Feminist Parenting About Sexuality Part 4: What to tell my daughters by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir

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

If you begin to feel defensive or confused, I highly recommend you read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of this series to help you understand what I am saying, and what I am NOT saying.

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.

7 thoughts on “Feminist Parenting About Sexuality Part 4: What to tell my daughters by Trelawney Grenfell-Muir”

  1. This is indeed an important topic you’re presenting to us. It’s a shame, though, that you have to. Men should be taught from birth what you’re teaching your daughters. And I agree with you that not all men are bad or hateful. Most men, alas, are just acting on what our world-wide, patriarchal, misogynistic so-called culture teaches them. Alas. I have one personal solution: most of my male friends are gay. I enjoy my gay boyfriends because I feel safe with them and–mostly–because we have majorly interesting conversations on many topics.

    Bright blessings to your teachings. I hope everybody listens to you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Barbara. All of this is well said. I really appreciate it. I have a lot of gay male friends as well, I have for many years. I wish I could say that being gay was some sort of magic preventative for misogyny, but unfortunately, I’ve also known a fair number of very sexist gay men. I have yet to find any magic preventative for misogyny – any religion or culture or ideology or community of any kind. The closest I have seen is radical feminist lesbian communities, but of course, every community has these human challenges of how to find mutual thriving through nonviolent egalitarianism. But I do find it relaxing to be friends with gay men – there are certain kinds of sexism I never have to worry about, and that is a huge relief. I love your writing. I wonder if some of it has come from these interesting conversations you’ve had with friends. Blessings to you, too <3 <3

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Naming the violence is the first step and we must do this over and over – Bless you for taking this monster on. Alas as Barbara says most men are acting on what our patriarchal culture teaches them. Good god – we even see these horrors in our revered classical art…and we wonder why women hate their bodies?????

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Sara. Thank you for naming how hard it is to name this. I agree – we see it everywhere, just everywhere. I think learning not to reject our bodies is possibly the most important job of females in our society. What can we do at all, if we can’t do that? <3 <3


  3. It’s a thought-provoking article. I sometimes seriously consider whether general male violence is related to the same constraining social idealization (including that by the media) of the ‘real man’ (albeit perhaps more subtly than in the past)?: He is stiff-upper-lip physically and emotionally strong, financially successful, confidently fights and wins, assertively solves problems, and exemplifies sexual prowess. Perhaps we need to be careful what we wish for.

    The author of The Highly Sensitive Man (2019, Tom Falkenstein) writes at the beginning of Chapter 1: “You only have to open a magazine or newspaper, turn on your TV, or open your browser to discover an ever-growing interest in stories about being a father, being a man, or how to balance a career with a family. Many of these articles have started talking about an apparent ‘crisis of masculinity.’ The headlines for these articles attempt to address male identity, but often fall into the trap of sounding ironic and sometimes even sarcastic and critical: ‘Men in Crisis: Time to Pull Yourselves Together,’ ‘The Weaker Sex,’ ‘Crisis in Masculinity: Who is the Stronger Sex?’ and ‘Search for Identity: Super-Dads or Vain Peacocks’ are just a few examples. They all seem to agree to some extent that there is a crisis. But reading these articles one gets the impression that no one really knows how to even start dealing with the problem, let alone what a solution to it might look like. One also gets the impression from these articles that we need to keep any genuine sympathy for these ‘poor men’ in check: the patriarchy is still just too dominant to allow ourselves that luxury. …

    [The] recent interest in the male psyche and in male identity isn’t just a European phenomenon. In the United States, too, the term toxic masculinity, describing a particularly unhealthy form of male identity, has increasingly been doing the rounds. Indeed, one of the most influential psychologists of our time, Philip Zimbardo — who gained international notoriety for his 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment — devoted his last book to the male identity crisis. Toxic masculinity has also been addressed by British author Jack Urwin in his book Man Up: Surviving Modern Masculinity, and in Germany, the magazine Der Spiegel published a column dedicated to the topic, titled ‘It’s a Boy.’ The author, Margarete Stokowski, wrote, ‘There’s an English term, “toxic masculinity,” used to describe a form of masculinity based on dominance and violence that rejects emotions. It’s a problem that boys and men are constantly told that “real guys” don’t cry, are highly, almost animalistically sexual, and crush anything that stands in their way. It’s a problem for both men and women. This is the form of masculinity that we need to address. Just because it’s widespread doesn’t mean that it’s natural.’…”


  4. Thank you for your courageous and compassionate post. I, too, have found it a relief to be able to rest in the Methodist ethical commitments to justpeace, healing, and healthy boundaries. Bless your wonderful parenting and compassionate commitment to speaking the truth in the name of healing our deepest wounds.


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