It Starts at Four: On Consent and Rape Culture

My son was the ringbearer in my brother’s wedding this weekend.  The flower girl was, I think, the daughter of one of the bride’s cousins.  To say they hit it off was probably a bit of an understatement; they were pretty close to inseparable at the bridal shower a few weeks ago and not much changed at the rehearsal or the wedding.  I’d post a picture of the two of them, but I’m not about to post a picture of somebody else’s kid without her permission and plus I plan on using the word rape a lot in this piece and I don’t really feel like having my son’s photo associated with that in Google.

Here’s the thing.  Everybody at the wedding was doing that heteronormative thing that people do when two little kids click and oohing and aahing about oh look at his girlfriend and all that nonsense all weekend.  And that’s not at all what was going on.  They were the only two kids there of roughly the same age, so they played together.  Like kids do.  That was it.  But there were a couple of moments over the weekend and at the shower where I kind of had to pull the boy away and remind him that no, Kayla doesn’t have to play with you right now if she doesn’t want to, or don’t hold her hand if she doesn’t want to hold hands, or Kayla’s doing something else right now, I think you should leave her alone for a while, or even no, Kayla doesn’t have to sit with us at lunch, she can sit with her mommy.

Sometimes these things rolled off of him.  Other times he got upset about them.  And I can already see some of you getting het up about talking about a four-year-old in terms of teaching consent.  No, my son doesn’t know what sex is yet.  My son doesn’t have a concept of girlfriend.  He knows that girls have a vagina; that’s just a word to him.  It doesn’t mean anything yet.  He’s four.  And yet we still ended up in a situation– perfectly innocently, mind you– where at one point I told him to cut it out because he was being creepy and at another point my wife and I jointly explained to him what mansplaining was. Because he was doing it.

He’s four.  And he still needs to be taught how consent works.  Because when kids aren’t taught that other kids are people, that they are unique beings with agency and their own wants and desires and needs and rights, and specifically when young boys are not taught that young girls are unique beings with agency and their own wants and desires and needs and rights… well, you get this piece of shit:

brock-turner-1-435.jpg

And when you’ve raised your kid to be a dumpster rapist, and you’ve named him Brock Turner, for fuck’s sake, a name that if I were to work it into a script as the name of a rapist I would expect someone to tell me to make it a little less obvious, a name that is only slightly less rapey than naming your kid Ray Pist… well, when you’re that guy, you write dumb shit like this:

CkKYJxwUYAAriIn.jpg

I’ve got a lot of responsibilities as a dad, right?  One of the most important ones is to make absolutely certain that my son does not turn out to be a dumpster rapist.  Because I hate to break it to you, son, but if the day comes where two other dudes find you raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and then tackle you and hold you down until the cops arrive?  Your daddy is not writing this letter.  Am I wholly unsympathetic toward the elder Turner?  No, not entirely.  He’s going through some shit right now.  I’m sure he’s in pain.

I just don’t care.

If you don’t want to be known as the dumpster rapist for your entire life, one way to avoid that is to not rape people behind dumpsters.  And if you don’t want to have to write letters where you explain tearfully that your son doesn’t like ribeyes anymore and there are too many potato chips in the house, you should probably raise your son to understand that women are human beings.  Because here’s the thing: I don’t believe for a second that this is the dumpster rapist’s first assault.  Not for a second.  It’s just the one where he got caught.  And based on that letter, I am casting some side eye at Dad as well.

We spend far too much time teaching our daughters how not to get raped.  It doesn’t actually work; women don’t get raped because of how they dress or walk or what they drink or where they go or who they trust.  Women get raped because men rape.  If we want to stop rape, we stop rape by teaching young men that women are people, by not raising them in such a cocoon of privilege and internalized misogyny that they can even look at a passed-out woman and think to drag her behind a dumpster and force parts of our bodies into theirs.  This young man did this because he was raised to believe that the world was his and anything he wanted but did not have, he could simply take.  He knew what he was doing was “wrong” at least on an intellectual level because otherwise he wouldn’t have tried to hide while he was doing it.  He just didn’t give a fuck.

Teach your sons about consent, goddammit.  Start at four.  Start at birth.  Because rape culture is everywhere in this country, and it’s going to seep in no matter how hard you try to keep it out.  It’s in the fucking air and in the water.  And the only way to stop it is to teach your sons about consent and to teach them about consent early.  It’s the only way this ever gets better.

And for fuck’s sake, don’t ever name anyone “Brock Turner” ever again.

Published by

Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

44 thoughts on “It Starts at Four: On Consent and Rape Culture

  1. Such an excellent text. I think inherently most of us know the boundaries. It is apparent that this boy was raised to believe he is entitled and exempt from punishment and it has proven so. His father’s reaction says all we need to know about this boy and his upbringing. The mindset of this father and the judge are outrageous and inexcusable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Sally Ember, Ed.D. and commented:

    As a mother of an amazing feminist son who was also a ring-bearer at age 4 (and he HATED it), I applaud this piece and your parenting ideas. I LOVE this piece. Sharing. Wishing everyone who had sons (and daughters) would read it and take parenting classes from you.

