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.