Have you heard about #YesAllWomen? This is a powerful effort, begun by a 19-year-old woman, to raise up the voices of all the women who have experienced fear because of our gender. In response to an important message after the tragedy at UCSB, some men wanted society to remember that this deplorable behavior is #NotAllMen, this young woman rightfully pointed out that it is not all men, but the effects of those perpetrators are felt by all women.
All women have had one -- or hundreds -- of experiences when a man looked at what she is rather than whom. A man has assumed his touch, his words, his presence was welcome when it was not; that a woman should allow what he wanted because he wanted it. Many women -- and men -- have asked important questions as a result of this conversation. Here's mine:
How can I raise my boys into men who will never, ever touch someone when they are not wanted? What can I do to make sure that my sons will never be perpetrators? Which decisions can I make so that my boys will look for opportunities to stand as heroes to women, never as threats?
I will do these three things:
- Instill respect for the human body. We teach our guys from the time they can talk to ask before they touch. "Mommy, can I kiss you?" "Daddy, can I feel your muscles?" Hugs are great, wrestling is a daily occurrence, kisses are wonderful. But you have to ask. Not because we shy away from affection (ha!), but because I want touching without permission to feel like driving without a seatbelt -- wrong and unheard of.
- Define the word "Yes." "Yes" means you can do as you've asked. Nothing besides "yes" means yes. "No" is not, "Yes if you ask me again" or, "Yes if I'm smiling when I say no." Also? "Maybe" is not a yes. "I don't know..." is not a yes. Giggling is not a yes, and neither is nodding or smiling or winking or anything else that girls often do so that we can avoid the responsibility of a strong "Yes." If you ask a girl if you can kiss her and she isn't willing to say yes then the answer is "no."
- Admire their heroism. My sons want to be heroes. They strive to be strong, powerful arbiters of right and wrong. They watch for fairness (especially when it comes to each other) and point out its lack at the top of their lungs. They rush to denounce injustice. So I must praise these instincts, and name them for the heroic acts that they are. I should point out the heroes we see each day -- on screens, but more importantly on our streets, in the news, in the man who heads our kitchen table, their Dad. I have to tell them when their small acts, like holding open a door, offering to help carry something heavy, helping a teammate or competitor up on the field, are what a hero would do.
I know that the perpetrator of sexual assault is #NotAllMen. And I fervently hope that the experience of sexual violation is soon not #YesAllWomen. For now, I'm going to focus my energies on #NotMySons.
Will you join me?
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