Dammit all to hell, y’all, I don’t know what is so freaking HARD about this, but having a penis does not entitle you to inflict it upon other living beings. That’s not what living beings are for. It’s what pillows are for. Or your own damn hand and a can of (inanimate) lube.
Startin’ Em Young
Here’s something I’ve noticed. Children grow into adults. What happens in childhood affects the adults we become. We learn shit in childhood – whether anyone is teaching us or not. The time to start talking to children about who can touch their bodies, and whose bodies they can touch – and WHERE on those bodies they can touch – is oh, say, toddlerhood. We start when they are very, very young.
Not sure how? Here are some handy examples:
- No, sir. It is not appropriate to put your penis on your sister.
- You can play with your penis all you want to, son, in the privacy of your own room.
- If a girl tells you to stop touching her, take your hands off. If a boy tells you to stop touching him, take your hands off.
These are the basics. They can be adapted and refined as age and context require.
But if you haven’t said these things to your son, do it now. I don’t care how old he is. These are things that need to be said.
The Stanford Attacker
By now you’ve likely seen/read/heard about the “powerful letter the Stanford victim read aloud to her attacker.” If you haven’t, you go ahead and click on that lil ole link… because that shit is gooooooooooooooooooood.
In a nutshell, there was a party. A woman was drunk and a young man was drunk. They didn’t know each other. He took her outside by a dumpster and ran his hands all up on her and inside her vagina – along with some incidental pine needles, btw – and humped her. Oh, right, and she was unconscious.
Then two men riding by on bicycles saw what was happening, intervened, and chased him down. Because he ran. Because maybe he knew he was doing something effed up?
So he got a 6-month jail sentence and has proclaimed innocence of any wrongdoing other than “drinking too much.” His defense, from what I’ve surmised, was a combo of blaming, denial, and whining. Paternalism loves that shit. I mean, when it’s coming from a man. I mean, a white man. Obvs.
After the sentencing, she read him the bangin’-est call-out of a letter I’ve had the privilege of reading… possibly ever. (Thorough as the Liberal Redneck, she was.)
Here’s one of my favorite excerpts:
“Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked… Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away. That’s the difference.”
Well, gotdamn right that’s the difference. And it is preposterous that such things need explaining. And not just that they need explaining conceptually, but that those explanations have to penetrate mounds upon mounds of shaming.
The shaming that accompanies any kind of sexual assault is just… just…
How Accountability Affects Us
I remember the first time I heard a woman’s rape story in person. I was 15; she was 17 or so. She’d gone on a hike or a canoe ride or something with a guy who was slightly older than she was. He took her to a secluded place and raped her. I was horrified, and remember talking to my mother about it.
My mom’s automatic response was, “She never should have gone with him.”
This is coming from a WOMAN about a TEENAGED GIRL. So deep is the bullshit, so early does the training commence that my mother didn’t see the invalidation and victim-blaming she was engaged in.
“But MOM,” I said, “she TRUSTED him.”
“Well,” said Mom, “then she’s not a good judge of character.”
In so many ways this is not surprising. My mother was not allowed to wear pants to class in college unless the dean of the school announced that it was cold enough for pants to be appropriate. In which case the girls could wear pants under their skirts while they walked to class, but then had to take them off once inside. Oh yeah, and this was in Michigan. It was kinda fuckin’ cold.
If your entire existence has been shaped by the patriarchy telling you things like when you can and cannot wear a fucking pair of pants, it seems that you’re likely to have some confusions and skewed perceptions about what is appropriate, and whose responsibility things are.
Yes, gotdamn right we owe it to our girls and women to stop the shaming and blaming surrounding sexual assault. And that shit is so overdue that it’s an embarrassment it’s still around.
But you know who else we owe it to?
We owe it to our boys and men to hold them accountable for their actions. We owe it to them to treat them like humans with brains, not to dismiss them as Neanderthals with peckers for brains.
Having a penis isn’t a hall pass to be a brute or a moron. Having too much to drink does not entitle a man to grope or harm other people. Having a penis does not grant a man free reign over a woman’s vagina. Ever. Treating boys and men like these false things are true does them no favors.
When we excuse any sexual violence or predation as “boys being boys,” (or some such bullshit,) we’re not only harming our women and girls. It may be harder to see on the surface, but when we dismiss sexual assault we’re also harming our men and boys.
We risk dehumanizing them. When we make women responsible for men’s actions – when we treat men as devolved fools – we create a gigantic rift between the genders; a chasm of mutual disdain, disgust, and deep mistrust. And the story just gets sadder.