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Through a combination of parenting and unconscious indoctrination, there are many things boys learn by age 5 that perpetuate rape culture. And if you find the term "rape culture" to be too much, ask yourself if the widespread sexual violence exposed by the #MeToo movement is itself too much.
So if you want to curb sexual violence, raise your boys to be the sort of men who fight against rather than commit acts of sexual violence. Teach your sons what they need to know and model good behavior for them so they don't grow up to contribute to rape culture.
Boys Will Be Boys
Explaining away a young boy's misdeeds by claiming, "boys will be boys," is like explaining away Donald Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women as, "locker room talk." You're keeping men and boys from experiencing the consequences of their actions and, in doing so, perpetuate rape culture.
It's also confusing: on the one hand, boys are unable to control their own behavior but at the same time we praise men and boys for all their accomplishments. Which is it: nature or nurture?! (It's both.) Is someone good at sports because they're born that way or did they work hard to get there? And if they worked hard for it why can't they work hard to not perpetuate rape culture? Seems like it'd be worth it!
Affection Is Mandatory
When I teach workshops for first-time improvisors I tell them I don't want to see any hugging or massages in scenes. I allow handshakes and high fives even though some argue that they're a slippery slope to a hug. The important thing is to make it known that not everyone wants to be touched!
This lesson flies in the face of how many parents disregard the bodily autonomy of a child and force them to be touched by people they may not want to be touched by, which is one way we perpetuate rape culture. Just think about the amount of unwanted touching women experience at the hands of men: hugs, shoulder clasps, and even kisses. That's what you're perpetuating when you don't teach people, and in turn your boys, to respect boundaries.
Blaming the Victim
If your little boy gets into a fight and you ask him, "Did you hit him first?" you're perpetuating rape culture. It's just like asking, "What were you wearing?" of a survivor of sexual assault. Sure, the narrative of, "If we just did things differently we may have gotten a different result," is appealing because it provides a sense of control, but too often it just reveals bias.
A better line of questioning would be asking why violence was appealed to in the first place. And then your son will ask, "The narratives we share pivot around great men of history using violence to achieve moral ends, but how often do we question these stories?" and then he'll reach for your Blue Moon. Wait, sorry, that's what I would say. Your son probably has a good answer too, so don't be afraid to ask.
Dress Codes for Girls
Young girls have to pay so much attention to the length of their sleeves and skirts you'd think they were operating heavy machinery. This perpetuates rape culture by teaching little boys that women's bodies need to be controlled. It also spares boys from being introspective.
Because, at the end of the day, if the problem is that girls are distracting to boys, why are boys so easily distracted? Also, girls are everywhere! If women were really this distracting more people would be asking, "How safe are self-driving cars?" because there'd be car accidents everywhere. Boys would just be wandering into traffic and cars would be running them over. Ker-splat!
Hurting the Ones You Love
When I was in the third grade I set next to a girl who brought in a little cabinet that she'd keep her erasers in. The cabinet was on her desk and every time she'd leave I'd turn the cabinet upside down so that her erasers would fall out. And I'd laugh and I'd laugh and I'd laugh. Sometimes I'd make it look like I just turned it upside down and then she'd turn it upside down to correct it but really end up being the one to make her erasers fall out.
My desk-mate complained about me and the teacher said, "That must be because Ben likes you." And this was before Neil Strauss wrote The Game, so the teacher didn't even realize she was suggesting I was negging young girls. Nor did the teacher realize she was perpetuating rape culture by condoning my behavior. Maybe she could have asked how it felt to be subjected to my behavior and, in doing so, teach a lesson about the value of empathy.
Persistence Pays Off
More so in the past than in the present, it used to be the case that the way a man would get a date from a woman was by hounding her for so long that she was just too tired to keep saying no. Not teaching boys that such coercive tactics are unacceptable is one way we perpetuate rape culture.
Another is not telling boys that it's rape when Lewis from Revenge of the Nerds pretends to be Betty's boyfriend and then has sex with her. Also, when Dan Ackroyd gets that blowjob in Ghostbusters? That's nonconsensual! Popular culture expresses and perpetuates many dangerous ides and it's the job of the parent to teach their boys to have respect for others and for consent.
Not Teaching That Trump Is a Rapist
Donald Trump has been accused by 19 women of sexual misconduct. Trump's wife Ivana provided sworn testimony that he raped her. Years later, when interviewed about it, Ivana said she didn't mean rape in a "literal or criminal" way, although she did not recant the actual substance of her story.
You may not be comfortable telling your 5-year-old son about how Trump raped his wife or likes to "grab women by the pussy," but you should explain how Trump's treatment of women is unacceptable and would be treated as criminal if he wasn't a rich, white man. It'll also teach your son that being an authority figure like the president isn't the same as being good.
In fact, teach your five-year-old son that our culture makes things harder for women. He'll be able to figure it out when you point out that the only female-led superhero movie was Wonder Woman. And then tell him our culture makes things harder for black people by pointing out that Black Panther was the first superhero movie staring a predominantly black cast. He'll extrapolate from there.
Not Teaching Sons to Not Rape
Most rapists are men. And every man who rapes was once a little boy. And yet we don't tell little boys to not rape! This perpetuates rape culture. But little boys are a great audience for such a lesson because they don't have as much ego as older boys and men who may resent being told to not commit the crime they are statistically more likely than women to commit.
A little boy may just say, "I would never do that; that's bad! We have to respect women," a thing that he would say because you also taught him to respect women. Wait, did you not teach him that? GO DO IT NOW!
If your son and someone else's child have a confrontation you might find yourself saying, "Apologize," and then the other kid's parent says, "Accept the apology." Why is this scene even happening? An apology doesn't mean anything unless it's an expression of habit.
Empty apologies perpetuate rape culture. To end rape culture we need restorative rather than retributive justice because rape culture is systemic; restorative justice is real justice for rape victims. Have you even been reading the internet? Go read your internet!
America needs a lesson in how to be sex positive. When you slut shame in front of your son or joke about who your daughter is allowed to date, you perpetuate rape culture.
Trying to control sexuality is an expression of America’s white supremacist patriarchy because it’s meant to maintain sexual power within a privileged class. When we spare boys from learning these lessons, we also spare ourselves from questioning what we already believe. Why you gotta hate?!