When I was in my early teens, I remember overhearing my father telling my older sister that “sometimes boys just can’t control their sexual urges”. He was telling this to her as protector’s warning. She shouldn’t put herself into a situation where she would be at the mercy of a boy pressuring her into sexual contact. Even if she trusted him, it may turn into a situation she didn’t want.
In retrospect, I understand his intention.
At the time, though, my first thought was that this statement was complete bullshit. I was at a point in my life when I knew that any sexual attraction that I felt (which was to other boys) could not be voiced or expressed, much less acted upon. I was in complete control of that because I felt I needed to be. Expression of my sexuality would not have been acceptable to my conservative Catholic parents. They would not have been welcome to the boys who were the object of that attraction.
The endorsement of the idea that boys’ sexual urges were not subject to self-control seemed like someone was trying to get away with something. And in a way, that’s exactly what it is. Boys will be boys and girls need to protect themselves because the girls are the ones with something to lose. We all inherit these ideas and even the most well-intentioned can repeat problematic thought patterns.
In the wake of the horrifying Elliott Rodger shooting this week and the discussions around his “manifesto”, I have wondered how to respond. Clearly, this young man had some poisonous ideas, and the quirks of his psyche and environment were just fertile enough to feed and grow those ideas into a horrifying conclusion. But it seems that a lot of young men are fed this poison. How? And why? And what can I do?
The prevalence of the idea that women “owe” men responses to their sexual advances is mystifying to me. The idea that women are somehow a prize for men to win is a bizarre and troubling way to view relationships. The aggressive way that some men pursue women is creepy and terrifying. It’s one of my points of privilege as a man that I don’t usually see it, but it’s a frequent occurrence for some of my friends. Men don’t treat my female friends like that if I’m around – the very presence of a sizeable man who won’t cooperate is a kind of passive deterrent to such activity. Even that doesn’t make sense to me. I firmly believe that women and men should be able to take the train, walk down their block, go to a bar or a party, etc. without fear of harassment.
Are we missing some basic steps in the education of our children, and specifically our boys?
Do they understand the idea of consent? It’s not a difficult concept to grasp, but maybe there’s a fear that if schools discuss consensual sex, some people will see that as an endorsement of sex among minors. It’s a crucial concept, though.
How do young men not see their peer young women as equal in their right to decide about who should be their romantic and/or sexual partners? What lessons do they receive that women have less say in the matter and are prizes rather than deciders, objects and not subjects?
How do we teach young men that explosions of rage and violence are not the appropriate reaction to rejection? Many people go for years without a date and have a hard time connecting with true friends. This hardly justifies a killing rampage. Some people fall into relationships easily from a young age, and some people, myself included, take longer to learn some life lessons and to learn how to approach a relationship with realistic expectations and take the time to develop trust and support.
I wish I had some solutions. I know how my own thoughts are shaped on these issues, but I also realize I am far out of sync with most of our society. I am a bit lost on how we as a society can address these issues for young people as their social selves are formed. I just hope I am asking the right questions.
I have read some insightful posts from some other men trying to make sense of this.
There were also some really troubling, defensive, and off-base posts out there. Welcome to the internet, I guess.