This is not so much about my mental health, more about societal health. It is mostly a response to an article I read, and I don’t have anywhere else to post it.
There has been a lot of information flying around the internet of late about the ‘war on women’. Most of it is disturbing on a number of levels, but yesterday someone linked me a piece about how fathers should be getting involved to protect their daughters. They should be speaking out against the atmosphere that leads to sexualization of girls and legislation that erodes the rights and freedoms of women. This, because they have a responsibility to their daughters and wives to protect them. It may be that this disturbs me most of all.
On the one hand it is great that the authors want fathers to stand up for their children, but on the other hand the article seems to have forgotten the fact that fathers tend to have sons as well. Where are the calls for fathers to teach their sons to be responsible, compassionate partners in the human puzzle? There is outrage that girls are sexualized too early, but where is the corresponding outrage that boys are being taught that girls are sexual objects? Think about who is teaching them that. Think about who girls are being sexualized for. It is not for their moms.
We spend a lot of time teaching girls how to be good. How not to be sluts, and keep their legs closed. How to behave and monitor their behaviour so that they won’t find themselves in a dark alley being raped. Girls have to think about how dark it is out, if there are others around, if it is too late to safely go to the store. It is always about teaching the girls how to protect themselves, and never about teaching boys how not to become misogynists, or worse, abusers and rapists. Fathers don’t spend a lot of time teaching our sons how to keep it in their pants.
Fathers need to start teaching their boys how to be responsible for their own behaviour towards women. They need to, by example, show them how to share power equally, to understand women as intellectual equals, to speak up when a friend is behaving reprehensibly (towards women, or anyone for that matter). Fathers need to model that sexist jokes are not ok, that degrading another human being lessens your humanity. They need to teach them that it is not ok to express their anger or frustration physically or sexually. That a strong woman is not a threat. They need to teach them that a woman’s body is her own, and he has no control over it. That the fact that women can give birth does not make them morally suspect, and that men have responsibilities in conception and child-rearing.
They also need to be taught that because it is the woman who puts herself at risk in child-bearing, she must have control over her reproductive health in order to ensure her survival. She has to be able to choose when she wants to have sex, and what to do about contraception. Boys need to know as much about ovaries as I was taught about testicles. Both boys and girls need to be taught about menstruation, sexuality and fertility. Because women’s biology and sexuality is not something to be afraid of. Making it a secret tends to demonize it or make women into angelic creatures that need to be protected in their weakness. I believe it was Chris Rock who said (and I paraphrase): Anything that can bleed for 5 days and not die scares me. Sad that there is still a belief that there is something to be feared about a menstruating woman. Sons and daughters need to be taught that normal bodily functions are not frightening, disgusting or dirty.
We still, as a culture, believe that boys will be boys. That their sexuality is irrepressible. That boys are the only ones for whom it is acceptable to think about sex, fantasize about it and have sex as young people. We fervently believe that boys are going to have sex, and to be honest that is ok. What is not ok is the equally strongly held belief that the girls they are going to have sex with are morally inferior. And don’t even get me started on what we teach boys about same-sex relationships. Lesbians are titillating, gay men are sick perverts who will hit on you.
Girls have sex. They think about sex. They fantasize about sex. They enjoy sex and masturbation. So do women. Fathers need to wrap their heads around that, and once they have done that teach their sons that there is nothing terrifying or threatening about it. A sexual woman will not rob them of their manhood. They need to teach their sons that their sexuality is not so fragile that a strong woman (or a gay man) can destroy it. They also need to participate, along with mothers, in acknowledging that their pubescent daughters are sexual beings in the same way their sons are.
If fathers want to teach their children to save sex for marriage, they can try. But only on the condition that they make it as verbotten for their sons as for their daughters. And no sly comments about boys who make mistakes being forgiven, while maintaining that girls who lose their virginity too early risk not making it into the kingdom of heaven. It is archaic to believe that women need to be kept inviolate so that men can be assured that they are raising offspring that are genetically theirs. Women don’t lie about sex any more than men do. As far as the sex only after marriage thing goes, I don’t think it will work. Research bears me out on this one, but if their beliefs tell them they have to do this then it is not my place to stop them. As long as the kids have the facts and are not being shamed into denying their biology.
Girls are not inherently weak. Parents teach them how to be. Fathers (and mothers, to be fair) need to teach their daughters to be strong, and they need to teach the world how to treat them with respect, but this cannot just be about daddys protecting their little girls and dear wives. The long and the short of it is that girls only need to be protected from men by their fathers, if other fathers have fallen down on the job of teaching their sons how to behave. We need fathers to man up, grow a pair, get over their insecurities about women’s sexuality and teach all their children how to live as decent, responsible, morally and ethically healthy adults.