6 Things Boys Learn By Age 5 That Perpetuate Rape Culture

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As the mother of a young boy and a pre-teen girl, I feel the weighted responsibility of teaching both of my children about rape culture. In a world where “boys will be boys” and victims of sexual assault are perpetually blamed for the violence they endured, I know it’s important to facilitate conversations regarding sexual assault and consent immediately, directly, and often. I think there are things boys learn by age 5 that perpetuate rape culture, too, and I’m doing my best to dismantle them as they come. It’s damn hard when outside forces are dead set on teaching my son otherwise, though, which is why I must remain stedfast in my resolve to raise a son that will dismantle a culture that normalizes systemic sexual violence against women.

My son has always been the literal light of my life. Born a rainbow baby after I endured two pregnancy losses, there hasn’t been a day of his life that I haven’t smiled in extreme gratitude for all he’s given me. My son has provided me with ethereal, unwavering joy, hope, and the chance to be a mother for a second time. But the older he gets, the more pressure I feel to teach him about bodily autonomy and how, when someone says “no” or “stop” it means exactly no and exactly stop. Every day we go through the rules of consent, and every day it feels like we’re back to square one. It’s not like my son ignores the importance of asking for explicit permission before touching someone because he feels like it, or feels malice toward someone. And our straight-forward conversations get through to some extent. I know he is a child and he’s learning. But it’s because he’s learning that I need to continue to teach these lessons over, and over, and over again. Because one of my biggest fears is that my son will dismiss the importance of consent when he’s an adult.

The sad truth is that rape culture is everywhere, and probably in my own house, despite my attempts to teach my children otherwise. It makes itself known when I talk to my children about bodies or consent, sex. I feel it when I hear my children discuss what they overhear at home, school, or on television. My son is young, and I know he means no harm, but if don’t instill in him the need to always seek out consent? Well, thinking of how he could act in the future is unbearable. I owe it to him, and his sister, to seriously reflect on how the things he’s learned perpetuates rape culture, so I can fix it. Now.

Affection Is Mandatory

When we urge our kids to hug a relative, or even us, when they don’t want to, we’re subconsciously teaching them that their boundaries and personal space mean nothing. I know my son prefers to have his space respected, and it occurred to me recently that imploring him to hug a relative is taking his bodily autonomy away from him

It’s important to teach our kids, and our boys in particular, that hugs and kisses aren’t assumed. Consent is always necessary. The best way to educate our children is through action. We must show our sons what acceptable, respectable behavior looks like, and that means respecting the moments when they don’t want to touch someone, or be touched by someone.

Some People “Deserve It”

My kids argue a lot, just like my brother and I did when we were kids. It comes with the sibling territory. But when I blame both children for arguing, trying to figure out who “started it” and who reacted with violence, I mirror a situation in which a victim of sexual assault is blamed for the assault itself. If I dismiss my son’s actions as “boys will be boys,” I fail to hold him accountable for the pain he has caused his sister.

Aggression, in either of my kids, should be dealt with so that it doesn’t manifest into something far more dangerous later on. If I allow my son to blame his sister for triggering his anger, I’m part of the problem.

Girls Should Dress With Boys In Mind

My son is always watching and listening. So if my daughter chooses to wear something that is inappropriate for school, because of the established school dress code, I try to tell her privately so not I don’t unintentionally shame her in front of my son. If my son notices what his sister is wearing, and says something, it’s important that I intervene and remind everyone involved that it’s her body, her choice.

There’s no denying that school dress codes that disproportionately target girls are problematic. And while I fight to combat the idea that what a female student wears is responsible for the attention span of a male student, I must mirror body positive talk at home.

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