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 V.26 No.9 | March 2 - 8, 2017 

Opinion

Let’s Not Forget our Young Men

Raising sons in Donald Trump’s America

A few weeks ago, Desmond Fox wrote an article for Weekly Alibi titled “Through Dissent, Strength and Humor: How to Raise Your Daughter in Donald Trump’s America” [vol.26, i.5, Feb. 2-8, 2017] which focused on preparing daughters for what is to come in a world where the president’s “bigotry and disdain for women are spotlighted by the media, a trend which is likely to continue for the next four years.” Like Fox, I am also interested in empowering our daughters to stand up for themselves and others they see being disrespected—to join the fight, as well as the conversation, using their voices and actions to indicate their dissent. His article offered tangible approaches to teaching our daughters self-empowerment, including enrolling them in martial arts and introducing them to punk music that challenges the status quo. But a question began to form as I was reading Fox’s article: What about our sons?

Donald Trump—with his sexist, racist, egomaniacal, bullying behavior—is a terrible model for our youth. Not to minimize his other character traits and his oppressive ideals, but as the mother of a young boy, I’m particularly troubled by the misogynist example he sets for the treatment of women.

Fox says we need to teach our daughters that even though the president has the loudest voice, his attitudes do not reflect those of our country. It is easier to believe the lack of shared attitudes when you live in a blue state full of diversity. A former conservative, I’m from Tennessee and still have friends whose values and voices reflect those of the man they elected into office. I’ve always been very proud of where I come from, until recently when I visited my home state after the election. Over the course of three days, I became sickened as I saw rebel flags flying proudly above both homes and restaurants, along with bumper stickers that said, “Trump that Bitch.” Not to mention my encounter with men who joked that they were going to grab me and my friend in the pussy. It’s all a big joke, right? Just “locker room talk.” Until it isn’t.

The most recent report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center notes that one in five women will be sexually assaulted at some point in her life. We live in the age of Brock Turner, the college student who was convicted of sexually assaulting a female who had passed out behind a university dumpster, where the victim was trolled on social media and called a coward for not coming forward and reading her courtroom statement of the incident. Need more proof? Results of a 2016 study published in the Journal of Youth Development researching middle schoolers’ reactions to rape myths (i.e., date rape acceptance, it was the victim’s fault, etc.) reported that males had higher rape myth acceptance than females, even after researchers presented what they call an “educational intervention” to dispel some of the misconceptions. The troublesome part of these findings, to me, is that the subjects studied were youth in grades 7-8. This suggests that it is never too early to start telling your sons that “no means no.”

Donald Trump—with his sexist, racist, egomaniacal, bullying behavior—is a terrible model for our youth. Not to minimize his other character traits and his oppressive ideals, but as the mother of a young boy, I’m particularly troubled by the misogynist example he sets for the treatment of women.

It’s time that we teach our sons to be respectful of women, not just teach our daughters to survive. And it’s high time we teach our sons to use their voices in an appropriate manner of support, not hate. To support Fox’s suggestions, mothers need to be the voice of dissent and illustrate to their sons how to effectively use this voice. When I was in D.C. last month, I took my son to a peaceful protest to express to him how important it is that we all join together to fight, and I encourage readers to find similar venues to show their collective support as a family.

Beyond protesting, we need to look for other teachable moments. As parents, we should turn off the television when a show or movie promotes rape culture and talk to our sons about why this behavior—when seen in reality and represented in a fictional manner—is not only wrong, but also repulsive and denigrating to women. Find examples of misogyny on social media and talk to your sons about how to combat these specific types of cyberbullying. Take your sons to see examples of empowering female speakers when they come to your city. Read books with your son that illustrate strong female characters like Meg Murry from A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle or Liesel from The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Perhaps the easiest thing we can do is to simply try to be the model for our sons. Mothers, we need to be examples of strong women—don’t let a man disrespect you or someone you know, and if it happens, show your son what it means to be a woman standing up for herself and others. Fathers need to do their part, too, and be the role model of a man who not only loves and respects women, but also does his share of the “woman’s work” like the dishes, the laundry, the making of school lunches and so on. These are just a few easy things parents can do to combat the social construction of misogyny that is prevalent in our culture—one that was there long before Trump.

Before I conclude, I’d like to return to Fox’s argument that the majority of Americans don’t share the same attitudes as Trump. Similarly, my father argued that many of the people who voted for Trump don’t condone his misogyny. He has since said he didn’t mean to use the word “condone,” as the word actually means to overlook a negative behavior, and one would almost certainly have to overlook Trump’s behavior in order to cast a vote in his favor. But I’m going to take his words at face value: liberals, conservatives, mothers and fathers—don’t look the other way. Teach your young boys that misogyny is harmful to men and women. Help them understand that all women deserve to be respected. Raise your sons to be the future feminists on the front line with your daughters. It’s only when we teach our daughters and our sons to resist hatred that we even stand a chance in dismantling the cultural norm of disrespect for women.

 

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