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Teaching my boys to use their words wisely

Posted October 23

I was around 8 years old when I was first made uncomfortable by a boy’s comments.

We were in second grade. I was waiting in line to sharpen my pencil, and he came up to me from behind and announced he knew what made me a girl. I remember feeling extremely embarrassed that he not only pointed it out, but that he thought it would be funny to speak of something so private in such a loud, public way.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was at a party one night and an older boy grabbed me and dangled me over my friend’s two-story banister. Terrified, I clung to his neck as tight as I could while he laughed, showing off to his friends how much I “liked” him because I “wouldn’t let go.” I didn’t like him so much after that.

In college, I was walking back to my dorm when I saw a guy I knew hanging around outside. We started chatting and he made some comment, so I swatted at his chest in a playful gesture. Suddenly, he lunged toward mine. I hit his hand away, hard.

“What do you think you’re doing?” I asked, appalled.

“You touch mine, I touch yours,” he responded.

Disgusted and furious, I began to explain the difference between male and female bodies as if we were back in second grade, and then stopped. It was clear to me this guy had no respect for me, or my body or women in general.

When I began dating my husband, Brad, I mentioned this incident. I wanted to see how he would react when he heard another man had tried to touch me inappropriately. If he laughed, I would have left him as fast as I left the other guy. If he brushed it off, it would also have been a deal breaker.

But instead, Brad clenched his jaw and shook his head in anger. “What a jerk,” he mumbled under his breath. And for that and a hundred other reasons, I knew Brad was a good man. I knew he was taught by his parents to respect women.

I never felt nervous or uncomfortable when I was dating Brad. In fact, he made me feel better about myself. He spoke highly of me to my face and to others. He was kind and gentle. He never spoke negatively about other women, and in fact, to this day, I have never heard him utter a vulgar or derogatory word toward another female.

That is exactly how I want to raise our four boys.

In light of the recent news of Donald Trump’s lewd leaked tape in which he uses filthy language to describe women, I have experienced these flashbacks in my life when men have made me feel like an object instead of an individual, like prey instead of a person. I am of the opinion that you cannot separate a person and their politics.

I believe an individual’s values and standards mold and shape their character and their thoughts, influencing their views on everything. The late poet and activist Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.”

I will never forget lying in bed talking on the phone to Brad, who then was my fiancé, when suddenly I saw a pair of eyes peering at me through the crack in my door. I was home alone except for some construction workers two floors down doing the finishing work on our basement. I just had time to focus on his face and bolt upright in bed before he realized I wasn’t asleep — and that whatever plans he had would probably not work out. He took the entire flight of stairs in three steps, running back to the basement while I ran down after him, trying to catch a glimpse of who he was.

Face burning and heart pounding, I walked outside where the project manager was going over paperwork with some of the guys.

“One of your men was spying on me in my room,” I said. He looked mildly surprised.

“Oh, really?” he asked, and casually looked around. “Have any of you guys been upstairs?”

Obviously, everyone said no.

“Hmm, well I’m sorry, miss. I’ll talk to my guys and see if we can get it figured out.”

I knew he didn’t believe me, and even if he did, he didn’t seem all that concerned, which bothered me even more. I told my parents and they called the company, but nothing was ever resolved. After all, what could I prove? Nothing “happened.”

But nothing has to “happen” to make us women feel like we always have to be on guard. Brushing aside vulgar language as “locker room talk” or inappropriate behavior to a “boys will be boys” mentality is just another excuse for society to keep our men at a lower level.

I won’t have it. I have four young men who I am trying my best to bring up to a higher level. My husband and I have placed an emphasis on teaching them the importance of respect, to all individuals, but especially to women. Brad always tells them to open doors for me when we walk into a building, and I smile as I watch eight feet scramble toward the door and try to pry it open with their tiny hands, using their entire body weight to “hold” it.

If ever I hear them using “potty” language — which seems so innocent as young children but can quickly turn worse as time goes on — I am quick to squash it. Dirty words are not funny words, at any age.

I hope with all my heart women can stand up for ourselves, and stand up for our sons who do not have to conform or settle when it comes to being men. I believe they have unlimited and incredible potential to be refined, respectful and well-regarded. And it starts with us, in the home, teaching them and reminding them daily to use their words wisely.

Especially since words can become so much more, as shared in this thought, which is commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.”

Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News. Her email is carmen.r.herbert@gmail.com.

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