Just turn on the news and you will see stories from the #metoo and #churchtoo movement. This movement is driven by large numbers of men and women (mostly women) who are reporting sexual misconduct among powerful people in politics and Hollywood. It is starting to feel like a reckoning that has been a long-time coming.
As a father of three girls and a son, I am concerned with the culture they will have to navigate and the influence of that culture on their understanding of power, gender, and equality. Unfortunately, as research is revealing, our children are being indoctrinated in rape culture ideas before they turn five. Let’s look at some of the ways this happens:
1. “Go Give Everyone A Hug Goodbye”
How often do we force young child to display affection to people in their lives? Sometimes it’s a familiar person and other times it’s someone less known to the child. Yet, we push them into the arms of someone even if they have no desire. What we teach our children when we do this, is their personal and internal boundaries do not matter.
2. “Boys Will Be Boys”
When a boy makes an unwanted gesture towards someone else that is aggressive or sexual in nature, we often minimize their behavior and chalk it up to “boys being boys”. When we reduce their behaviors to genetics they cannot be held accountable for their actions. This type of entitlement can grow into unwanted sexual advances in which the young man expects sexual favors in exchanged for his attention, financial investment, and time sacrificed for the object of his affection.
3. “Dress Modestly”
School dress codes are notorious for perpetuating the idea that boys/men are weak-willed in their sexual urges and the girls/women should be hypervigilant, keeping themselves appropriately covered at all times, so as not to trigger their male peers. This idea also tells young girls that they are not in charge/have no power over, and that men define the relationship the can have with their own bodies. Another damaging concept from the modesty movement is girls who dress less modestly clearly invite sexual advances.
4. “He Must Like You, That’s Why He’s Picking On You”
Can we please stop telling our young girls that when a boy in her class hits her, pulls her hair, or calls her a name, it’s because he secretly “likes” her? This is so clearly damaging and sends the wrong messages to both the girls and the boys. Girls can learn to believe that aggression and love are inseparable, and as that plays out into the teen years, intimate partner violence has the potential to increase as well.
The idea that if a young man loves someone he must violently protect or prevent her from leaving. This leaves our young men so emotionally fragile and gives them a ready excuse for their behavior, “I couldn’t help it, I love her”. This does not extrapolate well into adulthood.
5. “Relentless Persistence Is Romantic”
Lastly, the notion that love is persistent is damaging. It can seem innocent and passionate on the surface but it has more insidious roots. Relentless pursuit of another in the face of opposition from the one being pursued is called stalking. It is coercive, manipulative, and can lead an eager young men to challenge the idea that “no means no” actually really does mean “No”.
Our children are constantly receiving messages as they grow that shapes the way they interact with peers of all genders. Let’s be sure we are not intentionally or unintentionally laying the wrong foundation for how they connect with one another.
Chris Schaffner is a veteran youth worker and certified counselor. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.