Let’s talk about boys.
I’ve got a tough job ahead of me. With two sons making their way through the world, my burden is heavy. Because my boys are on their way to becoming men and men, well, men have been getting a bad rap lately.
Men are controlling and misogynistic and sexist. Men are demeaning. Men are overpowering. Men are entitled. Men are violent. Men are abusers. Men are murderers. Men are rapists.
I am confronted, daily, with all these indictments on men and as I look at my sons I wonder how am I going to raise the man out of them? How do I stop them from becoming a man as our society sees men?
Of course, the truth is my boys are not rapists. Nor are they murderers. My boys are already showing all good signs of becoming impressive, engaged citizens of the world. At 8 and 10 I haven’t yet had to sit down and have the ‘consent conversation’ with them because, well I’ve been teaching them those lessons their whole life. I can’t imagine there will come a time that I need to specifically teach my sons to not rape. Just as my husband was never specifically taught that lesson.
There are good men in this world. Almost every man that I have chosen to have in my life, is a good man. Which is not to say that I haven’t come across my share of bad men. I know a few of them too, some of which triggered an instinct in me very quickly but others that travelled where all the scariest people live – just under the radar. I learned my lesson with those men the hard way. But I still learned.
But violence against women will only stop when men stop perpetrating it, right? We just need to teach men not to hurt women. Well… it’s not that black and white in my view. Should that philosophy also then apply to paedophiles? We just need to teach them to NOT be sick fuckers. Oh right! I wish I’d thought of that. Because it’s our children’s RIGHT to be safe in this world. We shouldn’t have to protect them or teach them to be safe because that is VICTIM SHAMING. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Let's just be clear. It is never the victim’s fault. Whether they are girls, women, boys or men. It is never their fault. The blame must always lay firmly and squarely on the shoulders of the bastard that hurt the victim. It is always the perpetrator’s DECISION to rape/molest/torture/murder that is responsible for the crime and never the victim’s choices, no matter how vulnerably they may lay themselves bare. Vulnerability should never be an invitation for violence or trespass. Just because a car is unlocked does not mean that the contents within are free for the taking. Theft is still theft, regardless of the circumstance. But here’s the thing. We still lock our car doors because while 99%* of the community will recognise the morality of that situation, it is the 1%* that we must all worry about. The opportunists. The deranged. The evil. The psychopaths and the sociopaths. The outliers. For these minority of cockroaches no amount of TELLING them NOT to hurt or steal is going to work. No measure of EDUCATION will protect us from them.
“But we must teach our boys” is the message we are getting loud and clear.
Teach them what exactly? As I help my boys navigate their way through their lives I am acutely aware of the confusion surrounding their journey… not the least of which is my own.
My generation of men was raised differently to the generation of my sons. Boys were to be tough. They were taught to stand up for themselves. If someone hits you, hit ‘em back. But not a girl! Boys must never hit girls. You can be forceful with them though, especially if the girl is asking for it. Tarts ask for it. In all other times, treat them like a lady. Do well at sports. Don’t wear pink. Don’t be gay, it’s gay. Don’t run like a girl. Don’t cry, only girls cry. Be brave. You don’t need a hug! A good tousle of the hair should be enough for you, young man. We don’t want to mollycoddle you! Be the man of the house, even if you’re only a boy. Man up. Have some balls. Don’t be a wimp. Be reliable. Sow your oats while you can. Then find a good woman. Be a good husband. Be a provider. Don’t beat your wife. You wear the pants.
It sounds pretty ridiculous and dated BUT it’s also pretty easy to follow. My generation of men and the generations before them were not confused. There was one path for them to follow. It was not, by any means, the right path for all men but it was widely known as the man’s path nonetheless.
My sons are fortunate enough to be born into a generation with infinitely more choice than the generations before them. But you know what else comes with great choice? The pressure of having to make a decision. The bravery to go your own way. The strength to commit to a path that is scary. And confusion. Confusion is the enemy of choice.
Never before have men as a whole been as confused as they are today, nor as depressed. According to the ABS, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for males in Australia. Our men don’t know how to cope with all this confusion. For we have focused so intently on some of our greatest advancements to empower women that, in doing so, have disempowered men.
Woohoo!!!! Victory! That’s the fight we’ve been fighting isn’t it?
Well, yes. And no.
You see when it was just me, woman, pitching against the collective man I was passionate in my cause. What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!
But now that it’s me, mother of two growing men, my perspective has shifted. And so has the notion of equality.
I watch and I read and I try to interpret the multitude of mixed messages that are thrown at men every day so that I can deliver to my charges the most concise lessons in manhood possible. I don’t do this alone. I discuss, at length, all the lessons and the directions and values with my husband – their, very present, father. But he struggles too. He is an old-school man. Strong and reliable. A good husband and capable provider. Handy on the tools and short on affection. It is the way he knows. It is the way of his father. It is not the way of today though, so in teaching our boys he is learning a new path too. And so now I am on the path to today’s manhood with three boys… and none of us know what the fuck we’re doing.
What I do know though, is that all those bastard men that have killed, raped and abused women [and men!] were once little boys too.
Did their mums also stay up until the early hours of the evenings wondering how best to turn their sons into men? At what point did their path deviate? What opportunity was missed to teach those valuable lessons? Is it as simple as that? God, I fucking hope not. Because if it all comes down to one lesson that I need to teach my kids. One missed opportunity that will shape them into a rapist or not. Then I’m never sleeping again.
* I HAVE NO EVIDENCE THAT THESE PERCENTAGES ARE ACCURATE. I’M GENERALISING.