    Best to you and your family,

    Sally

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As a mother of an amazing feminist son who was also a ring-bearer at age 4 (and he HATED it), I applaud this piece and your parenting ideas. I LOVE this piece. Sharing. Wishing everyone who had sons (and daughters) would read it and take parenting classes from you.

    Best to you and your family,

    Sally

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My teacher was talking about the Stanford case today with the take away being that girls should be careful. Nothing about consent or respect for women. That irked me a little, but I hear it all the time, so I’m used to it. And, even so, a boy in my class said afterward something to the effect of,”I have no words for that. I’m just glad she didn’t direct anything at the guys. I mean I’m not stupid enough to rape someone.” Stupid enough to rape someone. Not “I see women as autonomous human beings”. Not “I understand consent.” Not “Because I am a decent human being who understands both of the above.” He said it like raping someone was just a mistake. Like it was the same as egging someone’s house or stealing a car or drinking and driving.He said it like it wasn’t one of the worst and most traumatizing violations that anyone, man or woman, could suffer.

    I don’t know why I shared it. I guess the problem isn’t just teaching consent, but also empathy and introspection. Everyone is capable of hurting someone in that way if they’re not taught otherwise and being that flippant about rape just feeds into the culture.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Though… drinking and driving is pretty bad too, the person you kill while driving incapacitated didn’t ask for it either. Taking someone’s life is pretty bad to, don’t you think?

      Like

      1. I hope that he’d just phrased it wrong, but the flippancy of the remark and the complete lack of introspection irked me and, I guess, raised some red flags. And I was already a little irked that the teacher’s takeaway was “girls be careful” and not “guys and girls, understand consent and that, if someone is in a position where they might be taken advantage of, help them get to safety.” And don’t get me wrong, the rest of her speech was great. She talked a lot about privilege and empathy for people who are marginalized.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. we have to teach our daughters to be careful – I can’t assume all fathers will be like Luther and teach their sons that females matter.

      Like

      1. That is true. Girls do need to be taught to be careful. My issue was that the teacher was laying all the responsibility on the girls to not get raped and nothing on the culture at large which feeds into our tendency to blame the victim because “they should have known better” or “they should have been more careful.”

        Like

  5. A Like button is not enough for how I feel about this post!

    I wish there were more men, (hell people!) like you in this world.

    Every single point you made here is true. I’m going to reblog this because you’ve said everything I wanted to say so perfectly.

    Excellent post! Truly excellent.

    Kat

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You have expressed the rape and consent issue well, however, you use the term mansplaining inappropriately for a four-year-old? You need to check the dictionary.

    I did enjoy your ranting against the perpetrator but was distracted by the introduction to the post in that your compulsive need to correct you son’s behavior seemed overbearing.

    Equally important is to teach the idea of consent to the girl, whose mother I assume was not present. The lesson is girls have voices and must be encouraged to use their voice and stand up for what they do not want or like. If this little girl did not want her hand held, she probably was quite capable of expressing so either verbally with “Stop” or physically, pulling her hand away.

    Instead of the behavior being all about your son, you placed your thoughts into the girls perception. You could have said, (for a purpose of a name) Jenny if you don’t like Jacob holding your hand you need to tell him so. Jenny, I see you are busy with something eles, do you mind if Jacob plays with you right now?

    You would be surprised how four-year-old girls will say what they want without regard to another’s feelings being hurt. You seemed to have made quite a few assumptions for the girl’s wants. Empowerment of the female voice rather than reprimand the boy’s behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is so much wrong with your statement, I don’t even know where to start. Girls are already taught from a very young age to be clear in their intentions. They are taught how to carry themselves, check their surroundings, never go somewhere alone, hold their keys in their hands when walking to use as a weapon if needed, etc. We don’t know the circumstances of this wedding encounter, but let’s say “Jenny” did pull her hand back or say no, and little boy tried to grab it again because he wanted to. Would you want the boys father to reprimand the girl or the boy in that situation? Now say you are Jenny’s mom. Would you want some random dude to come over to your kid, and instead of reprimanding his own son for his behavior he starts telling your daughter what SHE is doing wrong. Yes, we need empowered women in this world, but what we need even more than that is for boys to be taught from a young age to respect other people and their boundaries. No more “boys will be boys” bullshit.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Were discussing four year olds, I do not think girls are taught to be assertive at four rather the opposite in fact. As you ask what if “Jenny” did pull her hand away, now that would be a good teaching opportunity for the boy. Interpersonal realationships are developed by experience. Children will be Children if you allow them to be.

