your sons can put themselves in a woman’s shoes? Do sons know the tremendous pressure that girls feel to please them, attract them, keep them?

YOU need to make sure that you and your son know the laws about consensual sexual activity in your state. Make sure he knows the ages of girls he dates. Make sure YOU know who your young adults are dating and their ages.

Do YOUR sons understand that it is the feelings of the recipient of his “attentions” that matter and not his “intentions.” “I didn’t mean to do anything wrong” is meaningless to a young woman who did NOT say “yes” and give consent to a young man to have sex with her – because she was UNABLE to give permission, unable to resist, unable to argue, unable to run -- while she was intoxicated. His “intention” of just having sex is meaningless to a girl who couldn’t say, “NO!” for whatever reason.

Have YOU made sure your sons understand that they can be arrested, go to court, and go to jail for having sex with a young woman who was unable to give consent? A partner has to be able to enthusiastically say, “Yes!” to sexual activity.

This young man, “Driscoll,” suffered a very public arrest and a trial that lasted 2 years after having sex with a woman too intoxicated to give informed consent. He, too, was intoxicated and both were in other relationships. He got acquitted. YOUR son might not be so lucky:

"And so began Kevin Driscoll’s nightmare. Charges of first-degree rape—three counts.
A very public humiliation. Two trials. And the loss of just about everything he
valued in life."

Oh, and have YOU taught your son, that it is not only girls who experience rape and other sexual assaults? From Great Britain: Research by the National Society For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Children (NSPCC) reveals that... 16% of boys report that they have experienced some form of sexual violence from a boyfriend or girlfriend..."

Finally, it would be simply fantastic if everyone taught sons to take a stand: speak out against sexual violence and sex shaming. End friendships with men who speak and behave with disregard, disrespect or violence toward women, who engage in blaming victims, who engage in “sex shaming,” etc. A real man stands up for what is right.

Our children and young adults themselves will bring up lots more material for us to discuss.

Don’t just sit there! Start making the world a safe place for our daughters! I don’t have any sons. Oh, wait a minute! I have godsons and a nephew! We have work to do!

I love you! I really, really do!

Your friend,


PS Almost forgot this: According to Planned Parenthood, about 10 percent of teenage girls in the U.S. become pregnant before age 20. And the U.S. Attorney General reports that 38 percent of date rape victims are girls between the age of 14 and 17. That means that the perpetrators are very likely quite young.

For your reading:

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