I am raising three sons. Man, just typing that made me tired. It is not easy and I worry constantly that I’m not doing it well or that I could be doing better. I feel like I get things right about half the time. And I suppose the other half can be classified as “learning experiences.” Oh yes, I am learning so much. Learning experiences a-plenty, every day! And I’m not even halfway through their childhood. There is no chance in hell that I’m going to give up caffeine in the next 10 years. Please feel free to send Starbucks gift cards my way.
I have an overarching goal in my parenting: I’m trying my absolute best not to raise assholes. Yes world, you’re welcome! My boys know I have high standards…not for cleanliness (don’t come over if a clean floor is on your “must haves” list) but for many other things. For example, two of my children are able to communicate with me by text these days, and as everyone knows I do not appreciate texts with bad grammar and stupid texting language. My boys know that they better fix their spelling and under no circumstances are they allowed to “K” me. I know it’s not how everybody feels, but I do and that is the way I want to be treated. I have made that clear. Stupid texting language is a smack to my eyeballs. Be better or don’t text me. It’s a boundary I have set and so far they respect it.
I’ve always set boundaries with them. I think when you care about someone, it is important let them know how you want to be treated. And learning to respect people’s boundaries is one of life’s more important skills. My kids were never allowed to demand things from me. If they demanded, they did not receive. From the time they were toddlers, I expected them to say “please” if they asked me for something and “thank you” after I gave it to them. They might be loud and crazy little hooligans, but they damn well better be polite little hooligans. I didn’t want them to think I was their personal servant, just because I was their mother. I wanted them to know that I was a separate person from them and that I was happy to help them and do things for them, but they needed to show appreciation and not entitlement.
I’m also no nonsense when it comes to talking about or touching other people’s bodies. I’ve made sure that my kids know that their bodies belong to them and other people’s bodies belong to other people. That you don’t get into someone’s space or touch them without permission. That you can tell people when you don’t want a hug and they can tell you the same. This does not prevent them from trying to beat the crap out of each other multiple times a day, but apparently they are more respectful of the space and bodies of their peers. It’s not a total win, but it’s not a loss! I’ve also tried to hammer home the point that one’s commentary on someone else’s body or looks is unnecessary and not good conversation. I have always been mindful of not making careless remarks about other people’s looks or weight around my sons. They know that I think that jokes about someone’s looks are stupid and that people who make those jokes are trying to deflect from their own poor self esteem. And that poor self esteem is probably warranted because they don’t know how to carry on a good conversation or make a funny joke. I want them to be better than that.
I’m thinking of all of this as I try to figure out how and why so many men seem stunned that women’s bodies are not there for the taking or for their inspection and critique. And they are shocked and dismayed that women are speaking up about this and deeming it unacceptable. How on earth did they not know this? And what does this mean for me, when raising sons? If so many men are surprised that we women do not enjoy being groped in the middle of a conversation or that we wouldn’t be thrilled to see their penises at work or that hearing denigrating comments about women’s bodies is insulting to all of us, does that mean that at some point my sons will be shocked by this too? Or is society changing so much that they will see girls and women as equals? There are still school dress codes that are geared toward female students’ attire, under the assumption that even today’s boys have so little self control that they will not be able to learn if they see a girl’s collar bone or too much of her leg or *GASP* a bra strap. I expect better from my sons. It is natural to want to look at people you find attractive or interesting, but then you need to move your eyes to your school work and get on with it, because that’s what you are there for and your classmates do not exist for your ogling. Don’t be a creepy asshole.
I’ve been hearing about a lot of people who feel that #metoo has turned into a witch hunt and that it’s ruined romantic interactions between men and women. Obviously, I don’t agree. Women don’t want to be treated in a subhuman way. This doesn’t mean that all women no longer want to interact romantically with men, it means we don’t want to be considered prey anymore. We are not targets, we are people and we have our own boundaries, needs and desires and we’d like them to be heard and respected. Instead of whining about the unfairness of it all, a mature response might be to look at your own behavior. I wish that everyone would ask themselves some key questions: How have you treated other people when you wanted something from them? How do you talk about other people and their bodies and their sexuality? Has the word “slut” or some other derogatory term come out of your mouth when you were talking about a girl or woman? (I suppose you could say this about a boy or man, but let’s be realistic, these terms are meant to denigrate women.) Have you touched someone in a way that was unwelcome? Did you immediately stop at that point or did you continue? Have you tried to coerce someone into sex when they were telling you verbally or non-verbally that they were not interested in having sex with you? Were you paying attention to what they wanted? Did you care? Because you should, if you don’t want to be an asshole!