        Like

    2. I agree with you that we need to empower young girls and women.

      However, I take issue with a few things. You comment on the girl’s mom not being present. Why target the mom? Are you implying that teaching a girl to be empowered is only a mother’s role? And that if she doesn’t feel empowered, it is her mother’s fault? Why not comment on the possible absence of a parent?

      Also, what makes you think that this father reprimanded his son for no reason? Personally, I read the story like this: Dad sees son trying to hold on to girl’s hand even after she tried to pull it away, so Dad explains to his son that he shouldn’t force anyone to hold his hand and shouldn’t hold theirs against their wishes. Son whines (I mean, they were at a wedding, right? It can get pretty overwhelming for a 4 year old) because he WANTS girl to stay with him for lunch. Girl looks uncomfortable because she’s too young and really wants to eat by her mom (oh, she WAS there after all!). So Dad explains to his son that just because he’d REALLY like to be with his friend during lunch, you can’t always get what you want.

      This almost strikes me as funny because here we have a dad who tries to explain he is doing his best to teach his kid about consent, and instead of offering praise and commenting that this is great, and, incidentally, is even better when a girl is taught how to say no in an empowered way too, you decide to shame the dad for doing something good.

      I’m not sure this is the best way to actually achieve what you want (the end of rape culture, and the empowerment of young girls as well as a significant improvement in the level of respect shown to them by boys, or at least I assume, maybe wrongly, assumptions are always a bit tricky…).

      Liked by 1 person

    3. The post you read must have been fascinating, but none of that has anything to do with anything I actually wrote about. I especially enjoy that you think you can divine that I’ve mis-used the word “mansplaining” (which isn’t IN the dictionary, btw) when literally the only thing I say about it was that he was doing it.

      Like

      1. It’s in mydictionary, I wouldn’t say so If I hadn’t confirmed this. I don’t want to defend myself until I can with confidence. I have got to get off this computer and regroup. I posted a message of my intentions. That should give you a better understanding.

        Like

      2. Mansplain verb informal, gerund or present participle (of a man) explain (something) to someone, typically a woman, in a manner regarded as condescending or patronizing. “I’m listening to a guy mansplain economics to his wife.”

        Like

      3. My delay in getting back to you on the rape culture question has been tugging at me; I do not like to leave things I have started unfinished. I did some reading on the subject and learned some interesting facts and also differing opinions. I would like to have had more time to broaden my understanding but I have pressing issues which I must focus.

        However, from what I did read and have thought over has brought me to question and conclude a few things. I cannot deny there is definitely a widespread on campus rape culture. The on campus behavior of frat brothers is most outrageous. I did read that the objectifying of women comes from learned behaviors and I do directly blame television as one medium that constantly sexualizes and objectifies woman.

        It is factual that in the United States there did exist attitudes and behaviors that would support the claim that the society was of a rape culture. As this culture has many forms and definitions, I do not believe that the American society of today meets the criteria to be considered a rape culture. The overwhelming condemnation by the citizenry towards the garbage can rapist supports my reasoning.

        Admittedly, the legal system may not be in line with the attitudes of the people it serves. Nonetheless, as an open society the outrage over the light sentence of the rapist may be the downfall of the Judge.

        My daughter and son , beginning at first grade, attended the Waldorf School of Santa Barbara starting at first grade. This is a private school where the class remains together with their teacher as they graduate year to year. By the twelfth grade, the boys and girls who became young men and young woman did not display attitudes inherent of the rape culture and there was no overt training to instill these attitudes. I do believe my daughter would not stand for a man who communicates with manspeaking. She is too intelligent to put up with such nonsense and would not hesitate to say so.

        Admittedly, I cannot state factually nor statistically the present condition of the rape culture, therefore, I am writing from what I experienced and do experience and have read on the subject. Considering my age, associations, education and background I will recognize that these conditions play a role in my perception and can be very different from others. If my comment offended anyone I do apologize as that was not my intention.

        Like

  7. Thank you for this! I (and my FB friends) have been having a difficult week trying to explain rape culture to an adult male who thinks it is propaganda bullshit. Keeping him and my friends civil enough to keep dialogue from turning into spewing on both sides has been a difficult task and we haven’t been succeeding.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t argue on Facebook anymore. My policy is you get to annoy me ONCE and then you’re muted or unfriended. If you come on MY posts and annoy me (which doesn’t happen, because I rarely share anything) I just unfriend. Life’s too short to fuck around with Facebook.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for that post … so brilliantly clear—albeit from someone who already comprehends the ideas you’re conveying (as opposed to say, Sr. dumpster-rapist). I think people who believe otherwise see the astronomical amount of work that needs to be done with a poorly-raised child and claim that is just the way things are. In other words, it’s way easier to teach an adult in increments throughout childhood than it is to start with wholly broken and go from there.

