teaching my boys to be men in light of Steubenville

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Steubenville reminds me tonight of the sobering responsibility I have when I raise my boys to be men. Real men. Not the testosterone-overloaded, aggressive, MMA aficionado, gun-toting, sports junkie kind of real man and definitely not the ‘boys will be boys’ kind of man, because that’s exactly that kind of attitude that gets us into Steubenville types of problems. Instead, I want to raise the kind of real man who takes responsibility, who lives with integrity, who respects himself and others, who stands up for what’s right even when it’s painful, who loves even when it’s hard. Those kind of men. This kind of parenting is hard and scary. It takes bravery and commitment and prayer and grace.

I want my boys to make strong, responsible choices. The teenage brain isn’t fully developed, so no matter how annoying they find us, I promise my boys that we will be helping them to make appropriate decisions until it is. I can’t promise that they’ll listen to everything we say. I can’t guarantee they won’t sneak out and try stuff we have not permitted. I can promise that if my boys are out at 3 in the morning, we will also be out – hunting them down. If my boys sneak out, break the law, make poor choices…well, I’m just praying with all my heart that they get caught.

I want my boys to know that when people say ‘boys will be boys’, what that really mean is that girls are garbage. (many thanks to Ann Voskamp for succinctly stating that truth) I want my sons to respect women, to treat them not like lesser beings but like equals, worthy of every bit of love and respect they can give them, because that’s the way God treats us all. I don’t care how skimpily dressed their homecoming dates are, that does not give them an excuse to touch them. I don’t even care how provocatively a girl may be acting towards them, they may not automatically consider that an invitation. I want my boys to know that they alone are responsible for their thoughts and actions towards women. I want them to know that they are strong enough to make the right choices, that they are not slaves to their hormones or to the culture that allows, encourages, and then tries to cover up bad behavior. They are responsible to God, not their friends, for their choices, and He has equipped them with everything they need to make the right ones.

I want my boys to know what sex is. That it’s not just about intercourse. I want them to respect themselves and women enough to realize that sex is precious and holy and important enough to protect. I want them to know it’s not just about virginity. It’s about respect and love and whole-heartedness and integrity and holiness and honoring themselves and others because we are all created in the very image of God.

I want them to know what rape is. That it’s not only about force and overt violence. That it’s not just about strangers attacking women in the park at night. Even though all of those things are true in some instances, I want them to know that rape most often is committed by someone who knows the victim. I want them to know that the image of a screaming girl being forced into a sex act isn’t what typically occurs. It’ll probably look more like coercion than violence. It may look an awful lot like someone is drunk or drugged, like someone is sleeping, like someone is ‘like a dead body’ (to borrow the horrific words of the Steubenville perpetrators). It might not look or feel like a violent movie rape scene at all.

I want them to know what consent means. I want them to know that just because there wasn’t an enthusiastic ‘no’ involved does NOT mean there was a ‘yes’. I want them to know that it is never, ever ok to have sex with a woman under the influence, whether or not they think she’s giving consent. I want them to know that if they happen to be in a situation where initial consent is revoked, that means STOP. It’s not beyond their power to do so, no matter how heated the moment. They are not slaves to their passions.

I want my boys to stand up and speak up. I want them to reject a culture of silence that allows perpetrators to continue on with and escape consequences of their behavior. I want them to call out injustice, inappropriateness (no matter how benign it seems), and rape when they see it. I want them to think first about protecting the victim before they protect the abuser, even if it’s their buddy. I want them to reject a culture of shaming women whether it be by victim-blaming – she shouldn’t have been dressed that way, acted that way, drank so much, been in that place, etc. – or by the newer oppression that is at their fingertips so easily with social media. Instead of taking a picture, I want them to take that vulnerable girl to safety. Even if no one else is willing to do it.

Above all else, I want my boys, my sweet little boys who still love their mama and mostly believe what she says, to know that I will love them no matter what they do. I want them to know that their choices do not determine who they are. They will make mistakes. I pray it’s never one of this magnitude, but even if it is, that doesn’t change who they are. Who they are is a person created in the image of God. A loved child of the King. No choice can take away that identity, and no place is too far to come back home back again.

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