If you aren’t a predatory creep (and let’s throw caution to the wind and assume that most people aren’t) then it really comes down to: 1) Treating everyone as if they were a separate human being from you and therefore knowing that they have their own needs and desires that may not match yours. 2) Paying attention to that person’s words and actions and responses to you. 3) Caring about what that person’s words and actions mean, even if it disappoints you and is the opposite of your wishes. 4) Respecting that other person’s boundaries and walking away if that is indicated. Four step process, guys. You can even skip the Step 3 “Caring” part if you’re kind of an asshole, but not a complete one. You can even do this if you’re drunk. If you find that you are too drunk to do this, you can call a car service to come get you and take you home so that you don’t assault or harass someone. What a time to be alive! It’s just that easy. It really just comes down to noticing what the other person in your interaction wants and making that as important to you as fulfilling your own desires. If you have a question about what that person wants, you might have to come right out and ask. But then you will have a really good chance of knowing the answer. It’s a win-win.
But you know, you can even be better than that if you are brave enough. I think a lot about those guys who were out biking and stopped the assault Brock Turner was committing. They saw something wrong and they stopped it. I wish this wasn’t so surprising to me. They didn’t choose to mind their own business, because a guy was getting “twenty minutes of action” and it would break some sort of guy code to prevent that from happening. And I bet there were people who watched creepy Brock leave with a woman who was too intoxicated to walk steadily. Just like there were probably people at that house party 35 years ago who watched two drunk and aggressive guys follow their female friend up to the bathroom. And apparently there were people in a dorm room watching and saying nothing while their shitty drunk frat brother waved his dick in their drunk female friend’s face and told her to kiss it. And I hope that this is changing and that people (men specifically, but women too) aren’t afraid of being called a cock blocker if it means that they can help prevent an assault.
I think there will always be entitled garbage people in the world who see other humans as conquests and who will do whatever they can to get what they want. They are not looking for a mutually satisfying interaction with another person, they care about their own needs, only. If this is you, then you are at best an asshole and at worst a predator and you probably should hate #metoo, because it’s going to put a crimp in your lifestyle. I certainly hope most people are not like that. But you don’t have to be a bystander, either. And you could even be a stand-up person who says something when you see terrible behavior taking place. I’m hoping to raise stand-up men. The world needs more of them.
It’s most of us, probably all of us, though I certainly don’t wish to speak for everyone. There is that point for many women, where we realize that the lines we’ve been handed about how anyone can be anything they want to be and have it ALL is complete and utter bullshit. Maybe the fact that we learn this so early and unequivocally is what keeps us from being as surprised and disgruntled as certain men seem to be when they don’t get their way or when something they thought they were entitled to doesn’t belong to them after all.
Women are conditioned to be nice and to give. Our time, our smiles, our attention – we learn that we’re expected to give all of this freely, to be nice, to be good, to put others’ needs and desires before our own. We learn that our bodies aren’t our own, not really. They can be touched and ogled and criticized and critiqued and legislated without our permission or consent. We learn that we need to be on guard, we need to laugh it all off convincingly, we need to deflect and protect feelings so that it doesn’t escalate. Sometimes we do this perfectly and can congratulate ourselves because we didn’t let ourselves “become a victim” and wow, that can feel good. Sometimes we fuck it all up and carry the blame and shame for something terrible we didn’t ask for and try to bury deep down so nobody will know. Or we talk about it with friends and partners and try to explain broken things that seem unexplainable and often it doesn’t seem worth it at all. And we hear in the news about so many instances of terrible things happening to women, but we also hear “what was she wearing?” and “why was she drinking?” and “what did she expect when she was out walking/running/being a person with a vagina all alone?” And we watch as our country elects a man who shows blatant and disgusting disrespect for women, even brags of assaulting them and then dismisses it as “locker room talk” or the things that all guys say, when women are not around – and we wonder if that can be true. And how do we keep moving through the world if it is? If we can’t trust the men in our lives not to laugh behind our backs and high five each other about assaulting us, how are we ever really safe? It’s disheartening, to say the least. We learn about Harvey Weinstein and read the endless awful stories and it seems a good thing that’s it’s all finally coming out, but all of those people who KNEW and did nothing, so that women had to whisper it to each other or find out about it the hard way? Well, that part is very hard to hear.
But maybe one day we decide to join all of the other brave people who are saying “me too” on Facebook and shucking shame that was never theirs to begin with and and opening up the discussion and pushing for the change that needs to happen. It’s just a little thing, but it’s a beginning. We are saying that sexual harassment and assaults happen all of the time to almost every woman you know, and many of the men as well. And it shouldn’t ever happen at all and we won’t be quiet anymore. We are saying that just because we are standing near you, existing alongside you, does not mean we are *for* you. Our bodies, our time, our attention, our smiles, our words? They are ours and ours alone. We belong to ourselves.