When my partner asked last night if I'd heard about the "rape thing" in the news, I'm sorry to say that I had to clarify WHICH rape thing he was talking about. I've been following the Delhi rape case but had somehow missed any reports on the case of Steubenville High School rapists Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, who assaulted an unconscious 16 year old and were sentenced to house arrest, fellow student Michael Nodianos' horrific video commentary on the situation (google-able; not gonna link it) and coach Nate Hubbard's abominable victim-blaming.
Oh yeah -- long time, no see. Did you forget what a downer I am?
XOJane posted a really insightful article that's sort of peripherally about the case wherein writer Avital Norman Nathman, mother to a six year old boy, discusses the worry I think a lot of progressive, feminist/womanist mothers experience: that our own sons will fall prey to the cult of masculinity and do the unthinkable. My own three year-old son has been exhibiting some very normal, age-appropriate aggressions like relatively innocuous hitting, pushing and general yelling/grunting when he forgets to use words to express his feelings. These things are shortcuts, now, when the frontal lobe is still getting itself situated, but it's admittedly very hard for me to see these behaviors without fretting: Is he going to be domineering, aggressive as an adult? Has the cult of masculinity already claimed him?
Of course, it hasn't. I know that. I look at similar behavior from his peers, I look at his sweet face and notice the thoughtful, nurturing aspects of his personality which far outweigh the more temporary, less fantastic traits I mentioned. But when he's accosted by stereotypes from all angles, it's hard to keep a handle on what's actually seeping in. Well-meaning strangers tell him he's "big and strong." He's instructed to be a "big boy," told "you're okay!" when he cries (not by his parents, of course, but these conventional ways of talking to children are hard to regulate from the general public). He's mistaken for a girl when he wears pink or purple, which he does often, sees the confusion on strangers' faces, and no doubt notices the different tone they take or words they use when he corrects them. "Pretty," "sweet," "helpful" turn into "strong" "smart," "a handful." Gentle, lilting speech turns booming, didactic when his gender is revealed. How do I counteract that?
Nobody wants to look into the face of their baby, their three year old, their six year old, their 16 year old, and wonder: are you a rapist? But some mothers don't have to wonder. They've maybe made some mistakes -- maybe -- but, mental illness aside (which is a very important, but very different conversation), the cult of masculinity has claimed them as victims, too. Can you imagine being the mother of an abuser? A rapist? It must be impossible not to internalize the disdain for women they see in their sons; those women, too, must have been the target of their childrens' misogyny at some point.
Are we doing everything we can to ensure our sons have the tools to appropriately process and release anger and frustration? Are we enabling them to really experience their feelings, to own their emotions, and, consequently, own their behavior, for better or worse? Are we growing boys aware of the rape culture they're inheriting, and committed to eliminating it? Are we giving them the language, the tools to hold their friends and peers accountable? I'm doing my damnedest, and I hope you are, too. Please read the XOJane article, and if you're in the area, attend the protests Anonymous is organizing.