GUEST POST: Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to a wonderful writer, blogger, friend, neighbor, mother, wife, and all around person, Kimberly Smith. Not only does Kimberly run the terrific children’s book blog COOL KIDS READ, she works full-time as an advertising creative director and is the author of 3 children’s books. Wise, savvy, and not one to pull punches, Kim is joining us to start a conversation we all need to have.
Picture this scene from the 1985 film BACK TO THE FUTURE. Marty McFly has traveled back in time to 1955, and is taking his mother (as a teenager) to the Enchantment Under the Sea dance so that she can fall in love with Marty’s father and set the future right again (all to ensure his own existence). Biff, the bully, hijacks them in the school parking lot and pushes Marty’s mother back into the car, crawling up her skirts as he tells her “you know you want it, Lorraine.”
It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch for any woman who’s ever been in that position — and since 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetime (George Mason University, Worldwide Sexual Assault Statistics, 2005), that’s a lot of women.
I guess this scene has been on my mind because it’s Homecoming season, and the proliferation of stories in the news like Maryville. It seemed like a good time to discuss the subject with my high school sophomore.
Honestly, I expected the conversation to go like this: “Yeah, I know, Mom, don’t worry.” Instead, his response shocked me.
Specifically in regards to Maryville, he whole-heartedly agreed that these boys were wrong, but he was quick to add that he felt the girls held some responsibility too — that by getting drunk, they also made bad choices. In his eyes, the situation would not have taken place at all if the girls hadn’t made themselves vulnerable in the first place.
This elicited a knee jerk response from me and I went off on him. THAT, I lectured, is exactly the kind of thinking that perpetuates our rape culture. Luckily, I caught myself and stopped ranting before he completely shut down on me. Because I wanted to know how this sweet young man could feel this way. I believed I’d taught him to respect women. His wonderful father models this respect. What he told me opened my eyes.
Wisely, he began by saying no matter what state of mind someone is in, it’s not right to take advantage of them. Under any circumstances. He reiterated that those boys did not do the right thing, but he didn’t understand why nobody thought the girls’ weren’t responsible, too. Not in a “if you dress like that you deserve what you get” kind of responsible, but in a take responsibility for yourself way. “Nobody forced those girls to get drunk, did they?” he asked.
It was a loaded question. And an argument I didn’t want to have. I was leery that putting any kind of responsibility on the girl’s shoulders was a slippery slope. I am adamantly against slut shaming. Wasn’t that what his point of view did?
As we talked further, I realized there was another way of looking at this — the side I saw in my son’s answer.
Maybe our culture does more than perpetuate a “boys will be boys” attitude. Maybe it also tells girls you’re not fun unless you’re drunk. That boys only pay attention to fun girls. Lacing a drink to purposefully drug someone seems a world away from pressuring a girl to “chug” a beer – or six. But is it, really?
From a parenting perspective, how much do you tell your children about the mistakes you made when you were their age? We are pretty open with our kids, but I hadn’t shared this particular story with my son. I wondered if he would feel the same if he knew that his mother was that girl, many years ago? The one who made “bad choices” and put herself in a vulnerable position? The one who drank too much because that’s what you did at a party. The one who said “no”, but didn’t have control enough over her body or the situation to fight back when “no” was countered with “c’mon, you know you want it.” The one who never told. The one who still lived with the guilt and shame.
As I saw the situation through my son’s eyes, and not just through the filter of my own experience, I had to agree with him. If I hadn’t had so much to drink that night, would it have happened? Probably not. There was a reason why I felt guilty. I didn’t need public shaming. I did that to myself.
I don’t have daughters, so I can’t tell them to protect themselves by refusing to give in to pressures to get wasted. I can’t warn them about the secondary dangers that come with being over-served. But I can be the mother who teaches her sons not to be Biff, but also not to turn away from a girl putting herself in a vulnerable situation. I can teach them to take action, to get her out of that situation, to find her friends so she can go home, to stop other boys from taking advantage.
I can talk to my boys about the difference between saying “yes” and respecting “no” in any form. I can help them understand and combat the pressures of society and of the party atmosphere.
Do we live in a rape culture? I believe we do. But I believe rapes will continue if we don’t fight it from both sides. It’s not okay to tell a girl she has no responsibility for what happens to her. To make her feel powerless. To say it’s okay for her to give in to society’s pressures about anything – including how she behaves at a party.
Just like the boys, girls need to know that being drunk does not make you immune from responsibility. It makes you a target. And that’s something they can control. Assuming boys will do the right thing relinquishes control. Assume the opposite. Stay in control. Don’t hand the keys to your future over someone handing you a red Solo cup.
My son argued that those boys were no doubt influenced by alcohol as well. In his eyes, people who might not normally make bad choices, might when they’re drunk. I am glad he saw it that way. And he’s right. While there’s a big difference between being too drunk to remain conscious and so drunk that you ignore your moral compass, “I was drunk” is not an excuse for either side.
Was telling my son about what happened to me the right thing to do? I think so. I hope by showing him my mistake, and bringing home the girls’ side of the story, it made him see things differently. Not that his viewpoints would change, necessarily, but to realize such a thing could happen to anyone. Even someone he respects.
None of this goes to say that boys who choose to take advantage of a drunk girl shouldn’t bear full responsibility of the law for their actions. Preying on someone in a weaker state is a choice, and make no mistake, it is rape. But as parents, we need to teach our girls they don’t have to give up control to be accepted – and teach our boys to help them learn this.