Readers are up in (mostly feminist) arms about a recent New York Times article by pediatrician Perri Klass entitled “Another Awkward Talk: Respect and Violence.” Dr. Klass wants all you liberal Times-reading helicopter parents to know that you need to be more honest and pro-active in teaching your son how not to be a jackass–or a rapist. Great! I like this idea! Where do I sign?
Unfortunately, Dr. Klass proves to be a lousy messenger for her own message. First, she tries to illustrate her point with an inane anecdote about teenage boys and elevator etiquette. It starts to spiral downward shortly thereafter:
Once you start asking about whether there are special lessons that should be taught to boys, people jump pretty quickly from elevators to sex (or maybe that’s just the crowd I run with). (ed: must be, because I can’t say I’ve ever segued naturally from elevators to teen sex) Sex, after all, is a subject on which pediatricians give plenty of advice. And it becomes very tricky to formulate that advice without making some unpleasant assumptions about adolescent sexuality.
You mean that teenage boys are giant roving maelstroms of testosteronal id? And that maybe teenage girls should be a bit wary and learn to look out for themselves? Well, no. Because Dr. Klass thinks that would be just plain unfair to those poor adolescent guys:
Stir it all together, and you may get an official worldview in which boys are viewed as potential criminals and girls as potential victims. We have to get that message across without defining some of our children as obvious perpetrators and others as obvious victims, because that insults everyone.
No, it does not. That’s the reality of dating violence and sexual assault. Let’s not pretend otherwise, mmkay? I’m all in favor of gender equality and treating boys and girls the same, but the truth is plain: boys and girls are most definitely not created equal when it comes to sexual assault.
I’m willing to go one further. Enough with the “OMG, think of the boyz!” hand-wringing. Have those “awkward” conversations, and have them early and often with your sons. And don’t mince words or worry about “insulting” anyone. I hate how anti-date rape campaigns shout “Don’t be a victim!” at teenage girls. We should also be shouting “Don’t be a rapist!” at teenage boys. If we’re going to educate girls about how not to be victims of rape or domestic violence–and Dog knows, I sat through more than a few of those mandatory presentations in high school and college–we should also be educating boys on how to behave non-violently and respectfully, and to exhibit normal impulse control. Because pop culture sure ain’t delivering those messages:
We live with an endless parade of hypersexualized images — and a constant soundtrack of adults lamenting children’s exposure to that endless parade. There’s increasing knowledge of dating violence, including well-publicized celebrity incidents. And there’s always a new movie to see about how adolescent boys are clueless, sex-obsessed goofballs.
So, parents, when your 16 year old son goes to see “Observe and Report” this weekend, what is he going to take away from it? (And yeah, I know it’s R-rated, but who are we kidding? Every high-schooler in the country is going to see that film.) And what are you going to do about it?
If your household is anything like Chez Sharper, the answer is probably “nothing.” My beloved brothers (who range in age from 23 to 18) are incredibly smart and accomplished, but they were raised by parents who did absolutely nothing to instill respect for women. Their mother, a sweet but painfully passive stay-at-home mom, would literally stand mute with frustration while they cracked dirty jokes, disobeyed every rule in the book or cussed at her when they didn’t get their way. Our father’s attempts to call them out on it were half-hearted and about as effective as pissing on a forest fire. Fortunately, it was a home where their father always treated their mother lovingly, and respectfully, so they seem to have absorbed some of that message by example–but only some of it. Not nearly enough as far as their older sister’s concerned. I have moments where I think my head will explode if I have to explain to them one more time why I will not join them at Hooters or why they shouldn’t call every girl they dislike a whore.
I firmly believe that parents and teachers and adults who have influence with young people need to get off their complacent asses and civilize boys and young men. But I think we need to be a lot harder on them than Dr. Klass does. She concludes, lamely:
I would offer everyone the even less-palatable lesson that sometimes people make dumb decisions. Sometimes you decide to do something and then you wish you hadn’t done it, and that doesn’t necessarily make you bad or good, though it may make you sadder and wiser.
Especially because your “dumb decision”–how’s that for a wussy New York Times euphemism?–may land your son’s dumb ass in jail, or get him a faceful of pepper spray, a kick in the nuts and a shitload of animosity from women like us (or like TigerBeatDown, whose take on this article is hilariously awesome).