To Protect Our Sons, We Must Destroy Their Innocence: Raising Sons in a Rape Culture World
Do you remember having ‘the talk’ with your parents?
“When a mommy and daddy love each other very much they give each other a special kind of hug and….”
We all know how the rest of that old tale goes. Families vary it -- some add detail, some get by on euphemisms, some tell the whole thing like an allegory leaving kids lost somewhere between terrified and befuddled -- but for the most part, all parents give the same sex talk to prepare their kids for what is to come.
But that was before we understood we lived in a rape culture.
A culture of misogynist sexualization and violence against women has reshaped that talk in ways that make me incredibly sad and, at times, overwhelmingly angry because I am a mother to sons -- only sons. I am a mother raising the enemy.
In our house, the sex talk was and is an ongoing conversation that began when our sons first reached down and noticed that extra appendage between their legs. Our job now is to offer occasional age appropriate updates and provide bug fixes for when they download some incorrect information. Our job is to add a little reality to the fantasies of growing boys.
If only that was all we had to do. If only it was just about biology and facts.
The words “Mom, I like LIKE this person at school,” stop me in my tracks and inside my head I scream: No. Not yet. It’s too soon. Hold on to childhood a little bit longer, my sweet son. I don’t want to destroy your youthful idealism yet.
But it’s not in my control. When the lines between friendship and more-than-friendship begin to move, our young men are thrust into a new sense of being. Relationships that they could clearly define and understand morph overnight. Youthful clarity is replaced with hesitation, judgment, and dissection of every interaction. Texts are sent. Inquiries are made. There is teasing, flirting, avoiding, crying, yelling, abandoning, hand-holding, kissing, misunderstanding, making up, making out, touching, fondling, rejecting, second guessing, and loving. The head rush of those early desires is, if you recall, intoxicating, and can’t be ignored.
Don’t go there yet, son. I’m not ready for this talk. Once you cross over I can never bring you back to here -- here, where you don’t know the whole truth yet.
But it’s not in my control. Knowledge is all we have left to give. So we expand the talk to include a combination of practical and protective words of advice. There is a lesson on birth control and condom use. We say to our sons, “If you’re too embarrassed to buy a condom, you’re probably not ready for any activity that requires one.” Then when we think it’s time, we give our son a condom for his wallet -- just in case.
Just in case. Just in case. I repeat to myself.
There is a lesson on expectations and knowing where the lines are. NO MEANS NO. Clear (as mud). Concise (but not complete). NO MEANS NO is ambiguous because NO is a moving target, an ever-moving line that changes partner to partner, day to day, mood to mood. Where NO was yesterday, it may not be today. Where NO was ten minutes ago, it may not be now. How the hell do we teach our sons to read that map? I always remind them they have the power to say NO, too.
What about love?
When I talk with my sons I want to tell them how beautiful a life with love is. I want them to know love is indeed blind, that love is wonderful, and that words fail to describe the feelings of love.
Love makes the world go ’round. Without love there is nothing!
But we have no time for that kind of talk.
While we live in a world that continues to glorify violence against women, limits the rights of women, and justifies the sexualization and objectification of women with dollars, my sons -- all our sons -- will never get the chance to love with abandon. We can’t let them risk that. We have to tell them the truth.
So we take the talk to the next level. The talk we must lay at their feet will have our sons looking at love suspiciously. It will cause them to act and react with caution. They will move toward love tentatively because in some last-ditch attempt to protect them, we will resort to scaring the hell out of them.