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What I'm doing to teach my daughters about rape culture

Posted September 21

Discussions on rape culture are everywhere lately after a Stanford student was convicted of assaulting a passed-out woman on a college campus and was sentenced to six months in jail and ultimately only served three, a sentence many people are calling too lenient.

As a mother of two daughters, I have been listening to all the conversations and wondering what message I send about empowerment, violence and rape without even realizing.

Of everyone involved in the discussion, parents have a unique opportunity to fix misguided and outdated notions about sex and rape while their children are still young.

In my home, here are five phrases and ideas I have banned because I think they contribute to a culture that excuses or rationalizes sexual violence.

1. "Boys will be boys." This blanket statement is often applied to the misbehavior of boys who hit, fight or are too aggressive. But the subtle message within these words is that gender excuses boys and men from accountability. This little phrase tells children that there are just some things boys are going to do and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. That’s simply not true. Even worse, people tell young girls that when a boy is mean to her, it means he likes her. What a horrible way to teach children that cruelty is a form of love that they should not only accept but also be flattered to receive.

2. Victims can stop or invite rape. This is a fallacy reinforced again and again. A recent example reported by U.S. News points to the transcripts of a rape case wherein a Canadian judge asked the female victim, “Why couldn’t you just keep your knees together?” It’s an idea that is also subtly doled out on many college campuses each year when freshman females are given an orientation on how to protect themselves from sexual assault. But where is the equivalent orientation for freshman males that teaches them that sex without explicit consent is rape? I am certainly glad colleges offer these orientations and will encourage my own daughters to be wise and aware to lessen the chances of becoming a victim. But that doesn’t mean our girls are responsible to avoid being raped.

With my daughters, I avoid admonitions that put the responsibility on them such as, “Don’t let anyone touch you or tell you secrets,” and instead always say, “No one should touch you or make you feel uncomfortable.” I want them to always know it is the perpetrator's fault and not theirs, no matter how short their skirt is or how late they were walking at night alone.

3. Girls should help boys have pure thoughts. I absolutely hate this mentality and was sad to see it as a source of news this week at a Utah high school, where Fox13now.com reports cheerleaders say they were allegedly told not to wear their uniforms after a male student complained the outfits were giving him impure thoughts. In our house, conversations on modesty center on how my daughters feel about their bodies and the message they want to send to the world about themselves. Modesty is about them, and they are not responsible for anyone else’s thoughts or actions. If a boy can’t keep his thoughts pure, that is something he needs to address, not something a girl needs to keep in mind when she picks out her clothes in the morning.

4. "Oh, come on, give a hug and a kiss!" I admit, I often said things like this when my daughter was young and I wanted everyone to think she was adorable, so I would encourage her to hug and kiss relatives and friends. No more. My children’s bodies are theirs and theirs alone, and they get to decide who they want in their personal space. I no longer ask or encourage them to give kisses or hugs to anyone, even close family. I never want them to think that their body should be used against their will to make someone else feel more comfortable or loved.

5. Rape is sex, so the victim is damaged goods. Rape is a violent crime, not sex. You wouldn’t say someone died while swimming without air; you’d say they drowned. So why would we use the terms "sex without consent"? That is rape.

And victims of such violence shouldn’t feel “ruined” or less worthy in any way. According to the Huffington Post, Elizabeth Smart, who was raped by her abductor when she was kidnapped in 2002, recalled a schoolteacher who equated those who had premarital sex to used chewing gum.

Smart recalls, “I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I’m that chewed up piece of gum, nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away.' And that’s how easy it is to feel like you no longer have worth, you no longer have value. Why would it even be worth screaming out? Why would it even make a difference if you are rescued? Your life still has no value.”

We need to stop making these horrible analogies that tell children that rape — or even consensual sex — somehow makes them less valuable as a human.

How do you address rape culture in your home?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her and her newborn son wins hearts with his dimples.

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