January 9, 2018

Can we protect our kids from sexual assault?

I am a woman, a mother of a daughter, and a leader of young women in my role as a camp director. It is both my job and my passion to think about how to keep young women safe.

Judging by the firestorm of women coming forward to name (literally) bad actors sexually speaking, the world is a very unsafe place for young women. Sexual predators seem to believe they’ve got free run of womankind. A quarter of North American women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

Can we do anything about this?

Those of us raising sons and influencing boys can question the clichés of masculinity that elevate the penis to a pedestal of astonishing proportions. When we see shows like Jimmy Kimmel’s 50th birthday special, with nonstop penis and testicle jokes, we can ask our boys what that kind of imagery makes them feel and think about their body, and what they could do about it. John Doyle wrote recently in The Globe and Mail, that what the Kimmel show exemplifies is part of “the ceaseless, casual penis celebration cannot be disentangled from the Hollywood culture of male exhibitionism, assault and exploitation of women.”

These guys are our boys’ role models.

Thanks to media saturation, via their smartphones, our boys are watching these guys and absorbing their attitudes about women. That’s scary.

And you know what else scares me: It’s a conversation that most of us can’t even have, because it’s so politically charged. I’ve tried to have this conversation several times. Women and men both shut me down because they think I’m blaming the victim. The prevailing PC point of view seems to be that women should have the right to get blind drunk and be safe. I agree. They/we should have that right. But it’s not how the world works.

Let’s try this again.

There are bad guys around. They force themselves on women, in varying degrees. It is never the victim’s fault. What women wear, say or do, where we go or when we go there, is neither reason nor excuse for a sexual assault. There is no excuse. Ever.

But the world, as we have seen so amply demonstrated over the past few months, is not a safe place for women.

Given that sexual assault, deplorable as it us, occurs, what are women to do? We can’t and shouldn’t curtail our lives. But as parents and leaders, is there anything we can do to protect our daughters in the face of this risk?

I worry about their alcohol consumption. This is the controversial part. I’ve been castigated for this, raked over the coals:  Please know: I am in no way blaming the victim. And yet: If a woman gets so drunk that she can’t say no to a guy, she is upticking her vulnerability to sexual predation. If the world were a better place, and there weren’t bad guys who prey on women, this discussion would be unnecessary.

But given the (often unpredictable) presence of bad guys, wouldn’t it be smart not ever to get blind drunk and be that vulnerable? I so wish I didn’t have to say this, but I know that young people’s weekend recreation tends to involve significant – and terrifying – alcohol abuse. A great majority of the young people I know think it’s fun to get so drunk you pass out.

Getting blotto is not safe for women. That’s what we need to teach our daughters. Even though it’s NEVER their fault or responsibility. Its just plain smart to know about the jerks out there and take precautionary measures. Like defensive driving. It’s not enough to stay in your own lane and mind your own business. We have to know there are idiots on the road who could kill us, so we have to be vigilant and watch out for the idiots. For women, life is a crash course in defensive driving.

#metoo
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