In this blog series, we have discussed:
—The importance of admitting how painful this subject is
—Reminders that I am NOT saying all men are bad or maleness is bad, because men and maleness are truly inherently beautiful and divine
—The necessity of facing honestly just how scary and horrifying the epidemic of violence against females is in our world today
—The truly evil, vicious destruction pornography is causing to female bodies and male psyches in training many, many males to rape and abuse females, and grooming females to normalize and comply with rape and abuse by males
Many parents struggle with how to talk to their children about this overwhelming topic. Here, I describe how I talk to my daughters. In a future post, I will discuss how I talk to young men.
However, first you must understand how I talk to my children in general. I have previously written about feminist, democratic parenting. (Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of that earlier series.) Please read those posts to understand parenting without any power imbalance, without coercion or “discipline” of any kind, that does not end up with spoiled kids. Without the powerful mutual trust built through nonviolent parenting, any attempts to parent about sexuality rest on shaky, flimsy ground.
As I said earlier, it all comes down to the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you. We are a Methodist home, and we work hard to treat each other the way we want to be treated— all of us.
Our Methodist faith also informs how we talk about pornography, prostitution, sexual objectification in media, consent vs. compliance, healthy boundaries, dating, and life-giving vs. life-draining sexual intimacy. It informs how we talk about sexuality, feminism, gender stereotypes, homosexuality, BDSM, and casual sex. These topics are all highly sensitive and quite nuanced. I will go into more detail in future posts.
But brace yourselves, because what I am about to say is the most painful thing in this entire series. Remember – please remember – I am NOT SAYING THAT ALL MEN ARE BAD OR ALL MEN ARE RAPISTS. I promise, promise, promise. OK. Ready?
To keep my daughters as safe as I can, to protect them in this misogynist dystopia, I teach them that boys and men probably want to rape them.
I do not say this lightly or flippantly. I am not “hating men” or teaching my daughters to “hate men.” Rather, I am trying to keep them as safe as possible in our Rape Culture society. In this epidemic of consequence-free violence against females, their best protection is to force every male to earn their trust and avoid situations of vulnerability to any men who have not earned that trust. Impossible, I realize, but a necessary guiding principle.
It has taken me decades to accept just how common rape is. Unfortunately, I was too trusting. I trusted my culture and my parents to teach me a healthy understanding of sexuality— including a healthy level of trust/distrust for men— and I trusted men who thought of themselves as “nice guys” to be safe. I love and adore so many boys and men, that the commonality of male violence breaks my heart. It takes a very broken person to rape (or want to rape) another human being. What are we doing, destroying our boys and men this way??
Remember the research of Diana Russell on pornography as a cause of rape in my previous post? Those studies reveal that over half of men admit they would likely rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it. I’ve come across more recent studies that support these results. Altogether, roughly 55-60% of men would probably rape a woman if they thought they could get away with it. And of course, men almost always get away with rape, with no consequences whatsoever. Of every 1000 rapes, fewer than 5 men go to jail.
I regularly grieve with my daughters that this is the world they must face, this dystopian nightmare in which millions of girls and women are raped, beaten, and killed by the boys and men in their lives.
I say to my daughters, “I am so sorry. I am just so damned sorry. I feel utterly heartbroken that I have to say these things to you. That I have to warn you that you would be smart to assume that every boy and man around you whom you do not know as well as you know Daddy and a very tiny handful of others, probably wants to hurt you. The odds are higher than 50%. It hurts me to say that. It makes me so sad. It breaks my heart that you have to live with knowing that our culture trains males to hurt females.”
I also say: “Your bodies are perfect and precious. Your bodies are doing everything exactly right. Your bodies deserve only love and honor and tenderness and reverence. Your bodies are amazing and miraculous. You are amazing and miraculous. You are completely perfect. Life has lots of things about it that are hard – this is one of those hard things. So surround yourself with kind, loving, safe, supportive people who will lift you up and make these burdens lighter because you are sharing them and carrying them together, facing everything together. That is how we can thrive and help to heal the world – by holding on to each other and giving each other strength and love.” In our Methodist tradition, strength comes from honest soul-searching in trusted communities, working to spread wellness within and around ourselves by becoming our true, divine selves, healed of the diseases our sick culture infects us with, so that we can bring mutual thriving to all Earth.
And at least once per day, usually after we’ve had a hug and they’re about to walk away, I instruct them, “OK, now, be perfect!” And without waiting even half a second, I add, “Oh, look! You did it! Well done, good job being perfect.”
Because as their mother, it is my job to help them grow and develop from strength to strength, with a divine voice of unconditional love and safety and embrace that will withstand the constant negation, dehumanization, shame, degradation, and destruction our culture floods onto them in a deluge every single day. So, I offer you honesty. As we say in Conflict/Peace studies – often the first stage of conflict transformation is naming the violence. We can never build peace unless and untill we name the violence — all of the violence — honestly.
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.