The #metoo movement is jarring. And it should be.
I have been a mother to only daughters for many years, so in the past, I have viewed the issue of assault, harassment and rape through the lens of protecting my girls. What did they need to know to be safe? How can I show them their worth despite what men might tell them? What do I need to teach these beautiful, innocent, perfect little girls who never deserve to have anything bad happen to them?
I taught them stranger safety as young girls and as they got older, we’ve had many talks on how they are in charge of their bodies. And when the time is right, we’ll talk about date rape and saying “no” and how self-worth is something that comes from inside, not from the way other people treat you.
But watching all the #metoos pop up on my social media feeds last week as women use the hashtag to share if they've been a victim of sexual harassment or assault made me think it’s not enough. If the sheer number of posts says anything, it’s that simply teaching our daughters how to avoid being targets falls short.
It’s about the boys, too. That’s the culture that needs to change.
Now I know there are female aggressors and male victims, too, but the majority of these incidents are male on female. And while I’ve been female-focused for 10 years, I now have a son. A beautiful, perfect, innocent little boy who could never do anything bad.
But what if he could? What if he hurt someone? What if he made a girl feel less? What if he liked the way that made him feel?
So as I’ve read and processed the #metoos of some of my closest friends and family, I’m feeling the solidarity of womanhood, but more than that, I’m feeling the responsibility of parenthood. I’m looking at my son and trying to figure out what he needs to know to become a human being who doesn’t add one more #metoo into the world.
My list is far from complete, but here’s what I’ve got so far:
1. Boys can control themselves. We’ve all heard this terrible phrase: Boys will be boys. Implicit in those words is the idea that boys can’t control themselves. They’re wild, rambunctious, impulsive and horny. No point in trying to change them, right? No way. Boys can control themselves every bit as well as girls can. I will not excuse their behavior, and I refuse to hold my son to a lesser standard because of his gender.
2. Consent always matters. We don't force physical affection in our house. I don’t make my daughters or my son hug and kiss relatives, each other or even me. They get to decide when and with whom they feel comfortable giving these kinds of physical tokens of love. Most of these moments are totally innocent, but I want my son to know that consent matters even in the smallest interactions.
3. Real men step in. So many of the stories I have heard over the last week have one thing in common: Other men were there during the incident, but did nothing. They turned away, or worse, got in on “the fun” because it was the cool thing to do. I want my son to feel a responsibility to step in for boys and girls who can’t do it for themselves.
4. You are accountable. Period. His choices and actions fall on him, and I will never excuse bad behavior just because he is my son. In our house, we don’t allow phrases like “She made me mad” or “She made me do it.” When our kids try to get away with that line of thinking, we stop them and refocus on the fact that everyone has a choice, and those choices make us who we are. No one can make them do anything to anyone for any reason. I hope my son grows up taking full responsibility for his choices. He has been blessed with agency, which means there is never an excuse for violating someone else’s. Well, except for if she’s wearing a short skirt or has reputation because then — oh, no, wait, there is never an excuse.
More than anything, I want my son to know what a real man looks like. I want him to know that harassment, coercion or degradation of women isn’t part of the definition of masculine. I want him to be the kind of man that is confident enough to not have to make someone else feel small to make himself feel bigger. I want him to see women as equals, not objects.
I want him to shudder like I do every time a friend or a family member or a random woman posts #metoo. I want him to see those and not roll his eyes at “oversensitivity,” but wonder how he can help. How he can change. How he, too, can stand up for all these women who are finally, thankfully, finding a voice.