This has been a big year, and it’s only half over!
We lost more of the polar ice. Disney designed a South Pacific princess. Trump, Hillary and Bernie. Jeff Goldblum came out of hiding for a sequel to Independence Day.
And before all that, we hashed and hashed and hashed some more about which individuals of which anatomical sex, which gender identity and which gender presentation could use which bathroom.
The conversation seemed to spark a peculiar rage.
Proponents of the development rallied under a desire for nothing more or less than to urinate without fear of assault or legal ramification.
Opponents of the movement expressed (many disparaging things toward gender non-conforming individuals) strong concern about sexual predators.
This seemed to be one of the most common themes among those with concerns about the new bathroom bills. Many parents, both fathers and mothers, said things like, “I don’t feel safe with the possibility of a (who we assume to be)man being in the bathroom with my daughter.” Or specifically speaking to a school context, “I don’t want a boy in the bathroom with my daughter.”
This concerns me.
We live in stressful times to be sure, and there are very real threats to our persons and to our families. I very much appreciate parents that are committed to the safety and well-being of their children. Bravo; keep up the vigilance. But in this case of recent events, namely the bathroom wars, the strong desire for safety carries a toxic side effect.
When we express concern about what will happen if a boy and girl, or man and woman, end up in the same bathroom together, there is a message being declared. The implied or explicitly stated message coming from both sides of the bathroom war seems to by, “Boys who become men are dangerous and will sexually assault girls who become women.”
Gender conformists are afraid that men will dress as women in order to gain access to women’s bathrooms in order to assault them.
Gender non-conformists (and I daresay primarily Trans Women who were assigned male at birth) are afraid to go into the bathroom that corresponds least with their gender presentation because they are afraid of gender conforming men assaulting them for their gender non-conformity.
Either way, men are painted as individuals who will inevitably commit a violent crime.
I suppose the nice(?) thing about this is that women are not being solely blamed for sexual misconduct as they are and have been in a multitude of other contexts.
But I am deeply concerned about the message that we as a culture are sending to our boys and girls who will become our men and women. In the case of the bathroom war, we are angrily proclaiming to our boys that we anticipate and even expect that they are dangerous individuals who cannot be trusted to respect a woman. Meanwhile we are vociferously warning our girls about dangerous men who will prey on them and drilling into them the notion of consent.
Consent is good and important. Keep drilling.
But this whole thing is not about consent.
It’s about the types of people we are grooming our boys and girls to be.
I am concerned about these things because I’m now tasked with raising a son in this environment. What messages will he hear about who he is and how he is to conduct himself?
I am reasonably certain that from me and his mother he will hear that he is loved. That all of his emotions are welcome and can be regulated. That he can be rough and tumble, gentle and kind, work hard to conquer a project or tenderly nurture life, all as the need arises. I know we will teach him about his body, how it works, what sex is and how to talk about sex comfortably, not as an uncomfortable joke or a spectacle. We will teach him that he is a person, that women are people, that other men are people, and that if he can’t tell at first glance if that’s a man or a woman, they’re still a person. We’ll teach him to protect himself and others, but also to look for the best in others.
That’s all very good. But I’m concerned about what he will hear from society. Since he has a penis, he will be required to be physically strong and impervious to pain. All his feelings, save anger, will be unwelcome. He will be told his goal is conquest, that nurture is for women, and the worst crime he could commit is to be like a woman. Adults will tell him not to talk about sex; his male peers will tell him sex is fodder for humor and an exhilarating forbidden pleasure. Society will paint a picture for him of him being a conqueror, prone to fits of anger and sex-crazed hunger with women being the objects of his desire. He will be told he is to be strong, to be alone in his pain, that he is to be respected, but also that he is feared, and that ultimately, all responsibility for everything falls on his shoulders alone and the other worst crime he can commit is to show weakness.
I worry about which message my son will believe.
Boys will be boys, as stated in The Boy Code(from a book called Real Boys by William Pollock) and that means they will do rough and violent things, including sexually assault women and while we will be horrified that they do this, we will also not be surprised because, well, that’s what boys who become me do, because that’s what we have said we expect them to do.
Meanwhile, the most media-covered sexual assault of the year took place, not in a bathroom, but behind a dumpster.
And we have decided we hate Brock Turner and we hate his indulgent father and we hate his conniving lawyer and we hate the lenient judge and we hate Turner’s wealth and his male privilege and his white privilege and his money privilege.
We have decided we hate him and all these things because this terrible(and it is truly terrible) sexual assault happened and may very well be narrowly pardoned.
But as we loudly demand that the largest possible stone be cast at this poor rich white boy, let us remember that we are Dr. Frankenstein and he is our creation.
Turner did exactly what we expected him to do.
Because we expect boys to be boys and do violent things and be unable to control their penises.
Because girls and women are perpetually in danger because boys and men are dangerous and violent.
Isn’t that why we want them kept out of the girls bathroom?
What a great set of gender roles.
Some parents are resolving to teach their daughters how to demand consent and to teach their boys to protect girls from those other dangerous boys. This is phenomenal and must happen, but I think it’s only a start. This idea still relies on and perpetuates the message that boys and men are dangerous.
And to be fair…some men and boys are dangerous. But I think we made them that way and that we need to own that. Then we need to change some things
We need to teach our boys more than just to obtain consent; we need to teach them that they are more than violent horny disgusting animals. We need to expect more and better of them.
Alongside teaching boys to protect and respect girls, we ought to teach them that no individual is an object for their gratification. We ought to teach them that they can indeed control themselves and their penises and all their other desires. We ought to teach them that we will accept and love and celebrate them for being smart and gentle and disciplined and passionate. We ought to teach them that when they act out in anger and violence and lack of self-control we are horrified and disappointed that they have not lived up to a healthy masculine ideal.
Then we should embrace them and not shame them and help them to change. Because shaming a person only reinforces every bad thing.
Alongside teaching girls to demand respect and consent, we ought to teach girls how to protect themselves, how to think for themselves, how to respect themselves and their bodies. We ought to teach them that they are beautiful and worthwhile whether or not they ever give themselves sexually. We ought to teach girls that they are people, not objects for a man’s gratification.
There are dangerous people out there. And there are vulnerable people who need protecting. But if we want to change this trend, we need to change our expectations of our boys and girls.
Let us demand of our girls that they be capable.
Let us demand of our boys that they be self-controlled.
Let us teach our girls to think.
Let us teach our boys to nurture.
And let us teach our boys and girls everything we taught their brothers and sisters.
Brock Turner is our product, and our responsibility. His victim is our victim. If we want to avoid future horrors like this, the responsibility to change is ours.