Feminist Parenting About Sexuality – Hold on, because this is going to hurt by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

I have been asked numerous times by numerous people over the years to write about feminist issues, especially regarding teaching kids about consent, pornography, and healthy sexuality. The reason I have not tackled this project yet is that I know full well most people—even people who think they want to know what I have to say, who think they probably agree with me to a large degree—will find what I have to say too overwhelming, depressing, and painful to handle.

People have interesting perceptions of me, which shape their expectations of what I will say. I am generally cheerful and affirming to be around. I frequently advocate for justice issues by speaking with passion and blunt honesty in ways people find uncomfortable or comforting, depending on where they stand on that particular issue. People want to feel safe and affirmed by me personally, but they also want me to keep speaking out about justice—so long as I do not make them too uncomfortable.

I wrote two separate posts about rape and consent this past week, but I can’t publish either of them. They are too upsetting for you to read. With a per-post word limit, I do not have space to address your painful emotional responses to the things I have to say. So instead, I am going to start by addressing the emotional response as its own topic. Maybe this introduction will help people engage with the more painful truths I name in later posts.

I am going to say some very, very upsetting things. I am going to talk about:

  • Studies that show what percentage of men would probably rape a woman if they thought they would get away with it
  • The percentage of men who find filmed rape and misogynist violence arousing and consume it on a regular basis,
  • The ways our culture grooms females to comply with their own rape, dehumanization, and exploitation
  • The ways our culture grooms males to ignore and override female boundaries, and to justify those actions
  • The ways our culture grooms males and females to believe that most rape is not rape
  • The ways our “Rape Culture” destroys the ability of males and females to have healthy relationships or healthy sexuality
  • The ways men and women can help keep everyone safer, happier, and healthier


—-And this is important, because it might sound to many people as though I am saying things I am NOT SAYING!—


  • All men are rapists
  • All men are bad
  • Women never rape or abuse men (or boys)
  • Boys and men should feel horrible about being male
  • Being male is bad
  • Being female is inherently better than being male

For example, I am going to talk about how to keep my children as safe as I possibly can from rape and assault. That seems like a fairly universally approved idea, right? Who could argue with the idea that we should try to protect our children from rape and assault? It sounds pretty benign and non-controversial when we phrase it like that.

But that sort of bland, general statement does nothing to achieve safety for my daughters or for anyone else. In order to keep my girls safe, I must actually address, in detail, from what and from whom I want to keep them safe.

Let’s make the idea a little harder to hear:

I want to keep my children safe from boys and men who want to assault and rape them.

People experience more pain and resistance to that statement. Suddenly, instead of a vague, anonymous danger, the danger has a biological sex and a violent behavior. People do not like to talk about the topic this way. Similarly, people much prefer to write a news headline that reads, “A woman was raped” rather than “A man raped a woman.” Phrasing the danger as vague avoids the unpleasant emotions that arise when we name the responsible actors. Passive language keeps the attention on the woman as the victim of a crime rather than on the male criminal who committed the crime.

The reason we feel uncomfortable talking about “men and boys who want to assault and rape women and girls” is that naming the responsible actors and their violent behaviors means we must confront the fact that one half of our species, the male half, commits the vast majority of violent crime (including 96% of homicides, 96% of child abuse, and nearly 99% of rapes (of which 16% are committed by juveniles).

Even if these data are somewhat skewed by men and boys who do not admit they have been raped or abused by females, the pattern remains quite clear. A more conservative estimate says:

“Men are responsible for the vast majority of sexual violence in America. According to a 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 90 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence against women are men. Moreover, when men are victims of sexual assault (an estimated one in 71 men, and one in six boys), 93 percent reported their abuser was a man. It’s true that women also assault men, but even when victims of all [biological sexes] are combined, men perpetrate 78 percent of reported assaults.”

I understand that naming such demographic patterns of violence feels painful to males and to women who love boys and men. It feels as though I am saying that boys and men are bad, and they do not deserve love or compassion. It feels to some women as though I am saying your precious little son, your beloved brother, your cherished husband, or your honored father are monsters just because they are male.

I am not saying that boys and men are bad. I promise. There are boys and men whom I love dearly, too.

It feels to men as though I am saying you are bad, your maleness is inherently evil or sick or wrong.

