Like most females, I am not the least bit surprised by the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault brought to light by the recent #MeToo movement. The only thing that's shocking is that it's taken this long for society to acknowledge it. Personally, I could write enough pages to rival War and Peace if I were to document every time — starting from childhood — I had been shamed/disparaged about my gender, sexually harassed and, in a few cases, assaulted.
As a female psychotherapist, I frequently receive calls from men who, seeing my professional profile on Psychology Today (which indicates that I offer sex therapy), pose as potential clients, and then simply try to engage me in "sex talk" to get their jollies. I doubt the extent of my experience with this crap makes me much different from any other woman.
If we want to change things, we need to include boys and men in this conversation.
I distinctly remember during my youth in the 1980s and '90s that, while there was little to no discussion around consent, it was fairly well accepted that girls were not permitted to "tease." In other words, should you in any way give a boy the idea that you were willing to put out, you damn well better follow through or you would be demonized and shamed. Ironically, put out too much, and you would also be demonized and shamed as a slut. What horrifies me most is that I simply accepted this as fact.
Now that I am the mother of two young girls, I am so grateful that consent is finally a part of popular discourse, but I remain dubious that things will change quickly. My husband and I, open and progressive, have had conversations about consent extensively with our children. But the solution to women being victimized is not simply warning them about the risks and dangers that exist. If we want to change things, we need to include boys and men in this conversation. We need boys to know what is and is not acceptable. We also need them to hear this from men.
The White Ribbon (an organization aimed at engaging men and boys in the effort to end violence against women) has launched the #20minutesforchange campaign, to encourage dads and men to discuss consent with boys. It provides a simple script to use for those who may have difficulty knowing how to start the conversation or are not sure what to say.
Personally, I think engaging boys and men in this discussion is only a vital first step. I believe that one major source of the problem is how we define masculinity. It is time we take a good, hard look at the toxic way we teach males in our culture where to look for self-worth. It should not come from physical and sexual domination of others. It should not come by exerting power and control over others. The time is long overdue to stop associating certain traits with our genitalia. It is even longer overdue that we openly confront the violence against women that is far too prevalent.
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