As many people know, the campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault against women went viral under the hashtag, #MeToo earlier this week. Today, female Rep. Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-Texas) said this,
"I grew up in a time when it was as much the woman's responsibility as it was a man's — how you were dressed, what your behavior was," Johnson told the news outlet.
"I'm from the old school that you can have behaviors that appear to be inviting. It can be interpreted as such. That's the responsibility, I think, of the female. I think that males have a responsibility to be professional themselves."
To say my head imploded, would be a bit of an understatement.
Despite what you may think, I actually do understand the older generation of women urging the younger generation to dress more "appropriately" to potentially limit sexual harassment or abuse. It's easy to say that the rape victim who was walking down the street wearing a mini skirt and tube top should have been more responsible in her wardrobe choices. However, this comment gives potential harassers and rapists an excuse for their behavior. I should be able to walk down the street completely naked and not expect to get raped. I may get some comments, because walking around naked is not socially acceptable, but just because I'm naked doesn't give you the right to attack me. Same thing goes for being drunk. A woman should be able to pass out, half-dressed in the bed of a male stranger and feel secure that her body will remain her own. Now, obviously, that is not a good idea, and not just because of the potential to be attacked, but not being raped is not the responsibility of the victim.
Let me say that again.
It is not the victim's responsibility to NOT get raped. It's also not the victim's responsibility to NOT get harassed.
As a mother, I will of course be teaching my children safe behaviors to ensure they are as least likely as possible to be attacked or be an attacker, but I refuse to ever call my daughter's tank top a "distraction". I will teach her to respect her body and herself, and try to teach her the value of modesty, but not for the benefit of anyone but herself. I will teach her that teasing or "leading-on" another person is not kind and that she should be genuine in her affection and intentions. However, if she does engage in that kind of harmful behavior, she still does not deserve to be assaulted. She will know that her choices have consequences, but that under no circumstances is rape a "consequence".
In return, I also refuse to ever utter the phrase, "boys will be boys" in response to any behavior my son exhibits that could be harmful to women. My son will learn how to control himself. He will learn that women do not need to hear his thoughts on their appearance. He will know why this is harmful. He will know that "no" means no. He will understand consent. He will know that consent can be withdrawn at any time- even in the middle of the act. He will be taught that while "blue balls" is uncomfortable, it is never an excuse to pressure a partner into a sexual act. He isn't "owed" anything from anyone. He will understand the difference between "consent" and "enthusiastic consent", and that he should be sensitive to his partner's apparent hesitation. He will know that someone who is very drunk cannot consent, and his own inebriation will not hold up in a court of law. He will know that he should expect his partners to treat him with the same respect he shows them.
All of these truths will be taught to my daughter as well. Not only because these are the standards she should demand of her partners, but because women can be attackers too. I will teach her that no matter what her partner's gender is, she too will hold herself to the standards laid out above. Although, it's interesting that it is extremely rare that we see a lesbian cat-calling a woman. That should tell you a little about those men who do. If a lesbian or bisexual girl isn't "distracted" by a short skirt or tank top, and can get her work done at school, don't you think the boys should be able to too?
So, yes, I do understand the older generation in their "well in my day" rhetoric, but as we have seen throughout history, it doesn't matter what a woman wears. A rapist will rape. A cat-caller will harass. Women have been getting raped since the dawn of time. They were raped in floor-length gowns that showed very little skin. They were (and still are) raped in full burkas. It does not matter what we wear. It never has.
Teaching our sons and daughters that it is the responsibility of the woman to prevent herself from being attacked perpetuates the idea that men cannot control themselves. I have it on very good authority that men CAN and DO control themselves- when they are good men. I have had the pleasure of knowing a few of these good men in my lifetime. I have also had the misfortune of knowing quite a few of the other kind.
It is not the women we should be focusing on here. We need to teach our sons how to be good men, good partners. We need to not be so afraid of S-E-X. If you can't have an open discussion about consent with your children, how the hell are they going to make an informed decision about it? You can suggest and even request abstinence, but ultimately your children will make their own decisions. When they do, they need to know more than just, "This goes here, that goes there. Don't do it."
I want our children's generation to be more informed, more aware than my generation was, and definitely more informed and aware than the generation before that. I want my daughter to feel comfortable saying "No". I want my son to know that a young girl shaking from fear cannot consent, even if she doesn't say "No". I want all of our children to be able to come home to us and ask us the hard questions, and for us to be able to answer thoroughly, honestly, and without embarrassment.
Let's do better than our parents on this. Our kids needs us to.