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Teaching our boys to respect women
We often focus on what a girl can do to avoid unwanted attention, violations of privacy, etc. We teach them that if they misstep (send incriminating photos, dress provocatively, etc.) they will likely end up with an unshakeable poor reputation. But doesn’t the responsibility lie with both parties? Boys have just as much liability when it comes to treating women the way they want and deserve to be treated. Sadly, this is not as common as it should be. It is that parents jobs to raise young men to respect women both online and off.
Maybe your son is over affectionate to a girl in his class. He’s eight years old, so it doesn’t seem like a big deal. You might even think it’s cute. However, the little girl in his class hates it. She’s told him many times to leave her alone, but he doesn’t. While this isn’t violence, it is certainly disrespect. This kind of disrespect toward girls and their boundaries is the kind of disrespect that can escalate to violence and even abuse.
Teaching boys to respect women.
This task may feel like an uphill battle, and in many ways, it is. Media very often portrays women as objects or playthings. Women are portrayed as one-dimensional, and thus not deserving of respect. So in a world that sees disrespecting women as normal, how can we teach our boys to act counter-culturally?
Boys under 5:
Teach by example. If you are showing respect – especially if you are the father – you are teaching respect. Showing respect means you show respect to everyone, especially women. Don’t name-call, even in jest. Don’t ever hit or threaten a woman. Listen to and respect the opinions and ideas of the women around you. Speak kindly. This seems like a pretty basic idea, but it is hands down the easiest way to model respect. Never speak unnecessarily harsh to a child, or an adult, regardless of gender. Teach your children to be helpful, and help them to recognise when someone feels lousy/needs their help.
Boys aged 5-12:
Everything from the previous section is still applicable for these boys. However, this age group presents a new set of challenges for you.
As media becomes a much larger presence in your son’s life, it needs to be monitored consistently. Violence in media is very prevalent, and while your 5 or 6-year-old may show no interest, your 9 or ten-year-old will be all over it. Don’t watch violent shows, or MMA fights with your young children – these types of shows model aggression and can exacerbate violent tendencies in your child. This same philosophy applies to programs with gratuitous sexual content.
Prepare for pornography. When you son is 8 or 9 you need to warn him about pornography. The average age of exposure to porn is 11 years old, so you need to pre-arm your child. Tell your child about the existence of pornography. Tell them that others may want to show it to them because they might think it’s funny – but it’s actually harmful. Let them know that it isn’t real, or reflective of what people in a healthy and loving relationship want. Do not normalise porn, there is nothing normal about it. The attitude that it is something that ‘all boys do’ contributes to our cultural problem of disrespect and domestic violence.
Let your sons know that they should talk to you if anyone tries to show them porn. You should also encourage conversations surrounding this issue of disrespect. If your son witnesses disrespect, ask them how it made them feel. Ask your son how they think the victims feels. These kinds of conversations teach empathy and offer perspective.
Boys aged 12-18:
You son needs to be taught the following concepts in his teen years, in addition to the lessons outlined above (especially the ones regarding media and porn use).
Teach your son about healthy relationships, and how to express love in a normal and functional way. They need to understand that love is more than sex. Teach your son that you can’t separate sex and emotions, that if they try to separate the two; they open the doors to sexual miscommunication and coercion.
No means no. Any form of no means no. Consent needs to be a constant conversation. Saying yes one time doesn’t mean the answer is yes every time.
Tell them that pornography is not allowed, and teach them why. Statistics submit that 100% of boys have viewed some form of violent pornography by the age of 15. This is not OK, and something needs to change.
Call them on Sexism.
Women belong in the kitchen jokes (and those along similar lines) are often told and laughed at by groups of teenage boys. It would seem these types of comments and one-liners are all a part of the male experience. But they don’t have to be, and they shouldn’t be. If you catch your son criticising women in the form of a joke about their driving, or math abilities, or similarly gendered issues; call them on it. Sexism is not cool, or funny.
Ultimately it’s the things that your do, more than the words you say, that will make the biggest impact on your son. What the men in your son’s life do will set the tone for what your son thinks is acceptable behaviour towards women. So, surround your sons – or the boys you work with – with great men. Be a great example, and teach them well.