Saturday, March 8, 2014

No, Raising Strong Girls Isn’t Enough to Stop Rape, but teaching boys not to rape isn’t the solution either.

By Laura Pauley Rich

As a woman who went to a liberal arts college in the 90's (aka the Riot Grrrl years) and a mother of two small boys, I am surprisingly over the message that raising strong girls will end our rape culture crisis. I have equally had it up to here with the newer version of this message which goes something like, 'teach boys not to rape' as if it’s something generations of parents for thousands of years simply neglected to do and starting now will magically erase rape from the world. It’s a compelling sound bite, isn’t it? Teach boys not to rape. It sounds so simple, so easy; why didn’t we think of it before? Let’s just teach our boys not to rape girls and they will grow up to be men who won’t rape women! But I don’t want to dismiss this idea with sarcasm because in it is yet another carefully hidden message about victim blaming that, in order to dispel, we must bring to light.
Like Jeff Bogle in his post, ‘Why Raising Strong Girls Is Not Enough’ on The Good Men Project, the idea of rape triggers in me a highly emotional response but, unlike him, I am a parent of boys. The implied message that my children are rapists but that this urge can be contained as long as I teach them not to be is both horrifying and offensive. No parent of boys or girls should accept this new strategy as valid in the struggle against rape culture because it is predicated on the same old idea that men are inherently rapists and women are the born victims. Haven’t we already worked decades to fight against the idea that women are natural victims? To accept that women are not by nature victims, you must also accept that men are not slaves to biology. I can’t begin to comprehend the scope of damage ‘teach boys not to rape’ will inflict on generations of boys if this becomes the new anti-rape mantra. Can you imagine the kind of men that will result from boys growing up fearing that their latent rapist is lurking just below the surface, ready to pounce on an unsuspecting stranger, friend, girlfriend or wife? I guarantee the net impact will be the same, if not more, sexual violence. Creating more shame around male sexuality is not the way and simply telling boys not to rape is not the solution.
As a woman and a feminist, I have processed the reality that I or any one of my female family or friends could be a rape victim. As a mother with sons, I think we need to talk more about when boys are victims. All this introspection is not comfortable, any way you try to look at it, but it is necessary. Being a parent has further shaped these scenes of imminent danger that run in the foreboding film series in my head, so I get Jeff Bogle’s fear for his daughters and desperate need to name the solution. We all have some version of these movies in our heads but we need to move on from the terror, powerlessness and shame they leave us with and focus on real solutions that we, as parents, can provide.
We’re just now awakening to the idea that making our girls ‘strong’ does not keep them safe from the reality of rape, and this is progress. We recognize that rape is about the need for power over others, not sex and offering the potential victims a solution based on maintaining their own ‘girl’ power is just plugging into the same damaging cycle of victimization. I’m glad we’re willing to move beyond this one-sided strategy but teaching men not to rape (or boys not to rape), is too simplistic.
The real conversation that no one is having about rape, the one we’re all dancing around with these posts about teaching boys not to rape (and there are a lot of them now) is that the opposite of powerlessness is not power-over-others, it’s connection and power-with-others. Think about it. When do you feel powerless? I can guarantee it’s not when you feel safe, loved and connected to those around you. Now think about how we raise boys and treat men. Do we let them feel safe, loved and connected or do we shut that off after some predetermined age (ten years old? seven? four?) so they ‘toughen’ up and ‘act like men’? Do we honor their feelings or shame them if they show emotions? People who feel connected to others tend to respect others. People who respect others rarely violate that connection. If rape is about the need to control and the need to feel power in a life marked by powerlessness, let’s give men their power back.
I’m of course not advocating a power-over dynamic advocating female submission, but rather power-with interaction where we allow our boys and men, women and girls to feel equally safe, loved and connected. Men can stop rape but not just by not raping, as the vast majority of men are already not raping. Men can also stand up to rape culture, and we can stand together against it, by rejecting the practice of raising boys to disconnect and feel powerless. This isn’t a love-the-rapist-and-he-won’t-hurt-you or turn-the-other-cheek message. This is true cultural change through the practice of connection.
There are no magic words or one easy but secret parenting trick that will eliminate rape. It's about how to raise all our humans to value connection with each other and honor our ability to connect (otherwise known as vulnerability) as a strength, not a weakness. These are the only lessons we need to fix our cultural obsession with shaming and many of the damaging behaviors that result from trying to avoid feeling shame, one of which is rape. Unfortunately, ‘connection’ makes a boring soundbite and takes a lot more work because many of us need to learn how to do it before we can teach it to our kids (boys and girls). If you’re ready to do the work, check out the resources below. But, whatever you do, don’t tell me my sons are rapists. Boys aren't the problem. Rape culture is the problem. We can end rape culture through connection.

Men Can Stop Rape

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

Aha Parenting

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