Column: Are you raising your boys to be men or misogynists?
Parents of boys: What did you learn from the Steubenville rape case? Did you pay attention or did you think, “How awful, but oh well”.
Last summer, two teen football players got a 16-year-old girl beyond drunk, carried her from party to party, and repeatedly raped and abused her in front of many consenting friends. So “cool” was this, they joked and bragged about it in texts and on the web. They were recently found guilty and the verdict has divided a small football-mania town, many of whom are furious at losing their star football players.
How we raise our boys has all to do with how entitled they will feel as they grow to manhood — how entitled they feel to hold power over girls and weaker boys, how entitled they feel to do as they please if they meet the “cool” standards. Our culture is steeped in male entitlement, so we must work hard to support our sons in ways that our culture does not.
One of my proudest moments in my son’s life happened when he was playing soccer against another town. My son was goalie and that day every ball sailed past him into the net. When the boys switched sides at half-time, a boy from the other team said to him, “You suck as goalie.” My son came back with, “Yeah, I guess I’m having a bad day.” Many parents would have been embarrassed and wished he had retaliated, even punched him. I was proud that he was not ashamed of his temporary weakness. I was proud that he didn’t see his poor performance as a failure. I was proud that he knew how to deflect a hurtful comment. I was proud that he could stand down a bullish remark while standing incredibly tall. The wind was knocked out of the other boy’s bravado. My son came out the stronger of the two.
Sportswriter Dan Wetzel wrote for Yahoo News that, “Rape, experts say, is a crime of power and control more than sex. Underlying all of that is arrogance, and in Steubenville it was taken to the extreme…. A culture of arrogance created a group mindset of debauchery and disrespect, of misplaced manhood and lost morality.”
The culture of football made it like any other night in Steubenville for these underaged football players. “They, according to so many locals, knew there were bars that would serve them, liquor stores that would supply them, and adults who would look the other way. They were football players being football players…. They were allowed the freedoms of young adults, yet lacked the maturity to handle that freedom,” says Wetzel.
To counter this culture of “toxic masculinity,” as Jaclyn Friedman calls it, parents need to start early raising boys to be respectful, open, emotional men.
Allow boys to have and express their emotions.
Teach them that crying is healing and kindness wins them friendship.
Make sure they know mistakes are just mistakes and how to make amends.
Intervene when seeing “pack mentality,” often a result of team sports.
Empower them to speak out when they see injustice.
Encourage boys to babysit, do their own laundry, cook.
Teach that true bravery means having courage when you are scared.
Provide acceptable outlets for aggression rather than trying to stop it up.
Refuse to accept that “boys will be boys” when they use their aggression on others.
Stay present in their sons’ lives .
Say, “I love you” and “I’m sorry” over and over.
Change diapers, give baths, kiss boo-boos, hug, nurture.
Admit mistakes, make amends, cry.
Model vulnerability. Express emotions.
Respect all women. Never tell sexist jokes in front of a child.
Teach the lesson to never touch a girl without her consent.
Talk about “toxic masculinity” and the pack mentality of the entitled male. Share stories from the past that can teach lessons.
These interventions require self-reflection and vulnerability — something that does not come easily to men. But we must face what our culture is still teaching our boys and expecting from our men, and link these cultural standards to horrific events such as that of Steubenville.
The Steubenville teens are the sons of some very regretful parents. One absentee father admitted responsibility for what his son did. Not one of us needs to allow that to ever happen to our sons. Let’s stop male entitlement once and for all.
Parent Wise Columnist Bonnie Harris, M.S.Ed, is the director of Connective Parenting and founder of The Parent Guidance Center, now The River Center, in Peterborough, where she teaches parent education classes. She is the author of “When Your Kids Push Your Buttons” and “Confident Parents, Remarkable Kids: 8 Principles for Raising Kids You’ll Love to Live With.” Email bh@bonnie harris.com.