I apologize in advance for the limited audience for this essay, but it’s directed primarily toward fathers with sons. Fathers with daughters, mothers with sons and/or daughters, people (who are implicitly sons or daughters) without sons and/or daughters – you’re of course welcome to read this essay but, most importantly, I urge you to share it with the fathers of sons. The time to emphasize, and implicate, fathers and sons as the key players, the ones to call upon to make the big changes to impact these issues, is way overdue. We need to, right now, stop blaming the world’s women and girls for being sexually assaulted with the easily obtained, and power informed, logic at our disposal and flip what it means to “Man Up” on its head.
Okay, guys, let’s begin with an image. A 15-year-old girl is hanging from a belt wrapped around her shower head. Black tears of mascara streak down her face. Meet Audrie Pott. How did she get here?
Well, in spite of the ultimate impossibility of untangling with certainty the logical hairball of causation (cf. opaque mystics, David Hume, and silver-tongued lawyers), figuring this one out beyond a reasonable doubt doesn’t require a very robust act of intellectual muscle unless you hate women. Do you hate women? Perhaps the question is too blunt. Is it possible, maybe, that you view the dynamics of male/female relations through a very old, and thus hard to detect, perspective that predisposes you to value men above women? You owe it to yourself, women, and the future to wrestle with this question in a way that is genuine.
Anyway, on to Audrie Pott. At a party she was very drunk, three boys removed her clothes, drew all over her naked body with markers, sexually assaulted her, took pictures, and shared the pictures widely via social media (italics mine; bold our culture’s). Less than two weeks later, she killed herself. So, granted, there are of course many, many variables that led to Audrie Pott hanging herself in the shower – all the way to the extreme and ultimate fact of the universal interdependence of all phenomena (we are all complicit and so are all the butterflies and their effects) – but the assumptions of this essay go like this. Three boys performed criminal acts on Audrie Pott’s body. They then broadcast these acts via social media channels. Distraught in ways that we (men) are incapable of imagining (precisely because we lack the imagination to conceive what being a girl in our culture might mean), she killed herself.
Now, as I researched this story, here’s some facts that were repeatedly emphasized. Audrie was pretty, slim, blond, curvaceous, had 34DD breasts and she wore low-cut tops with super short skirts. She drank, was flunking some classes, dated older guys, had family problems, and a lot of other problems. The night of the assault, Audrie was extremely drunk and and she kissed several different boys on the couch. The assault itself was referred to as a prank that was blown out of proportion. The boys? Goofy, silly, and just being boys. The real culprit? Social media. The solution, then, goes something like this: If we educate our kids about how to use social media more responsibly, silly boys can continue to sexually assault slutty girls without all this pesky media exposure.
Now, fathers of sons, this should go without saying but obviously it doesn’t so, once and for all, no matter how attractive a girl or woman is, no matter what she’s wearing, no matter the kinks in her psychological profile, and no matter how drunk or high she is, WE ARE NOT PERMITTED TO ENGAGE IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY WITH THEM WITHOUT THEIR INFORMED CONSENT. And if a young woman is not of age, SHE IS UNABLE TO GIVE INFORMED CONSENT. And if she’s drunk or high, SHE IS UNABLE TO GIVE INFORMED CONSENT. Meaning, in spite of our collective instinct to seek out and locate fault in Audrie Pott’s background and/or behavior the night she was assaulted or to somehow implicate social media for its ability to broadly disseminate imagery of her assault, there are only four (4) guilty parties in this case: the three boys who removed the clothes of an extremely drunk girl and put their fingers inside her AND the culture inside of which the boys were just being boys and Audrie Potts was asking for it.
So, fathers of sons, this should go without saying but obviously it doesn’t so here’s the deal: we need to shift, or at least complement, the prevalent parental attitude of teaching our daughters that THEY need to be careful to revoking our sons’ sexual assault passes and get out of jail free cards. (This may first require a long hard look in the mirror and the humbling need for you to question all your beliefs and attitudes about women – especially if and why you perhaps believe that sexually assaulting them is just part of growing up.) And then, above and beyond the need to instill in our sons a deep reverence for women from which a natural respect will emerge, we must teach them the correct and proper direction to point their testosterone fueled aggression: at men who assault women.
This is the historical-cultural moment when it’s necessary for young men to—yes, of course—respect women, but also to step it up a notch and insist that other young men do so as well. This means when it’s difficult, when it’s happening, our sons must be the ones who intervene and stop it. Our sons must be the ones who smash the phones of the perpetrators and help the girls find their clothes. As fathers of sons, we must teach them to take the social risk of saying “No! Stop it! Leave her alone! Put down your phones!”
Why us? Why our sons? Because if not us and our boys, then who? Certainly not our justice system. When only 46 out of 100 rapes are reported, only 12 lead to an arrest, only 9 get prosecuted, only 5 lead to a felony conviction, and only 3 (OUT OF A 100) see a single day in prison, it’s high time to take matters into our own hands, seek out the cause, and make the necessary corrections. The justice system will only and always be a reflection of our collective attitudes. It’s going to continue blaming women for being assaulted and letting boys be boys until what’s okay for a boy to be is severely altered by boys and their fathers. Me and you. Our sons. Why we think Audrie Pott hung herself in the shower. And what we teach our sons about women, courage, and how to be.
Read more from me at Black Hockey Jesus.
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