I was blow-drying my hair when my son wandered into the bathroom and said he had a question.
Warning to all parents. When your child is going through puberty and says, “Can I ask you a question?” take a deep breath and steady yourself.
Because they are about to ask you something bizarre. Like whether or not you can get pregnant in the pool. Or if penises break.
Also as a heads up, these questions typically occur when you’re in a hurry or distracted.
Which I was, because in addition to blow-drying my hair, I was simultaneously checking email on my phone, getting my daughter ready for school, and feeding the dog.
Since no one had shared these very helpful tips with me, I said, “Sure,” and didn’t turn off the hair dryer until he asked,
“Mom, what’s rape?”
Before I go on with this story, I want to pause for a moment. There are a few very important things to consider before answering questions like these.
And right now, in this time and place, conversations like the one I had with my son are among the most important and most urgent.
Like peanut butter and jelly, kids have been conditioned to think the words “sex” and “violence” naturally go together.
Which is kinda like saying whipped cream and raw hamburger go together. Can you imagine eating a whipped cream and raw hamburger sandwich?
Guess what. We eat them every day, and so do our kids.
Through the movies we watch, the video games we play, and the media we consume 24/7, sex and violence are brought together so often that they’ve been normalized. To the point that they seem natural and right.So we need to differentiate sex and violence from each other. Whipped-cream-raw-hamburger sandwiches are disgusting, and we need to explain this to our kids because they’ve been eating them for so long that they don’t know any better.
We talk to our daughters about sexual assault all the time when we should be talking to our sons.
We warn our daughters never to walk alone at night. To go to parties in groups. We censure what our daughters wear, making sure they aren’t showing too much skin. And we warn our daughters to never set down their glass because someone might put a “date rape” drug in it.
We focus so much on our daughter’s actions and choices that it’s as if sexual assault is about them. That it’s some kind of freak occurrence they can avoid with the proper precautions. Like not opening your umbrella during a lightning storm.
But it’s not.
Sexual assault is about actions and choices, but not those of our daughters. It’s about the actions and choices of our sons.
So we must have similar conversations with our sons.
We must tell them that no matter what a woman is wearing, she does not want to have sex with them.
That if they ever find themselves with a girl who is too drunk to give consent, they need to leave her alone.
That “No” never means “Yes.” Because women don’t like to be coerced into doing anything, especially sex.
And if they buy a girl dinner, she owes them nothing. Not even a smile.
Oh, and about that date rape drug. Don’t ever put that shit in a girl’s drink. Ever.
The “#MeToo” Campaign paints an incomplete picture.
I have been following the “#MeToo” campaign, and in a strange way it has been a beautiful thing to behold. Brave women sharing their stories of sexual assault is powerful. And when it’s a woman I know, my heart breaks.
Which is why we also need a “#HimToo” campaign to run alongside it. Because for every woman who is bringing her story into the light, there is a man hiding anonymously in the shadows.
If it were up to me, we’d be able to tag our assailant in our #MeToo social media posts with a #HimToo. Because the world needs to see that these aren’t strangers who jump out of bushes.
These are men who work in the cubicles next to ours. They are friends of our families. They are our sons.
And half the time, they don’t even know they did anything wrong. Because no one ever talked to them about it.
Which leads me back to my story.
When my son asked, “Mom, what’s rape?” I did the best I could.
I told him sexual assault is not about sex. It is about violence.
That it rarely happens the way it’s portrayed in the media because it’s hardly ever a stranger but an acquaintance or a friend.
I looked into the eyes that I loved and said, “It’s usually someone just like you.”
And I finished by explaining that it is his responsibility to make sure that he never does this to a woman.
Did I traumatize my son? Maybe. But I would rather he feel traumatized than become a #HimToo.
Was I especially courageous for having this conversation? Not really. Moms and dads talk to their kids about difficult stuff all the time.
Am I changing the world for women and girls? Yes. I most certainly am.
And you can, too.
Talk to your sons, your nephews, your brothers. As much if not more than your daughters, your nieces, and your sisters.
Bring this entire conversation into the light. Not just the female side. The male side, too. The side that really matters.
This is the Sex Talk we should be having with our boys. This is the most important conversation we should all be having right now.
Please share this post so we can have more of these conversations. With our boys, our girls, and each other.
PS – I wrote a post last week about womansplaining, a few days before the #MeToo movement reignited across the world. It connects to this topic in a lighter, funnier way. Check it out if you haven’t already.
PPS – I am building a school for brave women, and I’ll be writing more about it in next week’s post. As always, I want to hear your thoughts on what women want to learn about through my work. Subscribe to the list and womansplain to me.