OK, full disclosure – I do not have sons, so perhaps I could be chastened for not having a clue what it takes to raise a young man in today’s culture. However, I do have two girls, both of age, one still in college, and both – in my estimation – strong, competent, extraordinary young women. And both, by most accounts in addition to my own, drop dead gorgeous.
So when I read Susanna Schrobsdorff’s “Be Brave, Be Safe” essay in this week’s Time Magazine, her advice to her daughter on handling the dangers of sexual assault on campus immediately resonated. I know what messages I’ve pressed on my daughters about being aware of their vulnerability in different surroundings, dressing appropriately, taking care in engaging with strangers, making smart decisions despite peer pressure and a culture that tends to elevate drinking and casual sex while devaluing loving, clear-eyed intimacy. We’ve talked about nourishing caring, supportive friendships and finding self-esteem in being true to one’s most essential nature. We’ve talked about kindness, generosity, respect, and I truly believe those messages were heard and continue, for the most part, to be the cautionary angel on their shoulders, at least subliminally if not completely hard-wired.
But I have to wonder – what messages are young men hearing, especially the young college men who use the prevailing culture of drunken tomfoolery to excuse sexual assault? Weren’t values like kindness, respect, and self-respect imparted from toddlerhood? What happens in adolescence when testosterone ramps up? What messages are our young men getting – from schools, from the media, and yes, from parents? Are we dropping the ball in the guise of “building strong men?” And why are all the “good” guys, who wouldn’t think of having drunken sex with someone they barely know, not stepping up, stepping in?
“No means no” shouldn’t just be a watch-phrase for young women. That’s a message for everyone, and young people especially need to hear it and have the courage to say it, loud and clear.