Our current culture is celebrating males having sex, regardless of their age, and this is putting boys at risk.
A few weeks ago, I started binge-watching The Wire. While the show is centered around the different components of Baltimore’s sociopolitical climate, one season is dedicated to the lives of the children who live in the city’s poorest neighborhood.
I saw so much of myself in these boys; the relationships they had with each other and the relationships they had with the adults around them. One particular thing I identified with was the fact that they weren’t viewed as regular children. For young black boys, we’re often disconnected from the experience of being a child because the responsibility of manhood is forced on us. We don’t get to be children for long, if at all. The community treats puberty as a sign of adulthood rather than its own separate phase of maturing.
When it comes to sex, we don’t get a full, proper education. In fact, I can remember that the only thing I was taught explicitly about sex was that men have needs. Going into the barbershop, playing basketball at the nearby playground, and even going to school, I was taught that girls and women were there for our satisfaction and consumption.
There’s a scene in the fourth season that highlights the damage inflicted by not openly discussing consent and what rights children have over their bodies.
During school hours, two middle school boys go into a bathroom with a middle school girl to perform a sex act. One of the main characters is asked to be a lookout while the three students are in the bathroom. Never once does he object to what’s going to happen. When the children come out of the bathroom, the boys are indifferent. The girl, though, walks around with her arms tightly folded; a stance of defense. They acted out what impressionable minds would consider normal.
Talking about sex isn’t easy. But not talking about sex means that children are left to their own devices. They shouldn’t have to bear the burden of abuse and keep silent out of fear because they don’t understand how consent works. The misinformation that gets passed around leads to boys developing a warped definition on consent. As they get older, the line between the latter and abuse becomes indecipherable.
One of the most dangerous myths that we pass down to boys is that they’re supposed to want sex. Having sex is the rite of passage for boys and girls are simply there; present only to be the first experiment in entitlement and exerting power. With little black boys, there’s a pervasive attitude that they’re hyper-sexual. We assign them to positions they aren’t ready for and by default strip them of their naïve curiosity.
For generations, we’ve denied victimhood to boys because we tell them that sexual desires are biologically normal for males. When I think about that scene and what I witnessed in my own life, I know that this ideology doesn’t allow for boys to be sexually vulnerable. It’s not hard to understand why this is once you realize that society doesn’t see the innocence in black children period.
In recent years, countless stories have come out about criminal sexual assault between female teachers and male students. The emotional response is not as visceral as it is when the roles are reversed. Even in a situation where a female is in a position of authority, the boy is still treated as old enough to consent to sex. What’s even more unhealthy is that should the teacher be young and attractive, we’ll make light of the abuse. Men say things like “my teacher was never that hot” or “can you blame him? Look at her!” We don’t have the same empathy or protection over a young boy’s sexuality. Instead, he internalizes the experience as a positive. It becomes something he can brag about. He divorces himself from being a victim of abuse because patriarchy re-enforced that having sex before adulthood isn’t a big deal.
I recall a friend sharing a story about her first time. She was 14 and the boy was 16. She gave explicit details, not with pride, but with shame. Her experience mirrored the painful past that a lot of people live with. In the details, I realized that neither of them wanted to have sex at that point. They did it because they thought they were supposed to. Without knowing the long-term consequences, both fell into the stereotypical boxes society has constructed for boys and girls; him holding her virginity as an accomplishment unlocked and her labeled as “easy” among other perjoratives.
When it comes to rape culture, we have to teach boys that they have the right to say no just as girls do. We have to stop encouraging boys to learn by experimentation while teaching girls to do everything “right” to avoid being victims. More than anything, we have to allow ourselves as a society to see the innocence in children of color and be just as vigilant in protecting their childhood.
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