I have two sons. One is 13, the other 11. We wanted to have at least one boy and one girl. But difficult births led to a decision to stop at two. And so, no girl. This has been a grief, though one tempered by delightful relationships with nieces and friends’ daughters. However, as I have been thinking through the revelations of #metoo, and talked to friends considering the implications of it for their teen girls, I have found myself relieved I’m not parenting teen girls. Because the reality these parents face is terrible. Knowing that they cannot protect their daughters from their own #metoo incidents. What a horrible and selfish relief to feel. That I am not faced with this anxiety. Especially when I know, as a daughter myself, what it is like to be the object of anxiety. Some of my own #metoo stories I haven’t told my parents. They of course, still worry for me. They still go out of their way to give me lifts, and I know part of this is a concern for my safety. Daughters produce fears in us in a way sons do not.
But of course, there is an anxiety that parents of teen boys can feel. Should feel, in fact. That our sons could become the perpetrators of the very things we are afraid might happen to our daughters. This scares me. That somehow, immersed as they are in the pervasive misogyny of our culture, I won’t do enough to teach my boys differently. Because this isn’t just a girl or woman issue. It’s a society issue. We fail the whole community when we continue to let this state of affairs stand.
Recently, I had a few experiences within a couple of days that led me to write a post on Facebook directed at my friends who are parents of teenage girls. One of these was to hear about the parents of teen boys complaining about the way teen girls dressed. These girls were said to be a distraction to the boys, interfering with their learning. And I wondered why those parents were displacing the blame on to the girls, rather than their own sons. Or why they weren’t examining their own parenting of those sons. And then I read yet another online discussion about women needing to be careful not to arouse desire in men.
I was a teenage girl taught to take responsibility for men’s reactions to me. I can remember carefully dressing for a walk to the corner store during my HSC, trying to avoid being hooned out a car window. I put on a baggy men’s shirt, loose jeans, pulled my hair back. It didn’t work.
Women don’t want to be assaulted. We have all sorts of strategies to avoid it. Yet still it happens, at a frightening rate. The problem is manifestly not women. It is overwhelmingly men who perpetrate sexual and violent crimes against women. One in 5 Australian women have experienced sexual violence, and 1 in 3 physical violence. Over 3 times as many people experience violence at the hands of a man. As Christians, we teach personal responsibility for sin. But so often the way we teach our children about sexual dangers, in particular, puts the responsibility heavily on girls rather than boys. In this, we seem to neglect the many biblical injunctions to teach our children the ways of God (for instance Proverbs 22:6 or Eph 6:4)
So it seems incumbent on those of us parenting boys to teach them instead to respect women. We often seem to fall far short of the advice Paul gives in 1 Timothy 5:2, let alone what is owed to other image of God bearers.
In this spirit, I penned a quick Facebook post as a sign of care for teenage girls and their parents. This post proved popular, and I was asked to write something further. Hence this piece!
Here was what I said in the original post:
“Parents of teenage girls. Many of you my friends. I hear your worries and fears. I’m the mother of a teen boy and an almost teen boy. I’m accepting my responsibility to help change this #metoo world through bringing up boys who respect girls.
Here’s what I am trying to teach them:
It isn’t your business what a girl wears.
She doesn’t owe you attention
You are responsible for your own actions
Girls are equal to you
But they don’t experience an equal world
Listen to their experiences
Stand up for them
Do what you can to help them stay safe
Girls make awesome friends
Be an awesome friend back to them.
I do this not just for your girls but for my boys. This is part of learning how to have good relationships.”
After writing this, I of course started thinking of other points I could have included. The first one that jumped to mind, not long after I posted, was that of consent. And then a couple of days later, a show aired on Four Corners that put the issue of consent front and centre. It is a heartbreaking story of a young woman, Saxon Mullins, unable to attain real justice due to laws which put the bar too low for proving consent. I was reminded again of the need for all people to attain clear, unambiguous and uncoerced consent before sexual activity. Though some might think teaching sexual abstinence outside marriage deals with this problem, this still wouldn’t cover the issue of needing consent within marriage.
I then had to think how to fit that within the parameters of my points above, which are aimed at being able to be taught to boys before they reach teenage years.
This is my attempt:
Ask before you hug, kiss or go further
I would add that in after “she doesn’t owe you attention”.
Two further comments. Firstly, in this, I’m not negating the need to teach sexual morality to our kids. Instead, I am adding an essential principle of respect for women that has often been missing or underplayed. Secondly, all of the points I mentioned above need expanding. We need to teach our kids the context and practice of each point, developing each further as they get older. They also need modelling. Especially by adult men around these kids. So dads, uncles, pastors and youth leaders, please, show us how it is done.
In alphabetical order, Megan is a daughter, friend, mother, pastor, teacher, twin and wife. These relationships and roles are central to her sense of self, all of the relationships informed by her relationship with God. She is currently doing a PhD in theology, and is wondering why she wasn't warned off by her experience of two previous honours theses (one in literature and another in theology). She longs to live a grace filled life and asks for your grace with her in her repeated failure. You could also call her fickle and unfocused in her pursuits but she would rather you call her a renaissance woman.