Content Warning: General discussion of sexual assault as a societal issue.
I fear for my teenage daughter because she is the age I was when I noticed grown men looking at me that way, when sleepovers at certain friends’ houses became uncomfortable due to the actions and words of fathers and brothers. I fear for her because I know what it is like to be of an age to go places without adult supervision, and to navigate interactions with random men, which can sometimes be scary. I fear for her because the next few years of her life may cause her to lose a lot of faith in humanity as she learns that her primary value to a lot of the men she will meet has nothing to do with who she is.
I fear for my transgender daughter because the murder rate for people like her is astronomically higher than it is for the general population. I fear for her because she is beautiful, and passes easily as her true gender, and to some men in this society, that means she’s deceiving them, maliciously tricking them, because she may not tell every person she meets, within minutes of meeting them, that she’s transgender. I fear for her because people are encouraged by some facets of our government to question her humanity.
I fear for my son, but in a different way. I fear he will drive too fast, or drink too much at parties, or take risks that could get him injured or killed. I fear that he will want to play American football someday rather than his current soccer, and that he’ll get a head injury, as football players are prone to. I fear he’ll rely on raw intelligence too much, and not develop work ethic, resulting in a difficult learning curve and some inevitable bad grades come high school or college. I worry that he may not get into the university he wants to go to, that someone will break his heart in a relationship, or that he’ll have a hard time finding clothes that fit because he’s so tall and skinny.
Yet, I do not fear for my son being falsely accused of sexual assault by people within my daughters’ cohort. Of course I’m doing all I can to raise him right. I know he respects women. He tells people, “I want to be an engineer like my mom.” and doesn’t find that at all questionable, even though many boys want to be like their dads. We talk about how girls and boys are equally strong, smart, and funny. My kids, regardless of gender, have the same set of expectations. Boys and girls clean, boys and girls do yard work.
I’ve always valued their bodily autonomy, never forcing them to give hugs or accept physical affection if they didn’t want to. It was always acceptable to verbally say hello or goodbye, or to give a high five or handshake instead of a hug if that’s what they felt like. All my children are aware that other people’s bodies are their own, and that just as they get to make the decision on who touches them, other people do as well. I have every reason to believe that the ongoing conversation about consent that has been happening in my household since my kids were toddlers, will result in my son growing up to be the type of person who can go his whole life without sexually assaulting anybody.
That means it is highly unlikely that he will be accused. According to the FBI, only 2% of sexual assault accusations are determined to be false. Something like 60% of these crimes go unreported. If you think about that, the odds are far more that if anyone’s son does grow up to be the type of scumbag who assaults people, he’ll get away with it without consequence, than that someone’s son who did nothing wrong will be falsely accused.
I have seen three articles today alone shared on social media, written from the perspective of parents who fear for their sons in this climate of calling out sexual assault. This says very little about the reality of today’s situation, and volumes about the people sharing them. I have questions for those people.
Do you think it’s normal for teen boys to violate the bodily autonomy of teen girls?
Did you do that when you were that age, and is that why you’re pretty sure your son will do it, too?
Did it simply never occur to you that you can teach him about consent? Do you know what consent is? No, really, do you actually understand consent yourself?
Do you think so lowly of the entire male gender that you consider them incapable of figuring out whether or not they have obtained consent?
I want to talk about that last one a bit. As a feminist, I get asked a lot whether I hate men. I don’t. I love men, and I’ve been fortunate to know some excellent men in my three decades on this planet. They are the main reason I hold men in general to the same high standard I hold myself and other women to. They prove that men are not these deranged animals people like Brett Kavanaugh and Donald Trump would have us believe they are. I hold my son to the standards lived daily by the good men I personally know. These men are his role models. They are a huge part of the reason I am confident he will grow up to be a decent man who treats all people with respect.
I am concerned for the women speaking out against the accusers. Just this morning, Clarence Thomas’ wife asked Anita Hill to apologize for speaking out. There are many women who appear to believe the disgusting behavior we’re hearing described by those who have come forward is normal. In fact, Brett Kavanaugh’s wife appeared beside him on Fox News, apparently in a bid to prove he’s a normal man, not a scary attempted rapist.
When I see this, I wonder what these women’s lives have been like. Has this type of behavior been so normalized to them that they never knew that there is another way? Are the men in their lives so committed to their tradition of dehumanizing women, that they have no idea a lot of men don’t act like that, and that they can demand better for their own lives? What did their fathers act like? I do not think they acted like my father, because if they did, these women would not stand by the horrible actions of their husbands and re-victimize the accusers.
This is an indictment of society. We have been screwing up for generations in the way that we raise our kids, to the point that we actually have parents out there who think it’s normal for boys to sexually assault girls, and they fear for their sons being what they would perceive as falsely accused, but what is actually just held accountable for what they did. They think sexual assault is normal boy behavior. It’s not. It never was. We need to distance ourselves decisively from the predator/prey dynamic that seems to pervade dating culture for so many. It’s not helping anyone of any gender. The way we relate to one another, on the whole, is not what it could be if we collectively decided that our kids would know what it means to be egalitarian in relationships, and what consent actually consists of.
I could write an entire essay series on the numerous ways in which traditional gender roles are crippling people of all genders within our society, and certainly it applies here, but this is more than just gender roles showing their worst side. This is also our societal acceptance of violence, especially from males.
When is the first time you heard “boys will be boys”? For me, it was when a kid at school hit me, and the classroom aid said, “that’s just boys”, as if getting hit was part and parcel of interacting in society with males of my own species. At 7 years old, I found that ridiculous, and I still do, yet, that wasn’t an isolated incident. People excuse a lot of violence from boys because it’s been normalized. Do people think this violence goes away when they become school age? Teenagers? Adults? Of course it doesn’t. It takes other forms.
It doesn’t have to be like that, though. Many of my friends also have sons, and we all believe in non-violence. If one of them hits, we correct them, just as we do our daughters, and teach them how to resolve conflicts without violence. These boys do not fight and hit each other when they’re together. They love doing the typical boy stuff we hear about, like exploring the yard and getting dirty, or playing sports, or even playing video games, and making jokes about poop. They’re curious, energetic, loud, wonderful boys, and violence doesn’t have to be a part of that. We’ve been raising our daughters non-violently for generations. It makes perfect sense to apply that same tactic to our sons.
While we’re at it, can we all just accept that humans of all genders feel a full range of emotions and that expressing those emotions in an age appropriate way is valid? That will help, too. I’m pretty sure that having fully half of society expected to repress every emotion that isn’t pride or anger isn’t doing us a lot of favors in this department either.
I don’t fear for our nation’s sons being falsely accused. I fear for people perpetuating the same toxic tropes that got us into this mess in the first place. We can do better, and we should.