I promise, that is not what I am saying. You deserve to feel good about yourself as males. You deserve to love yourself not despite your maleness, but your whole self. Your maleness is precious and divine and beautiful. It is not a flaw or a source of shame. It is sacred and worthy of love.

So, readers, when I say far more painful things than the above, I hope with all my heart that you will find a way to receive what I am offering you. If we are to attempt the task we all agree is important — “keep our children safe” — I need your help. I need you women, and I especially need you men. My writing about this topic will achieve absolutely nothing… without your help. So please: stick with me. Trust me. The first step in conflict transformation is often naming the conflict by shining a light on the violence that has been so normalized that it has become invisible, hidden, accepted, and part of a stable, but terribly dystopian, status quo. I promise that my motives are not, in any way, to cause harm. But I may cause pain… because sometimes, we have to rip the bandage off to see and cure the infected wound. Hang in there with me. We can do this.

[This post is the first installment of an ongoing series.]


Trelawney Grenfell-Muir teaches courses about Sex, Dating, Marriage, and Work in the Religion and Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College and about Cross Cultural Conflict in the Department of Conflict Resolution, Human Security, and Global Governance at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A Senior Discussant at the Religion and the Practices of Peace Initiative at Harvard University, she holds an M.Div. from the Boston University School of Theology with a concentration in Religion and Conflict, and a Ph.D. in Conflict Studies and Religion with the University Professors Program at Boston University. She currently writes articles, book chapters, and liturgical resources about feminist, nature-based Christianity.

29 thoughts on “Feminist Parenting About Sexuality – Hold on, because this is going to hurt by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”

  1. The patriarchal mindset infuses our lives and affects us in multiple ways, many of which we don’t yet realise. We have all been programmed/groomed by cultural norms to behave, respond and react in certain ways to be acceptable to ‘the group’. Our bodies are amazing. They are beautiful and as you have so rightly said, precious and divine. Our ability to revel in the sensory delights of our bodies has been channelled into a limited and constrained version of ‘sexuality’ and sensuality has been debased and corrupted by the patriarchal lens. The construction by the patriarchal milieu of what it means to be a man and a woman has both disadvantaged, disrupted and in fact, disabled us to have healthy, mutually rewarding sexual relationships with each other. This disabling of women’s sexual power is all too evident in hospital birthing rooms. I”m a midwife and I’m increasingly dismayed by the patriarchal take over of the birthing process. As you would be aware, exactly the same conditions required for fabulous sexual experiences are required for fabulous birthing experiences. Machines that go ‘ping’ have taken over the birthing space. Women are fitted with monitoring devices – which by the way, have not ever been shown to make a difference in neonatal outcomes – and forced to keep still so the machine’s recording is optimal – the output of which is screened to a central room and displayed on a wall so everyone can keep track of what’s happening! The panopticon is alive and well (thanks Foucault for the insights!) Women are forced to hurry up their birthing process with the use of artificial hormones and mechanical gadgets. The surgical removal of a baby from a woman’s uterus is increasingly the dominant mode of birth in western countries and women are exiting the system feeling ‘done to’ and broken. Women talk about ‘feeling like a piece of meat’ and other rape reminiscent terminology. We humans are in trouble, big trouble and it’s not just climate change; it’s the juggernaut of the patriarchy. Thank you for writing on these issues, we need your voice loud and clear. I’m reminded of that saying ‘what’s outside your comfort zone?’ the answer ‘everything you want’. So please, rock that comfort zone. We need change.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. What a strong point, Carolyn. It makes me think about how birthing is the source of female power in a way that has led men to be afraid of females, and thus to oppress us, for thousands of years. I love your quote about comfort zones. I just love it. So here goes. We will hang on, through the rocking!!! <3

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for writing on this topic, which has so many dimensions. We are facing very real challenges. The internet has brought a new dimension to the “keep our children safe” goal of mothering.

    Scenes of violent sex so widespread on the internet are coupled with interactive “social media” sites, of which there are a seemingly endless profusion, where children and teens can very easily enter into dangerous situations.

    Then there’s the pornographication of garden variety films and serial shows, so that vivid scenes of all sorts of sex and violence are normalized for entertainment. I finally cancelled our family Netflix subscription because in too many of its shows there is seemingly mandatory pornography.

