All right, so we’re all agreed that we don’t want our sons to grow up to be like Robin Thicke. But the Thicke school of sex ed is not the only place where boys get a distorted, damaging education about sexuality; and girls are not the only ones being shamed.
The author of What My 1o-Year-Old Son Knows about Rape So Far lives near a college campus, and she and her son often see shirtless boys acting macho and girls acting flirty. Her son has questions about why the boys and girls act and dress the way they do, and, she says “he spends quite a bit of time wondering about himself in eight years.”
So she responds by telling him that, sometimes, the shirtless boys he sees get drunk and rape girls, and that someday he will get drunk, and when he does, he better stop himself before he rapes anyone, or she will disown him.
Here a few circumstances under which her approach would be correct:
--If her son has already tried to rape someone;
--if her son is a sociopath who doesn’t care whether he’s hurting people, and needs to be scared into submission;
--if her son is so developmentally disabled that he can’t tell when he’s hurting people, and needs to be scared into submission.
Her son is not like that, though. What she says about her son is that "he’s trying his best to figure out a few things about relationships and sexuality," and "he’s confused."
He’s ten. He knows almost nothing about girls, and hardly anything more about himself. He barely understands, from the way she describes it, the mechanisms of sex. But one of the first lessons she teaches him about his body is:
"Let’s be honest: the penis does what it does, and whether the sex is consensual or not, that penis is engaged in an action that is pretty consistent whether it’s a happy experience or a horrible experience."
Her intention, I suppose, is to drive home the point that consent is paramount. But the effect, I guarantee you, will be to make her son feel guilty about having a penis -- and to have guilt and excitement forever twined together in his heart and imagination.
I hope, for the sake of her son, that she’s exaggerating, and misrepresenting the way she really speaks to him. But there’s this:
"I’ve made him repeat after me: I will never force myself upon a woman or a man. It simply isn’t a choice. I’ve gone so far as to tell him that if he rapes somebody, he’ll have to find a new family in prison and that he won’t get to hang out with us anymore. That almost made him cry."
She threatened her ten-year-old son with having to “find a new family” if he does what she seems to imagine that he will almost certainly do if his mother (his mother. Where is the dad in all of this? She says she's married. Why is he not the one having these conversations?) doesn’t drum into his head that boys are super rapey, and he damn well better tamp that inherent rapiness down.
This is abuse.
She says, “I know that one day, he’ll unwrap it all and make it his own in a healthy way.”
No, my friend, he won’t. One day, he’ll realize that the reason all his relationships crash and burn is that his own mother tried to make him feel guilty for being born a boy.
If we believe that girls should not be shamed, then we owe the same care to boys. If we teach girls to respect their bodies and to expect to be respected, then we owe the same lesson to boys. We don’t teach girls about sexuality by saying, “Let’s be honest, vaginas have a way of forcing boys into fatherhood whether it’s consensual or not, so you better keep it to yourself, or you better find a new family in the home for unwed mothers, because you won’t get to hang around us anymore.” So, why, oh why, would you say that to your son?
Most boys are physically stronger than most girls. Boys are usually the ones who rape, not girls. I get it. Boys do need to be told that they must not use that strength to abuse other people.
But boys have just as strong a need as girls to hear from their parents that their sexuality is something good, something powerful, a gift given to them from God. Making a ten-year-old boy chant, “I promise mommy I’ll never rape”? Not gonna send that message.
My prediction? The first time this kid has anything approaching a sexual experience, no matter how consensual on the woman’s part, he’s going to fall apart, because his idea of sexuality is a big, knotted ball of guilt and fear and shame. Or even before that: something totally innocent will happen – say, he’ll be leaning over to get a drink at the water fountain, and will accidentally drool on the girl standing next to it -- and, being a ten-year-old boy, he will be so confused that he’ll be convinced he somehow accidentally raped her, and his mother won’t love him anymore, and he should run away from home.
I used the phrase “basket case” deliberately. It originally meant a soldier who’d lost his arms and legs, and had to be carried around in a basket. With his appendages blown off, he was powerless, considered useless.
This is what this woman is doing to her son: turning him, emotionally, into a sexual amputee. You want to shame someone? Shame on her.