    Nonetheless, that’s our challenge as a society: to teach the Brock Turners of the world. And I say that from personal experience: it was only because I didn’t fall in with a rapey group of males in college that I was able to eke by as being merely a “creeper” (in the parlance of our times.) My upbringing wasn’t based on consensual, meaningful respect for other humans—particularly women (in defense of my parents, this was the 1970s, so they just didn’t know to emphasize it). By the time I was in college, I was way on the wrong track, thinking of “women” as the collective word for essentially indistinguishable beings, and basing my behavior on that. I was an ugly mess. In the last 20 years or so I’ve gradually improved (and my hormones waned) so now I can treat women as equal peers. I would have liked to have had the head start of knowing this BEFORE I hit puberty, so kudos to you for teaching your kid so soon. I hope it’ll help him be a better young man than I was.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m so glad you’ve written this! Some of us talk often about the need to teach boys (or any child) about consent, but it’s seldom done with examples of what that looks like in real life. I have a blog post specifically about teaching my autistic son about consent. I hope you don’t mind that I share it here, but I think it will add to this discussion of how to talk to young children about consent before they even understand what sex is.

    Teaching Autistic Kids about Consent: https://julierobertstowe.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/teaching-autistic-kids-about-consent/

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent example, thank you for posting this! This comment is very long and I apologize, but I think it is significant. I have two kids in college, a son and a daughter, both self-described feminists. I worry about them being good humans in the world and being safe. We are all VERY clear that Brock Turner is a piece of shit, that consent is absolutely necessary before having sex, and that our rape culture is not only real but completely entrenched and must be changed.

    Your experience reminded me of a situation with my daughter, and by association, my son. When my kids were little we lived in a very small town (population around 400). There was one little boy my daughter’s age (literally, he was the only boy in a grade with 8 students). The two of them had the same infant babysitter and attended daycare, preschool, and elementary school together. From the beginning others in the community commented on how “perfect” my daughter and this little boy were together. My daughter, therefore, had to learn about explicit consent as a toddler. Yes, my daughter did have to see this little boy in public situations (school, community events), this is the reality of small towns. Nevertheless, she did not have to play with him at recess or on weekends, or sit with him on the reading rug, or share her snack with him, or go bowling with his family. No one was addressing what this little boy had to do. When we moved, my daughter was 9. The boy’s mother gave her a little stuffed animal and a ring on a chain on behalf of her son. I told my daughter she could do what she wanted with the gift- re-gift it, throw it away, keep it, whatever, her choice. She kept it for two years then threw it away. I always assumed that moving would end the boy’s mother’s dreams of a ready-made prom date for her son. I also assumed the activity mostly involved the mom and that the boy would simply say goodbye to my daughter and that would be that. Two years later, during a visit to the relatives, my son was hanging out with this boy and saw a bulletin board on the wall in this kid’s room, covered with pictures of my daughter. My son “suggested” that the boy take the pictures down. My daughter was completely creeped out by that information. It became a formative event for both of them.

    Our rape culture extends beyond the physical act. My daughter has had to develop very clear boundaries in a way my son has not, and they both recognize that. She’s one of the most emotionally healthy young women I know, but she has also cultivated a pretty bad-ass attitude towards men, it takes a lot to be one of her male friends. My kids are both very good at articulating what objectification is and how it relates to perpetuating a rape culture. They also are very outspoken on what constitutes consent, and that it’s not only necessary for sex. I take heart that more people are joining in the task of realigning our social norms and working to delegitimize rape. Kudos to you and, I’m assuming, your parenting partner and keep up the good work you have begun.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Parenting is a two steps forward one step back learning process. In hindsight, if you live long enough you get to see the results. Children will do what their parents do, not what they say. Therefore, my children are decent citizens. They don’t smack their children because their parents didn’t smack them. They respect others and expect the same in return. The thought of using politically correct speak is abhorrent. If my children behaved inappropriately, I would tell them I wouldn’t haul them out and tell them they were mansplaining. Talk of disrespect, who coined that word?

    My son treats his wife with love and women with respect. When his wife wanted to change career paths and study, my son changed his work schedule to care for their children. It’s been a while since she was a student so she had doubts. He convinced her that she could do it; that he had faith in her. He cooks and cleans when his wife can’t and she takes turns when he is busy. I never seem to stop marveling at it, but it’s true that in every sense of the word, my son and his wife are partners. His boys won’t need lectures, they have a role model.

    My son recently lost his cool with a female friend. She was critical of her husband’s ability to find something, He had given it a ‘Man look’ she said. It was obvious to my son that she was not only stereotyping all men, but doing it in his presence and in his home. This is what feminism has come to. He called her out on it, politely but firmly. She didn’t like it. A bit of a double standard happening these days.

    Like

Comments are closed.