I have a daughter and a son, so I can’t help but be concerned with the messages and images hurled at young women AND men. For me, there is no separation. They are two sides of the same coin. I can’t empower my daughter and teach her her worth, only to leave my son defenseless and open to the metal attacks of a society that would have him believe he has carte blanche in his future dealings with women. That would leave someone else’s daughter, empowered though she may be, vulnerable to his unchecked power. I can’t have that.
I tell my daughter regularly that she is strong, powerful, intelligent and fully in control of her body. I tell her no one has the right to touch it or do with it anything she hasn’t first approved, but you know what (and I hate to even type this and acknowledge it as true), but some entitled, unmolded man could come and ruin that–real quick. Just like the Stanford rapist, Brock Turner.
So when I’m giving my son the “You’re strong, powerful and intelligent” speech, I add on a special caveat that he must always respect and protect women. I tell him that in a few short years, he will be (most likely) bigger and stronger than his sister and me, and he must use that strength to our benefit, to the benefit of every woman regardless of what she looks like, acts like or wears. And yes, I know, telling my young son that women need protection (thereby implying our vulnerability ) may not gel well with the “women can do it all” feminism of today, but I make no room in my house for other people’s interpretations. Because sooner or later, my son will learn of his physical strength. He will feel it in his growing body and see how other men use it to intimidate and control women, so I won’t be doing him any favors to gloss over it and act like it doesn’t exist. It does exist. He must learn how to use it.
But no amount of talking on my behalf will take the place of his father’s doing. I can give feminist speeches all I want, but if his father were to be physically, verbally or financially abusive, my words would have little chance against the norms being created in his mind. And it doesn’t always take full-on abuse. A mere cavalier attitude toward the objectification of women is a seed that could grow into something quite dangerous. If we are ever to gain equality in this world, boys must be groomed to value women, and they must be made aware of how to harness their power. It’s not enough to wrap our daughters in “Girls rock” tees and serenade them with Beyonce and Taylor Swift songs. It’s not enough to teach them about math and science and how to change a flat. It’s not enough to take a stance against princess culture. Our sons, too, must be taught to stand. They must have pounded into their minds the idea that is NOT ok to exert control over a woman. They must see adult males loving, respecting and protecting (yes, protecting) women against those who, apparently, didn’t get the memo.
Perhaps Brock Turner wouldn’t have felt comfortable thrusting himself atop an unconscious woman had he been taught to be a feminist, taught how to handle his power differently. But it is quite clear what Brock was taught. Based on his father’s disgusting plea to the courts, it is clear he was taught that his getting “20 minutes of action” is far more important than a woman’s right to give consent regarding what is and isn’t entered into her body. To Brock’s father, all that matters is his son’s ease and comfort, his ability to carry on with life as though he hadn’t raped someone and made her own body a prison. There are far too many “Brock fathers” out there who give their sons pass after pass and never instill in them the value of a woman and the responsibility of a man. And when those miseducated males find themselves unsupervised and in the presence of a woman, her empowerment can be stolen in an instant.
So please, pour into your sons as much as you do your daughters. The need is grave for both.