Back in the early stages of my wife’s pregnancy, before we knew we would be having a son, people often asked me whether I wanted a boy or a girl. My response usually went something like this: “Well, I’d be happy either way, I think, and I don’t have a preference, really. I don’t want one more than the other. Honestly, though, the idea of having a daughter kind of terrifies me.” That’s the thought that occurred to me again Monday morning when I ran across this article in fellow Life As A Human author Schmutzie’s Twitter feed.
For those who haven’t heard, NY Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote a column last week exposing what’s coming to be called the “slampigs scandal.” A group of incoming freshman boys at the Landon School — a prestigious DC-area prep school — had formed a fantasy league, except instead of drafting athletes, they drafted girls. The boys would earn points by performing different sex acts with their draftees, with a cash prize being awarded to the top scorer.
That this kind of behavior is appalling goes without saying. That these boys could so casually and methodically dehumanize a bunch of unsuspecting girls is simply horrifying. The fact that they’re getting off with a slap on the wrist (three days of in-school suspension, according to Laura Stepp of the Huffington Post), while deplorable, hardly seems surprising. That the school may have tried to “keep the ‘league’ quiet” is more troubling.
As I mentioned, my first reaction upon hearing of this story was to remember the anxiety I’d felt about the possibility of having a daughter, which had nothing to do with worrying about protecting my potential daughter’s “purity” and everything to do with the fact that I had no idea how to raise a girl in this misogynistic world so that she could grow up to become a confident, empowered, and sexually healthy woman. There’s just so much that I don’t know and have never experienced about what girls and women go through, and the idea that there are people out there like these Landon boys makes the outlook seem bleak.
But the real question here — and one much more applicable to my life right now seeing as how I have have a son and not a daughter–is how did these boys come to be the way they are, and how can I raise my son so that he won’t be like them?
We can take it as a given that teenagers are going to be interested in sex. And, yes, most, if not all, teenage boys are going to have a high sex drive. Does this mean that they are incapable of controlling themselves, or that they shouldn’t be held accountable if they don’t? Of course not.
The problem is, how to teach it? Some parts seem easy enough — it’s not hard to explain things like inappropriate touching, for example. But even I have trouble pinpointing the exact line between healthy appreciation for beauty and sex appeal and unhealthy objectification and harassment.
My feeling, and my hope, is that the key to raising good sons is being good fathers and good men. That means treating the women in our lives — our wives, mothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances — with respect and kindness. It means rejecting the kind of movies, music, television, and especially pornography that don’t recognize the humanity and dignity of the women they portray. It means not seeing stereotypes and inequality and refusing to perpetuate them. And it means rejecting the kind of men (and women) who won’t do these things.
I don’t know if merely setting a good example is enough; in fact, I’m pretty sure that given the world we live in now, there will be times that more explicit instruction is necessary. But I like to think that this is something we can do, because if I ever do have a daughter, I want her to live in the kind of world where I don’t have to worry about her.
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