On consent and raising boys to be men

I am very hot and cold about the news sometimes. I can go days without watching it or listening to it. On the weekends I will often try to unplug completely from any sort of news source. But then there are stories that I obsess over. I click on every news article, watch every related video that pops up on my newsfeed, to the extent that I become less productive at work and less engaged at home because all I can think about is this one particular story. It doesn’t happen often but when it does happen I know it is for a reason, and I also have to be very intentional about taking some distance.
This is happening right now with the Brock Turner rape case. I cannot pull myself away from it. Ever since I heard the victim/survivor’s testimony, her words have been rattling around in my head. I think about her and what she went though, and it triggers several things in me, in my own body, from my own experience. And then I look at the picture of the perpetrator, of the rapist, and think, dear lord, I hope I am teaching my boy right so that he doesn’t ever, ever rape another human being.
Is that crazy? For my mind to jump from that nasty story of rape behind a dumpster to my own child? Perhaps, but I’ve also learned, from this case and so many before it, that rapists come in many disguises, and have not all been raised in neglectful, terrible environments, or by abusers, or by bad parents (though I make no excuses for Brock Turner’s father, with his letter begging for a shorter sentence because his son would miss eating ribeye steaks while in jail.).
I learned this lesson early on, when I was 18 and just home from my first semester of college, and I went back to one of my friend’s houses, after a night of dancing and drinking. He was a star athlete, an excellent student, and an all-around good guy. Everyone’s best friend. I sort of hoped we would end up having sex since we had before…in fact, he had been my only lover up until that point, but we had never been boyfriend and girlfriend, just, some sort of “friends with benefits”. I cared about him very much. Trusted him. Wanted him to want something more with me, but settled for him paying any attention to me at all. We had been flirting pretty hard that night. When things started to get heavy I told him to put a condom on and he did, but then he pulled out, took it off, and continued to push himself onto me. When I told him, repeatedly, to stop unless he was going to put a condom on, he bent me over and took me from behind, and then forced himself onto me on the bed. I remember telling him to stop, it hurt, I didn’t want it anymore. I remember him telling me how much I liked it. Over and over again, “you know you like it”.
I didn’t, though. I confronted him the next day, and he gave me some sort of bullshit apology over the phone. I then wrote a letter to him, in which I explained how absolutely torn up about it I was about it. But first I read it to my best friend and she said she thought I was “exaggerating in using the word rape”. Maybe I was. Maybe it wasn’t rape. It certainly wasn’t textbook rape, the kind we hear about in the news, with some violent unknown perpetrator. It was my dear friend, someone I trusted. Maybe I didn’t say “no” loud enough. Maybe my vulnerability and desire for him to want me as something more came out louder, overshadowing the “it hurts”. I don’t know. What I do know is that the night went on and on, and the feeling of being stifled and trapped under his body and pushed into positions I didn’t want to be in tainted my relationships for years and years, and especially my ability to be in a loving, trusting intimate relationship.
When I read, and listen to, certain details about the Stanford rape case they take me right back to that night. Still, 17 years later, they take me right back there. My palms sweat, my heart beats faster, I get agitated, and nervous, and angry.
I am so proud of the Stanford survivor for being so fierce, and writing that brave and powerful testimony. I am so disappointed in myself for not following through with my own letter, so that he would at least know what an effect that night had on me.
Which somehow brings me back to parenting, and raising my own boy. I am not a religious person but I pray to God and the goddess and all the spirits out there that I am raising my son to respect and love other human beings, and to not place his own needs over theirs. I hope beyond hopes that I am raising him to have coping mechanisms for dealing with his own sexual frustration or aggression when he feels it coming on. That is not something we are talking about yet, and I am not sure when those sorts of conversations start, but when they do I hope that I have created the kind of relationship with him where he will listen and talk and not just laugh it off. I hope that I am able to teach him about consent, and that when it seems blurry in any way, whether the other person is drunk or said yes first and then no, or whether she was coming on to him first or dressed promiscuously or whatever, that if it seems blurry than it needs to be cleared up. And if it’s not cleared up then it’s not consent, plain and simple.
We have to do better than this. We have to start raising our boys to know that they are not entitled to another person’s body, ever, unless express consent is given. We cannot keep making excuses for our sons, Mr. Turner, regardless of how smart they are and how quick their swimming scores are.

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