When rape and sexual harassment claims were brought against Harvey Weinstein we knew it was a serious issue but were able to keep it “over there” until Lupita Nyong’o spoke out. It became an ‘us’ thing and we were on high alert. Then Terry Crews spoke out and it was hard to wrap our minds around a man of his stature being violated by another man in front of his wife. But since allegations have recently been brought against Russell Simmons the conversation has shifted to us. Nine women have accused the media mogul of sexual harassment and assault. Four of these women, Drew Dixon, Toni Sallie, Tina Baker and Sherri Hines have accused Simmons of rape and the NYPD has opened an investigation. In response, Russell has started his own hashtag #NotMe to state his innocence.
This is a teachable moment for our sons and we cannot ignore the important conversation that needs to be had. I have taught my sons about accountability since they were young in all areas of their lives including sex. I have many friends who are raising sons as well and I reached out to them to ask what they are teaching them about rape. Their sons range in age from 16 to 21 and are athletes, one plays in the league. We had a long discussion and this is what we are teaching our sons about what they should know about rape…
No Means No
Our children grow up with mixed messages; girls need to close their legs and remain virgins until they get married while boys are encouraged to sow their wild oats. This mixed messaging gives boys a false sense of entitlement over girls. As mothers of sons, we are constantly teaching them that they are not entitled to anything and that what girls choose to do with them is a gift and a privilege. They must never cross the line and force themselves on anyone. We teach them about consent and what consensual sex means. Both parties have to consent to the act otherwise nothing needs to happen. When the current allegations first came to light, it was clear that there was a question about what was considered consensual; women’s idea of consensual was very different from what men considered to be consensual. “Boys need to understand that even if they are in the middle of something and she says no, they need to take a deep breath because although physically they are already aroused, they can still excuse themselves and exercise self control,” says Charmaine, mother of a 16 year-old son.son
Be Aware of How You are Perceived
Our sons go from being cute in elementary school to being perceived as threats from middle school onwards. We know them to be gentle and thoughtful, but outside our homes they are perceived as aggressive and dangerous threats to society. Historically, they are also used as scapegoats when unwanted sexual attention is not returned. Emmett Till is an example and it continues today. My friend Jackie, mother of a 19-year-old son and college freshman, recently sent me a link about Courtney Jean Thornton, a white student who falsely accused Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson who is black, of raping her once Anderson stopped returning her messages and said he didn’t want to be her boyfriend. They had consensual sex that she bragged about to her friends, but she changed her tune when she couldn’t get what she wanted from him. Freda, mother of 2 sons, ages 16 and 22, says, “I have talked to my sons and will continue to teach them to be careful with white girls and how their tune can change if they don’t get what they want.” As mothers, we are teaching our sons to always be aware of how they are perceived and to not go into situations blindly. Having this knowledge will prepare them in the event that uncomfortable situations arise. It is important that they know that although their intentions are innocent and have no ill will, not everyone will see it that way.
Treat all women with Respect
Our sons cannot show the utmost respect for us, their mothers, their sisters and grandmothers in the home then turn around and be the most disrespectful to women outside the home. They have to carry the same energy that they have inside the home outside. It is important for us as mothers to teach our sons media literacy at a very early age so they can grow up knowing that the messaging in music, television and movies is fiction and not what they should emulate. My friend KiKi is a perfect example of this, ever since her sons have been able to speak she has had in-depth conversations with them about everything. She is an educator and understands the power of media literacy. Her son is in the league and another is on his way to play college ball, and her influence on them is evident in their actions. “It comes down to me telling my sons to never do to others what they wouldn’t want anyone to do to me,” she says. Popular radio personality Charlamagne tha God of The Breakfast Club recently discussed how men have been raised on rape culture and gave examples from music and movies where raping women was shown as being okay.
Rejection is a part of life
The biggest diservice we do to our children is to not teach them rejection and how it is a part of life. Not everyone can be number one and not everyone can get everything they want. We are teaching our sons that it is possible that the girl they ask out will say no and that it is okay for her to say no to them and yes to someone else; it is her choice and they have to respect it. It is disheartening to read headlines about women who are shot and killed just because they refused to take a man’s number because they weren’t interested. Myra, a mother of 3 boys said, “Calling a female out of her name simply because she is not interested in you speaks more about your character and what you are lacking.” Not understanding rejection leads to our son’s false heightened sense of entitlement. It’s not cute and certainly not right and it is our job to teach our sons this valuable gem.
Be Smart with Technology
The introduction of social media has been a game changer. As mothers we are stressing the importance of our son’s role in what is on their phone and what they are forwarding in group chats. Tameka whose son is a junior in high school and star athlete, checked her son’s phone regularly when he first got it and discussed how he could still be held accountable for messages he was sending, even if he was not the originator of the messages. We are discussing sexting and child pornography laws with our teens and how sexting involving images of naked minors can technically fall within the broad reach of child pornography laws. There are criminal laws in some states that can lead to lifelong registration as a sex offender. Although we are thankful for the convenience of smartphones, it is vital that our sons know the dangers of them as well.