    Keeping our children safe … our culture does not facilitate this, rather the contrary, there is clear danger from many directions.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. You are preaching to the choir here, and I am planning to devote one of my posts to this exact issue of the normalization of objectification in media. I agree with you completely, the digital age is extremely dangerous, and despite some gains in feminism, we are being set back in horrifying ways. I agree, we are working against our culture here, swimming against a very powerful stream. Which is why saying these things is so unpopular. Thank you for your insights.


    1. Thank you, Caryn. I have been called a man-hater too many times, I suppose, but to me… this is love. This is how I love men. A rising tide lifts all boats. And I refuse to consign boys and men to the rubbish heap of brutish viciousness. I think they can do better than that. So maybe it doesn’t feel like love to point out the brutish viciousness. But that’s honestly what it is. Thank you for seeing me as I truly am. It means a lot.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. There was an interview on Canadian radio recently with a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces. Some years ago she was drugged and forcibly raped by a man of higher rank, and left unconscious on the floor. There was no followup. A few years later she had a consensual relationship with an officer of her own rank. When it was discovered, she was demoted. When the interviewer asked about this she said that she didn’t report the rape and would have denied it if asked, as would the two other female officers, because of the military culture. And she believed at the time that she deserved to be demoted because she had disobeyed an order not to have sexual relations with co-workers. But the fact that she is now speaking out, and that top members of the CAF have been forced to resign because of sexual improprieties, demonstrates that at least in this situation things are changing. At least I would like to think so. I don’t have daughters so I can’t imagine what I would say to them to keep them safe.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. That’s a deeply disturbing story Judith and one that needs to be shared widely. We can’t change what we don’t know or recognise as ‘wrong’. The normalisation of bad/poor behaviour needs disrupting and it is stories like the one you’ve shared that enable that disruption. Good that the woman and others are speaking out and that the ‘leaders’ of the poor culture are having to resign is a good sign. Thank you for sharing.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I’m so glad she is speaking out, and you are amplifying her voice. I believe it is all of our voices, amplified together, which can create a safer world… but we need to be loud loud loud. Thank you for this strong statement, and the power it gives us all to keep speaking.


  4. thank you for continuing to add to the discussion of the way we perceive(or misperceive) one another. i am a man, yes, and a gay man, yes and i certainly see the rape culture as a part of my culture. men are taught by many masters to rule the roost and have to work to unlearn that, to see that sharing is the way, that collaboration and co-existence are the way. but it is not the way of men, it is mostly the way of women. i embrace that way, having been raised by a father who believed that and taught his three sons that. i have been raped and i understand that it gave one person some pleasure(perhaps) and certainly “showed me my place”. again, thank you for opening this up. i honor the merit of your practice, namaste,brooks lewis

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Sorry that you experienced that horror Brooks. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience. There are so many of us working to help ourselves and our species evolve in better ways. We need the stories like yours to be shared and the people like you who are willing to go to the next stage of development to propel the change.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Brooks, it takes so much courage for men to admit to having been raped, in a culture that would weaponize your suffering. I know women can be just as violent as men when we are put into positions of power in violent structures and systems, and that is why I focus so much on trying to change the system. I want to build a system in which doing the right thing is much easier than doing the wrong thing. I pray every blessing on your continued healing and on your voice of truth and liberation. Thank you for sharing this important insight here.


  5. None of the “upsetting things” were upsetting – I already know them to be truths. Your words “Moreover, when men are victims of sexual assault (an estimated one in 71 men, and one in six boys), 93 percent reported their abuser was a man.” Excellent point – I’m exhausted whenever I mention that most perpetrators are men and the big BUT emerges….And Like you there are men I care about and love because they understand what it means to be a man who can function without needing to use the deadly power over. So addressing these issues is critical – and damn it – don’t call me a man hater if I insist upon doing so. Bravo!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, friend. To be honest, so much of my strength is taken up these days in coping with my Long Covid that I write these blogs each month at significant cost. I’m exhausted, too. I know you carry burdens of your own, and your writing always inspires and lifts me. Thank you for being someone who makes it all just that much less exhausting. <3

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m totally with you on this issue. I too, hate that passive language – who exactly, are we protecting from the truth – the men who perform these acts or the women who can’t bear to hear about it?

    As to “upsetting” things, as the philosopher Kant said: “If the truth will kill them – let them die…”

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I agree, great question. I think it is both… I think many women want a tidy list of Things Not To Do so they won’t get raped, as a sense of security that they can actually prevent it by Being Good in some way that these other women failed to do. It’s just fear. But yes, as you say, there are lots of reasons the truth is distorted and suppressed. I LOVE the Kant quote… that is going on my wall to help me when I’m reaching for the strength to say everything that must be said. Grateful to you.


