It should be more horrifying when we hear of a women who was raped or sexually assaulted, and the first questions out of people’s mouths are: Did she say no? What was she wearing? Was she drunk? What did she do to lead him on? It should be more horrifying, but it’s not. It’s a part of the rape culture in which we live. It’s commonplace. It’s normal. On the bright side, it does seem that most people agree that sexual assault is a problem in this country, particularly on college campuses. What is maddening is that people cannot agree on how to prevent rape. A largely accepted idea is that the onus is on women to protect themselves from assault. While there are some practical things women can do to defend themselves, like learning self-defense, never leaving a drink unattended, and never accepting a drink from someone else, it quickly spirals into victim-blaming. You mean she was stupid enough to walk away from her drink to pee, and then she was drugged and raped? Well, I feel bad for her but, seriously, what else did she expect? Society then adds on more victim-blaming shit, like what I mentioned before- did she say no?, etc. At no point does it occur to people that, rather than placing the responsibility on women to not be raped, we should be placing responsibility on men and teaching boys not to rape! Rather than questioning whether or not she said “no” assertively enough or if she actually meant “no”, we should be teaching males to respect her no.
Raising girls with expectations
As a mother with two girls, I’ve wrestled with how I would prepare them to live in a world where people like those in the fraternity at Texas Tech, who created the above banner, exist. Quite frankly it makes me hope that, some time within the next 12 years, they’ll just be able to download college courses to a chip implanted in their brains. I’m sure that I’ll share some common sense wisdom on how to try and stay safe: never leave your drink unattended; always be aware of your surroundings; get the fuck out if your Spidey sense starts tingling; go for the groin and yank until he’s a castrato. But there’s one thing that I never want to teach them, and that is that how they feel and saying “no” to something is meaningless.
Girls tend to be taught, whether directly or through social cues, not to assert themselves or make waves. As women, we learn it’s much more important for the common good to stuff our negative feelings and not make a scene. And heaven forbid that we hurt someone else’s feelings by putting ourselves first. Unfortunately, this learned behavior can sometimes be found in scenarios leading up to sexual assault. Women don’t always put up a fight because they don’t feel like they can. Men don’t listen when women say no because they’ve learned that their “no” isn’t important.
Because of this, I began telling my girls to respect people’s no’s. Whenever Rachael gets up in Zoë’s face, I remind her to back off and listen to Zoë yelling, “Nooooooooooooo!” Whenever Mike continues to tickle the girls after they’ve said “no” or “stop”, I gently remind him that they’re saying no and that he needs to respect that. My hope is that this will instill in them the knowledge that their feelings and their no’s have value. I want them to know that it’s right to expect others to respect their boundaries. I want them to never doubt that their bodies are their own, and that no one has the right to invade their personal space or touch them without their consent. Even Mike, their pediatricians, and I request their consent before touching them in their genital area, (for medical exams or if we need to investigate physical discomfort complaints.) I think one of the great benefits of teaching them this is that I’ve heard them say it to others; they have said it to friends who are not listening when the girls have said “no” or “stop”. How much better would this world be if we all began telling our children to respect one another’s no’s?
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