How do we stop rape? By beginning the conversation with our sons.
Rape is always everywhere: in America, in India, in Somalia, in Saudi Arabia, in Israel.
We all know the news stories: a small town divided, a girl dead in Dehli—the conversation is back on the table. And in all these conversations, there seems to be something missing.
Yes, we need to protect our daughters, but more importantly—how do we stop our sons?
At least a few mornings a week for the past few years, I write at the same coffee shop. The crowd in the morning is filled with retired men around age seventy. Sometimes their wives join them, but most of the time, they congregate at an over-sized table and gossip.
The leader of the pack is a man in his early seventies, white hair, no wrinkles, works out religiously. He likes to gab with every woman that walks in—well, every pretty woman who walks in.
Then, once she leaves, the men begin to talk, like frat boys. They objectify every woman and speak of her looks in great detail in loud booming voices. They are like a pack of teenage boys trying to navigate the first taste of potent testosterone rushing through their bodies.
However, these men aren’t teenage boys. They’ve had a good fifty years to figure out how to keep their hormones in check–especially in public. I cringe at them. While the leader talks to every pretty girl who walks in, I’ve had maybe six conversations with him. Why? Because I’m not fuckable; therefore, I’m not worthy of conversation. I don’t say this because it hurts my feelings. I’m saying it because I find the undercurrent of these men’s conversations dangerous.
Over the years, women’s rights advocates have cultivated a mantra: Rape isn’t about sex, it’s about power.
This mantra is not only absurd, it is downright dangerous. I’m not the first to argue this. Camille Paglia wrote a controversial essay on the topic called “On Rape” that had feminists up in arms. To pretend that rape has nothing to do with sex ignores the piece of male sexuality that makes men forget that women are not objects. It ignores the conversations that spark the downward spiral into inappropriate action.It ignores the group-think associated with these conversations and ignores the possibility of a next step.
Ten years ago, I sat in the bleachers at a softball game. A man in his early fifties sat next to me. He and his buddies kept commenting about one of the law clerks on the field, how hot she was, and their comments got more and more intense. They were fixated on every part of her.
I was sitting right there.
They didn’t even care.
Then, the man told his thirteen-year-old son that when the two teams wish each other “good game” he should pull down the girl’s pants, so they could see her underwear. The boy started to get up.
“Don’t.” They said it. But they laughed.
The lesson was clear, that the boy’s actions wouldn’t have been about power alone. They would have been about sex and the needs of a crowd of men to view the nakedness of a young law student for their own pleasure. The idea that it might shame her meant nothing. It was disgusting. And I was too scared to speak up because my husband was new at his job.
But that is where it begins. With the comments about women and the slippery slope on which they are shared. To say that the slippery slope is simply about power is to completely misunderstand male sexuality.
Of course, as the mother of a daughter, I never want her to be that girl on the softball field. I never want your daughter to be that girl on the softball field.
So we teach our daughters about rape.
We warn them.
But as the mother of a son, I never want him to be that boy pulling that girl’s pants because they guys thought it was funny.
I never want him to be the guy that has sex with a girl who is so drunk that she can’t remember the next morning.
I never want him to use sex to overpower.
So, where do we start? We start by acknowledging that these coffee houses, frat houses, locker rooms, and softball field conversations aren’t just boys being boys. They are a lesson in the intertwining of sex and power, and a lesson in how easily women can lose their humanity in a crowd of men.
Photo: Mai Rodriguez/Flickr
This piece originally appeared on Girl Body Pride.