Oh no! If we teach boys to respect women it’ll hurt their feelings!

15 04 2009

The New York Times has an article in its 18 and Under Section called “Another Awkward Sex Talk: Respect and Violence” by Dr.  Perri Klass.  She writes about how to talk to adolescent boys about sexual violence and healthy relationships.  What should you walk away with?  That it’s incredibly hard to teach boys to respect women because it hurts their feelings!

Dr. Klass writes:

We live with an endless parade of hypersexualized images — and a constant soundtrack of adults lamenting children’s exposure to that endless parade. There’s increasing knowledge of dating violence, including well-publicized celebrity incidents. And there’s always a new movie to see about how adolescent boys are clueless, sex-obsessed goofballs.

She is correct in saying that we live with an endless parade of hypersexualized images.  And by “well-publicized celebrity incidents” she is referring to the high-profile Chris Brown and Rihanna case.  By “a new movie to see about how adolescent boys are clueless, sex-obsessed goofballs” she means Observe and Report which has a rape scene in it.  Saying “clueless, sex-obsessed goofball” adolescent boys is euphemistic for rapists who fail to see the wrongness of their actions.  She goes on to say:

Stir it all together, and you may get an official worldview in which boys are viewed as potential criminals and girls as potential victims.

“An official worldview in which boys are viewed as potential criminals and girls as potential victims”?  Really?  Because it seems that when men perpetrate violence against women, they seem to get off the hook because their actions are somehow justifiable, given that we do live in a rape culture with victim-blaming, rape apologism, and all that.  While both men and women can be victims of sexual assault or relationship violence, women are disproportionately victimized by male perpetrators.  But not all men are perpetrators – men can end sexual and relationship violence and they are important allies in combatting sexual violence.

Then the doctor cites another doctor:

William Pollack, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School who wrote “Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons From the Myths of Boyhood” (Owl Books, 1999), argues that the way we talk to boys and young men about sex often stereotypes them and hurts their feelings.

“One boy said, ‘They treat us like we’re perpetrators — we have sexual needs but we also have other needs,’ ” Dr. Pollack told me.

Oh no!  “We have sexual needs but we also have other needs”?  This seems to imply that rape is somehow perceived as inevitable because boys just have those strong sexual urges, you know those “sexual needs”, that make them go out there and rape.  And of course that one quote she chose from the adolescent boy is representative of how all boys feel. I can say with confidence that most girls or women do not primarily think of the boys or men in their life as potential rapists or predators.

Plus, it hurts their feelings?!  Doesn’t it also hurt girls’ feelings when they are constantly told “Don’t be victims!”: don’t wear short skirts, don’t wear low tops, don’t walk alone by yourself late at night, etc.  It really isn’t that condescending or offensive to teach boys that it’s important to respect women especially given everything that women are “taught” on how not to be raped.  If our culture is always throwing messages at women to not be victims of sexual assault, or if they are sexually assaulted that it’s somehow their fault, then it’s necessary that we step up and tell boys and men that it’s important to respect women and to engage in consensual, healthy sex instead of being rapists.

We then hear from another expert:

The psychologist Michael G. Thompson, the author of “Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys” (Ballantine, 2000), says it isn’t a question of girls and boys, just a question of well-behaved kids and not-well-behaved kids; everyone should learn the same lessons about care and consideration and even about giving up a seat on the subway.

Gender blindness is the way to go then?  Well, it’s easy saying that from a position of male privilege.  Gender equality is certainly important but we live in a misogynist society.  The reality of the world is that the majority of sexual violence victims tend to be women: 1 in 6 women is the victim of rape or attempted in her lifetime while 1 in 33 men is the victim of rape or attempted rape during his lifetime (From RAINN).

And Dr. Thompson’s word to the wise:

“I would teach boys that there are many adults who are scared of boys, who have fears of boy aggression, and I think politeness is the surest way that a boy can reassure the adult world that he is O.K. and trustworthy.”

This rhetoric reflects the “boys will be boys” mentality, that boys are just naturally aggressive, and they need to hide their aggression by assuming a mask of politeness.  By being polite to everyone, boys will not come off as the natural aggressors that they are and people will be more inclined to trust them, because naturally they are untrustworthy.  This is very insulting to boys!

Then we hear back from Dr. Klass as she talks about her own personal experience:

And I acknowledge that for their own protection, boys need to understand that there are people — male and female — who will see them as potential predators, and judge them automatically at fault in any ambiguous situation.

“In any ambiguous situation”?  As in a “date rape” (which is really just plain old rape.  “Date” is not a necessary prelude to the term, it just euphemizes it to tame it so that it seems less like such a big bad thing) or “gray rape” (there is NO SUCH THING as gray rape!) when one party is clearly intoxicated and therefore unable to consent and wakes up scared the next morning with little recollection of what exactly  happened?

Isn’t it better to teach boys and men simply to not rape instead of teaching them that they will be perceived as “potential predators” who will be assumed guilty in “ambiguous situations”?  Teaching them that they will be seen as “potential predators” is a harmful, sexist and false stereotype.

She ends with:

It’s too bad that one side of teaching our children about sex and relationships means reminding them that there are bad people in the world; stay away from them, stay safe, speak up if someone hurts you or pushes you. But everyone needs that information, and that promise of adult support. We have to get that message across without defining some of our children as obvious perpetrators and others as obvious victims, because that insults everyone.

And speaking of insulting everyone, I would offer everyone the even less-palatable lesson that sometimes people make dumb decisions. Sometimes you decide to do something and then you wish you hadn’t done it, and that doesn’t necessarily make you bad or good, though it may make you sadder and wiser.

