Much has been said about raising sons in the aftermath of the Stubenville rape trial. And much should be said. The young men involved in this case are guilty of violating a young woman who was in a defenseless state. My stomach turns as I read media coverage of the rape, and particularly so when the media seems to be more upset about the young men’s loss of potential than about the young woman’s loss of dignity.
One poignant piece regarding this case was written as a beautiful letter from mother to son. I have a son, and I am already teaching him to value and respect others, especially his little sister and me. I want my son to be the kind of man who defends the defenseless, and speaks up for the vulnerable. I want to raise a protector, a man who can be trusted.
However, very little has been said about speaking to our daughters about this subject. I think there is a general fear that if we speak to girls, we will necessarily be casting a long shadow of blame on an already violated young woman in Stubenville. But there are valuable lessons to be learned, and I for one, want my daughter to learn them early and learn them well. If there’s any way she can avoid becoming a victim, I want to help her find that path.
First, some disclaimers. No, I’m not going to say that if my daughter dresses provocatively she’s “asking for it.” I’m not going to say that women who pass out, drunk, deserve what they get. I’m not going to say that there is ever, EVER an excuse for a man to violate a woman (or vice versa, for that matter).
BUT, think of it this way: if you’re going to drive down any road, it is possible that you will get hit by a drunk driver. So wear your seatbelt – always. If you drive without wearing a seatbelt, are you “asking for it” if you get hit by a drunk driver? No. Are you responsible for the driver’s drinking, his decision to drive? No. But it is a fact that drunk drivers exist, and if wearing your seatbelt increases your likelihood of survival, why wouldn’t you do it?
I think there are several ways a girl can “put on her seatbelt” to avoid being a victim. Will these always protect her? No more than wearing your seatbelt will keep you from being killed by a drunk driver. But it’s a start, and sometime, it just may save her life. Why wouldn’t we want our daughters to be as protected as possible?
Here’s what I’m going to tell my daughters:
- Keep good company. Sure, that guy is cute, but how does he treat others? Does he speak disparagingly about other girls while you’re with him? Does he ogle woman, or does he assign less value to girls he finds less attractive? How a man treats other women when they can’t hear/see him is a good indication of his character and of how he will treat you (this includes the women he sees on a screen – is he okay with women being portrayed as victims in fictional settings?). Steer clear of men who treat others poorly, even if he’s currently treating you well (and even if he’s really hot). And if he’s currently treating you disrespectfully, even in small ways, run for the hills: he may be seeing what he can get away with on a small scale before he ups the ante.
- Stick together. Build good friendships with other girls. Be a friend and have friends that can be counted on not to desert you if you get into trouble. Find friends who are willing to call parents (yours or theirs) if they feel you’ve all gotten in over your heads.
- Respect yourself. Do not dress like you don’t care about how you’re treated, whether that’s dressing extremely sloppily or extremely sexually, indicating to others that you don’t see yourself as having value. Don’t joke coarsely about sexual things, indicating that you are free with your body. Predators look for targets. They look for signs that they will get away with their crime – don’t give those signs.
- Do not get drunk. Seriously, how many date rapes (or even infidelities) have occured because one or both parties were drunk? Losing control of your own actions, especially in the presence of strangers, is a good way to magnetize yourself and attract men who are looking for an easy target. There are bad men out there. It is not your fault if you are victimized, but why make it easier for it to happen?
These are not new concepts, no more profound than a “Buckle up for Safety” campaign. But whenever our attention is drawn to these subjects, we should remind our sons of the respectfulness we are already teaching them, and we should remind our daughters to make wise and safe choices.
One last thing I would tell my daughter…
5. If you ever are violated, know, my much-loved daughter, that it is not your fault. Some evil men are not deterred by any safety measures. There is no foolproof plan. Even if you were not as smart as you could’ve been (hindsight’s 20/20), know that forgetting your umbrella does not cause the rain to fall from the sky. You are precious, and wonderful, and no act done to you will ever make you less valuable. Never let your worth be measured by a man’s actions, good or bad.