Thursday, September 5, 2013

Why This Well-Meaning Christian Mother is a Symptom of Rape Culture

Photo courtesy of Oteo
I recently came across this article, which I'd love for you to take a few minutes to read. In short, a woman who is the mother of several teenage boys gives advice to the girls they are friends with on Facebook: stop posting sexy photos of yourselves or she will block your accounts so her sons can't see them.

This may seem harmless enough. She's protecting her sons, ensuring what's best for them, right?

Wrong. This attitude is representative of rape culture. Let's examine why.

It presupposes the idea of "good girls" and "bad girls." "Good girls" aren't interested in sex. They keep their virginities intact, to one day be given, like gifts, to the men they marry, or at least men with whom they have meaningful, long-term relationships. When they do have sex, they do so to make babies and to please their men, but never because they really like it. If they happen to like it, they keep quiet about that. "Bad girls," however, are casual and nonchalant about sex, throwing away their purity on whoever is close by. They are dirty and full of disease, and nice boys should avoid them at all costs.

The author says, "We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart." But she determines that posing with "the extra-arched back, and the sultry pout" and "not wearing a bra" betray that these girls actually are not lovely, interesting, or smart. In her mind, a girl can only possess these good qualities, qualities that every girl hopes to have, by not being sexual, and not displaying any sexuality.

In reality, none of this is the case. Young women, like young men, discover their sexualities in their teens, typically. As they begin to understand their attraction to other people, they realize that some people are attracted to them. This is a brand new thing for them, and of course they want to experiment with it. They discover how to show off body parts they've only recently grown into: breasts, hips, waists. They play up their facial features with makeup. They learn to flirt, and to be flirted with in response. They find the pleasure we all find in kissing deeply, in fondling, in sexual play. They begin to have orgasms, and consider whether those can come from intercourse.

The second disturbing assumption the post makes is that boys will be boys, and the only thing we can do is to limit their exposure to temptresses. Says the author, "Once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t ever un-see it." She asks, "You don’t want the Hall boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?"

This woman, who clearly loves her sons dearly, gives them no credit at all for being thinking, reasonable humans. She assumes that their sexual desire is so out of control, so beyond their capacity to manage, that posing for a sexy photo means they can't help but have sex with you.

What kind of message does this send to young people? To this woman's sons? That they can have no control of their sexual behavior? That seeing a girl "in a state of undress" gives boys excuse to objectify her? That once a woman becomes an object of sexual desirability, she loses all value and is thus no longer worthy of being anything but a fuck toy?

Why is it okay for boys to have rampant sex drives that can barely be held in check, but girls are not allowed to want sex? Why is a boy who wants sex just a boy, but a girl who wants sex is a stupid, uninteresting slut?

Further, if a boy has been told his sex drive is beyond his control, and he can't help wanting to have sex with girls in sexy poses, how is he to respond when one of those girls actually wants sex? This assumption gives him no ability to say no. She's naked, he's hard; the only conclusion he can reach is that he must fuck her, even if he actually has reservations.

All of this is pure nonsense, and incredibly harmful. Sexual exploration and discovery is a normal part of being a teenager, for both boys and girls. Both genders think they know far more than they actually do about it, and both tend to make lots of mistakes. Both desperately want to be desired and accepted.

But perpetuating this idea that all boys want sex to the point of having no ability to hold themselves back, while only slutty, unworthy girls want sex, creates the environment in which rape happens. If he's been told he can't help himself, why should he try? How can a young woman not think it was her fault if a boy forces himself on her, if she was so terribly tempting?

We must change the way we talk to young people about sex. More than that, we must change the way we think about sex. Sex is normal, healthy, and the reason all of us exist. It isn't a gift to be hoarded by women and clamored over by men. It isn't a commodity women trade for security and safety. It is a basic activity that is fundamental to human nature, and, like eating and sleeping, we control when and how we do it.

We must expand the conversation from telling girls how to say no. Girls and boys alike should know how to say no, but they should also know how to say yes. They should know how to tell someone what they want and what they aren't comfortable with. They should be able to define their own limits, and respect limits others set.

Most importantly, we must teach them that they are the only ones who control their bodies. No amount of sultry poses can force a boy to have sex with a girl. No lack of clothing can relinquish a girl's right to say no.

Let's change the conversation we have with our kids about sex, and see if we can put an end to tragedies like Steubenville.

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