“What is wrong with men?” I fumed to my husband as we were running errands last weekend.
I didn’t even need to explain the reason for my outburst. He knew I was talking about the latest man to be accused of sexual improprieties.
Former comedian and now Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.), was the latest piglet to pop up in my news feed along with a photo of him grabbing a sleeping woman’s breasts while he turned and mugged for the camera. This, after he had kissed her against her will earlier while they were practicing a skit they were to perform for the USO.
Days before, Alabama Judge and politician Roy Moore was accused of sexual misconduct against five women when they were teenagers, and comedian Louis C.K. admitted to exposing himself and masturbating in front of women.
If you’re having trouble keeping up with all the accusations, that the New York Times has created a list of men who have been accused of sexual misconduct and the fallout for each.
And let’s not forget the people who have shared their #MeToo stories. These women and men may not have been compromised by powerful, well known men, but that doesn’t lessen the shame, disgust, and powerlessness they experienced.
But back to the question I asked my husband, “what is wrong with men?”
“I don’t know,” he said, genuinely baffled. “The culture where I work is very respectful towards women. When they talk, they don’t say whatever they want.”
“But what if those guys were in a different culture?” I pressed. “Would they still behave?”
“I don’t know,” he answered.
I growled in disgust and glanced over my daughter and son, 10 and 5, listening in the back seat of our car. How can we raise our son so he doesn’t become one of these men?How can I raise my daughter to deal with a guy who tries to intimidate her to get what he wants?
As a white male, my son has been bestowed many cultural and social advantages. In general, people will make positive assumptions about him. If the gender wage gap persists, he’ll be paid more than his female peers. If he is loud and forthright about arguing a point, he’ll be labeled a leader, tough, tenacious. He won’t be called difficult, argumentative like his sister would be if she acted the same way.
People will assume that he is intelligent. He will not be followed around a store to make sure he won’t steal something. Hailing a cab will be no problem (assuming there will be cabs what with Uber and self-driving cars on the horizon). If he’s pulled over by the cops, he will most likely survive the encounter.
Given all of my son’s advantages, my husband and I feel a strong responsibility to make sure he doesn’t grow up with a sense of entitlement. For those times when he doesn’t get the attention he wants, how do we teach him that aggression is not the way to obtain what he desires?
How We’re Parenting My Son
Respecting Others’ Personal Space. “Get off, Jasper!” my daughter, Zora, shrieked. When I arrived on the scene, my son was latched onto my daughter’s legs. “Huggie!” he cried, clinging even tighter. When he didn’t let go, I picked him up and reminded him how annoyed he was when his friend’s little brother didn’t listen when he told him to stop jumping on him. “You didn’t like it, did you?” He shook his head and let go.
Respecting His Personal Space. My son recently announced that he did not want to be kissed until April (it was October). “No kisses?!” I pouted. “How about nose rubs or hugs?” I asked him. He agreed to hugs, rubbing noses, and snuggles side-by-side. When he and my husband were rough-housing and Jasper yelled, “Stop!” I reminded my husband that he should listen and stop tickling Jasper. We want to demonstrate the behavior we’d like to see.
You can’t always get what you want. When Jasper doesn’t get what he wants, he hits or throws something or head butts you. Ouch. He’s five, so I try to give voice to his feelings.
“You’re angry! You wanted to watch that TV show! You think Mommy is so mean! Grr!” I explain that there’s nothing wrong with feeling angry, but when you hit (or when you use that tone of voice) you hurt.
In this case we acknowledge Jasper’s anger or disappointment and show him other ways to blow off the steam. “If you’re angry you can stomp your feet or punch a pillow.”
My 10 year-old daughter is all legs and knees and elbows. She still sleeps with a stuffed animal ferret tucked under her arm and cringes when we get to kissing scenes in books or movies (“It looks like he’s eating her face,” she observed when we watched Harry Potter kiss Cho Chang in “The Order of the Phoenix” ).
Thankfully, Zora is very much her own person. She’s the kind of kid who will build a Lego set following the instructions and then tear the whole thing down and repurpose the bricks for her own creation. She lets various toy fads like Shopkins and fidget spinners pass her by.
But she’s also reluctant to speak up for herself and feels more comfortable showing her kind and sweet self. And I unknowingly reinforced this good girl behavior, cooing and praising her when she helped her little brother make a sandwich and admonishing her if she got angry and yelled at him. “He’s younger than you. He doesn’t know any better.”
Since the #MeToo tidal wave, I’ve taken a step back to think about what I’m message I’m sending to Zora about confidence and anger.
How We’re Parenting My Daughter
You deserve to be treated with respect. My daughter recently ended a friendship because her “best friend” regularly said mean things to her like “Are you trying to be better than me?” if Zora studied and performed better on a test or calling her “teacher’s pet” when a teacher rewarded Zora for good behavior.
At first Zora gave this friend a chance. Maybe she’s having a bad day, Zora thought. But as she came home each afternoon with another tale of how this friend made her feel miserable, I asked her about her other good friends. “Does Michael or Will say these kind of things to you?” She shook her head. “Good friends, real friends,” I told her, “don’t treat each other unkindly. You deserve to be treated well.”
Privacy and Boundaries. Nudity has never been a big deal our home, but now that Zora’s getting older, we’ve started closing doors when using the restroom or changing, and wrapping ourselves in towels or bathrobes when leaving the shower or bath. If a door is closed, then you must knock before entering. No exceptions.
Feeling Angry Is Okay. I don’t want Zora to smack her little brother when he hangs on her or pushes her, but I also don’t want her silence herself and bury that anger in order to be more acceptable. Yelling “No” or “Stop” is okay. Stomping off to your room is okay. Telling me or her father than her brother won’t listen is okay. If you are being harassed or bothered, I counsel Zora to think of herself first.
I recently read a piece in which the writer observed that in her sex-ed class she was taught how to let the boys down easy. She doubted that the boys were being taught what “consent” and “respect” meant.
Am I Overreacting? No.
Why am I concerned about sexual intimidation or misbehavior, even though my kids relatively young? Because I believe kids who learned to overcome disappointment with physical intimidation, or who act on a sense of privilege and entitlement to get what they want become the Roy Moores and Harvey Weinsteins of this world. And because girls who are worried about making a scene and who push away anger and indignation become their victims.