    1. Thank you so much. I am not sure how much I can reach the deniers, no matter how I soften it, so… I will just speak out, as you say, and hope that if enough of us say it, we will cause movements and shifts and breaks that need to be broken. Thank you for gripping me with the tight clasp of solidarity. <3

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Whenever people pull the “not all men” and “so being male is inherently bad” crap, I say “society is created in such a way that yes, all men could be rapists and not be punished or be punished severely enough”. This is an issue that goes beyond the individual. it will take the good boys and men to let those who think rape is ok to know that this behavior is unacceptable and to even step in when there is danger.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That is a fantastic reply. I’m really impressed. And I agree – there’s only so much we can do. We NEED those “good” boys and men to step up to the plate and face their fears, fears of being ridiculed and disrespected, for actually being truly good and doing what must be done.


  8. Your writing is very clear and comprehendable. And I agree with what you have to say. It doesn’t upset or surprise me, in part because I was used and trained as a child for male sexual purposes and have looked at this issue. And I don’t hate men, and I can see the difference between those who abuse and those who don’t, and even those who have abused and want to change and be/do better.

    Our society as it is now upsets me greatly, because I do think we are training men to respond to violence, rape, and pornography, and I think it is purposeful. There are so many aspects, such as the sexualized fashions women and girls wear, that they say “I can wear whatever I want” but in our culture give a sexual signal.

    I am glad you are writing about this. Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Iris, I’m glad I’m communicating clearly. I am SO DAMNED SORRY that you were harmed by cruel men. You must have dedicated considerable life force to your healing processes to have such a grounded perspective. Bless your journey. I agree, we are training men to be rapists, and it does seem like an orchestrated terrorism, with the culture grooming girls and women to comply and not perceive their own destruction. Thank you for adding your voice here, it feels strengthening to me to read this.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for this important message. Men are not monsters. They are trained to violate women and girls; that is why they do it. They can heal from it, if they are willing to shine a light on it, admit it, and embrace healing. Parents are also trained to bully, shame, and abuse children, violating their healthy boundaries, all the time. It is called ‘tough love’ or ‘traditional values’ or lots of other euphemisms, but unless it falls very clearly into a ‘this is what I genuinely want my kid/partner/boss to say or do to me if and when I behave the way they are behaving,’ it is an abuse of power, and therefore, abusive; and that is how kids learn to be bullies or victims. But none of us wants to be ‘the bad guy’ here. Unless and until we are willing to admit the monster inside each of us, and realize it is a scared little kid lashing out, and find healing, we will just keep hurting each other and ourselves. What if we are all precious and sacred, and held in a love and grace more powerful than anything we’ve said or thought or done? What if we all deserve healing from our pain and wounds? Thank you for your writing; and please keep writing. <3

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Men . . . are trained to violate women and girls; that is why they do it. They can heal from it, if they are willing to shine a light on it, admit it, and embrace healing.” I agree. A man I know well confessed to me that some 50 years before as a university student he had had sex with a reluctant woman after an event. He hadn’t been really keen on it either, but thought it was expected of him. In light of Me Too he realized he had been wrong, and felt really bad about it. His health was not such that he could make the effort to find her and apologize at that point. (As far as I know, there was no physical coercion or violence involved.)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Judith that’s so great that he figured out a better perspective… I keep hoping more and more men will figure this out and then TELL OTHER BOYS AND MEN ….. BEFORE they make those mistakes themselves. It takes courage… and they’ve got to find that courage. It would be good to figure out how to support them finding that courage in a way that helps them feel free to speak about these things more.


    2. Thank you, Tallessyn. I really appreciate the parallel you draw with parenting – it may help women understand that we are not inherently less capable of hurting others, and we, too, are trained to do it in our own ways. I think we have an advantage in that we are also socialized to work cooperatively, and that may be why mothers have an easier time adopting nonviolent parenting than fathers – because fathers have a harder time with perceived disrespect from noncompliant children, feeling like an attack on their identity and status in the society. Thank you for the encouragement… this is pretty hard to write. I will keep on, held by all the prophets that have gone before and that walk beside me… all the helpers everywhere. Like you. <3

      Liked by 1 person

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