Again, the reality is that most perpetrators are male and most victims are females.  And I’m not quite sure what “dumb decisions” she is referring to but my interpretation is that she is regurgitating victim-blaming ideology that faults the young women who are sexually assaulted for deciding to do something then wishing they hadn’t done it.

Dr. Klass, the expert, seems to overlook several important points:

– It is not awkward to talk to boys and girls about the basics of respect and acting nonviolently.

– It is not awkward to talk to boys and girls about (safe and healthy) sex and healthy relationships.

– It is not awkward to talk to boys and girls about inappropriate and appropriate relationship behaviors.

– It will not hurt boys’ feelings to talk to them about all these aspects.

– It is important to have these discussions with children early on.


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4 responses

16 04 2009
Lorraine E.

“…or “gray rape” (there is NO SUCH THING as gray rape!) when one party is clearly intoxicated and therefore unable to consent and wakes up scared the next morning with little recollection of what exactly happened?”

Suppose two people are at a party together, and both of them are intoxicated. Drunkenly, they agree to have sex, and they do. The next morning, one of them wakes up, having little recognition of the night before. S/he realizes that s/he had sex last night while drunk, and s/he feels ashamed of his/her actions and angry at the other person. After thinking about the situation, s/he decides s/he was taken advantage of–after all, s/he was very drunk–and, based on that, considers the situation rape.

Meanwhile, the other person, in a very similar situation to the first, goes through a very similar thought process and comes to the same conclusion–s/he was raped too.

In this situation, were both people raped? Were neither raped? Was only one of them raped? If so, is it possible to determine who the rapist is without knowing the genders of the two people?

Situations of actual rape involving intoxicants do happen–when a (more) sober person takes advantage of a (more) intoxicated person, knowing that person to be incapable of making good decisions. However, I can’t believe that you think it’s not possible for a situation to occur in which the accused “rapist” could have had no way of knowing the sex s/he was having was nonconsensual.

17 04 2009
Jason

Lorraine- You make a good point, but also an invalid one.

It’s actually insulting to the gender in question (generally, females) to assume that if they’ve consumed alcohol, they can’t give consent. I mean- what, they have a glass of wine and ANY sex becomes rape? No, of course not, and I doubt anybody would really think that.
So where do we draw the line? Where do we say “actually, this consent, it’s no good”?

Well, to be honest, you’ve sort of answered the question in the quote you, uh, quoted.
“[W]hen one party is clearly intoxicated and therefore unable to consent and wakes up scared the next morning with little recollection of what exactly happened”.
If you wake up the next morning and can’t really remember what happened, it’s safe to say you went overboard the night before, to the point of not reeaally being in control. So the point we stop thinking they’re just “a little drunk” and still in charge of their senses is about the point where they’re no longer in charge of their senses.
And, to be perfectly honest, it’s pretty easy to see when people have gone past the realm of “a little drunk” and are on the “off your face” highway.
And these people- do you take what they say at face value? When a person is slurring, and having trouble standing, and repeating themselves, they often don’t exactly sound sincere. If a drunk tells you they’re a scientist working on curing cancer, you probably wouldn’t believe them. If they tell you they’re going into space soon to do some new tests on the moon, you’d take it with a pinch of salt. In fact, you expect them to say all sorts of stuff, with their lack of inhibitions- and real self control.
And yet, when they say that yeah, they do want to have sex, you’re gung-ho. Said lack of inhibitions and self control should be a damned good reason not to sleep with someone. I mean, maybe it’s just my personal confidence levels, but I would NOT want to sleep with a drunk person- morality aside, it sort of says that you can’t get anyone in bed without huge amounts of alcohol. Morality back in the equation, if they can’t think straight when they make the decision- yes, it’s rape. Just the people who don’t regret it don’t really care (although they should.)

Would a surgeon operate on a person who said they wanted the procedure when drunk? Or a tattooist, or a piercist, tattoo or pierce a clearly intoxicated person? Generally speaking, if they have morals and a decent work ethic- not a chance in hell. Sure, these are more extreme variaties, but they’re also the kind where money changes hand- point is, if they’re too drunk to make a life decision, they’re too drunk. It’s that simple in my book.

…I’m really sorry for how rambling that turned out. I just woke up and I haven’t had a cup of tea yet.

17 04 2009
Lorraine E.

My question was:

If both people are so drunk they can’t remember what happened the next morning, who raped who?

As you said, there is a difference between drunk and too drunk to give consent, but I can definitely imagine a situation in which two people, because they were both intoxicated, failed to realize that they were BOTH too drunk to give consent. I think this could create one of the “ambiguous scenarios” you claimed didn’t exist.

P.S: I’m not sure there’s a such thing as a good invalid point. I think they’re mutually exclusive 🙂

17 04 2009
Jason

As far as I’m concerned, a good invalid point is one that’s thought out, and thought-provoking, and intelligent- but invalid. Voila. xP

And, uh, well. From my experience, if they’re too drunk to give consent, they’re not going to be in control. Which means the physical act cannot take place.
As for who’s raped if they’re both that smashed- who took charge? Who was in control? Working on the assumption that someone was (usually the case, there’s usually a leader and a follower in most intimate relationships), that person would probably class as the rapist, and the other as the victim- or, you could argue that they are both victims of “unwanted intercourse”, although, yes, defining who did the raping is definately difficult.
…Especially if they were both too drunk to remember what happened.

(Also, I don’t think I said there were no ambiguous situations, myself. And anyway, there tend to be exceptions to every rule.)

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