Yesterday, Avital Norman Nathman wrote a post on The Frisky about her wishes for her six year old son. She wrote:
My son turns six next week, and among all the other wishes I have for him, I have a silent hope that won’t be shared at his birthday party. It’s one that swims in the depths of my mind, surfacing occasionally when awful things happen that force me to think about it: I wish and hope and pray that my son won’t grow up to be a rapist.
Her concern resurfaced after a video was released showing teens joking about a rape in their community, among their friends. Joking, laughing, showing a horrible, unfathomable lack of concern or respect for the victim. Avital wrote about the role that rape culture plays in allowing something like this to take place in Steubenville, but that could also allow it to take place in just about any other place in our male dominated world.
This [rape culture] all aids in creating an environment where a young boy feels comfortable and confident in making jokes about somebody being raped. This boy isn’t “too young to understand the seriousness of this situation.” You’re never too young to understand violating another person is wrong, and if you somehow made it to 16-years-old without that knowledge, that is symptomatic of a larger societal problem that excuses or normalizes behavior like that. When people are afraid to stand up for a 16-year-old gang rape victim because of the posterity of their high school football team? We should be shouting at the top of our lungs for things to change.
Somehow most of us seem to be able to teach our children that opening a cupboard at someone's house and helping yourself to whatever is in there without asking first is inappropriate. How is it that we manage to do that, but the message that sexual consent is important just doesn't sink in? I think it is partially because most families don't talk openly about sex and sexual relationships with their children. The parents prefer to assume that the children aren't having sex and the children prefer to assume that the parents aren't having sex and both do everything in their power to support that facade. But it is, of course, also because of rape culture.
Like with so many other things, pop culture and the media play a huge role in defining what we see as right, wrong, normal and abnormal. Whether we're talking about the patriarchy and positions of power, about bottle culture, about crazed consumerism, about junk food, or about rape culture, we are what we see. Most people are not trailblazers or leaders. Most people are mirrors of the society they grow up in.
Balancing Jane wrote this week that she's also been thinking a lot about consent and its link to culture. She wrote:
Just as I don't think that gun culture kills people (murderers do), I don't think that rape culture rapes people (rapists do). However, I see no contradiction between calling out a culture that makes rape and violence acceptable and also holding individuals responsible for their crimes. One does not excuse the other.
However, I do think that making a change in the amount of crimes that happens requires both punishing individual perpetrators and examining the culture surrounding them.
She then goes on to look at disturbing examples of people who are treated like heroes in pop culture for not raping someone when they had the chance and notes:
Not being a rapist should not be a symbol of being a hero; it should be the bare minimum for decent behavior. Refusing to sleep with someone who is too intoxicated to consent or who is being forced into sex because someone is threatening her does not make you a "good guy;" it just means that you pass one of the lowest bars for basic humane treatment.
She responds by asking for examples of situations where consent is handled well in pop culture. Not a lot of them come to mind immediately. There are certainly more examples of consent simply being assumed than consent explicitly being shown. If people assume consent in the movies and on television, how can we expect our sons to act differently? How can we teach our daughters to expect more?
Just tell them, will be the advice and the assumption of people who assume parental supremacy. But that isn't good enough, it hasn't been good enough, it will never be enough. We need to change.
On my facebook page this week, I asked my readers what societal issue is most on their mind as a parent as they look out on the year 2013. Teresa Pitman wrote something that resonated with me, and with a lot of other readers. She wrote:
I don't know how to accomplish it, but I think we need a fundamental shift in what we value - to move from valuing money and "things" and what we can buy to valuing people and relationships. If we could have that focus in our society, I think it would lead to support for parents as parents and for meeting the needs of children.
I don't know how to accomplish it either, but I do think it has to start concurrently in our homes and in pop culture. We need to model the type of people that we want our children to be, but we also need them to see that modeled in society. Equality, respect for each other and the environment, empathy, health, and love should be the default, not something we need to fight against the mainstream to achieve.
Photo credit: garryknight on flickr and poster credit: Consent is Sexy