De Visu/Fotolia

6 Things Boys Learn By Age 5 That Perpetuate Rape Culture

Ad failed to load

As the mother of a young boy and a pre-teen girl, I feel the weighted responsibility of teaching both of my children about rape culture. In a world where "boys will be boys" and victims of sexual assault are perpetually blamed for the violence they endured, I know it's important to facilitate conversations regarding sexual assault and consent immediately, directly, and often. I think there are things boys learn by age 5 that perpetuate rape culture, too, and I'm doing my best to dismantle them as they come. It's damn hard when outside forces are dead set on teaching my son otherwise, though, which is why I must remain stedfast in my resolve to raise a son that will dismantle a culture that normalizes systemic sexual violence against women.

My son has always been the literal light of my life. Born a rainbow baby after I endured two pregnancy losses, there hasn't been a day of his life that I haven't smiled in extreme gratitude for all he's given me. My son has provided me with ethereal, unwavering joy, hope, and the chance to be a mother for a second time. But the older he gets, the more pressure I feel to teach him about bodily autonomy and how, when someone says "no" or "stop" it means exactly no and exactly stop. Every day we go through the rules of consent, and every day it feels like we're back to square one. It's not like my son ignores the importance of asking for explicit permission before touching someone because he feels like it, or feels malice toward someone. And our straight-forward conversations get through to some extent. I know he is a child and he's learning. But it's because he's learning that I need to continue to teach these lessons over, and over, and over again. Because one of my biggest fears is that my son will dismiss the importance of consent when he's an adult.

As a soon-to-be 6 year old, my son is becoming increasingly curious about bodies — mainly the differences between his and mine. Lately he's had a fascination with "smacking" me on the rear, and it has me concerned. On one hand, he's barely out of toddlerhood, so he's exploring boundaries and learning what's right, what's wrong, and what he can get away with. On the other hand, he's violating my consent multiple times a day, harmless though it may be or seem, and by bedtime I'm at a loss as to what else I can possibly do or say to help him understand that touching someone without their permission is not OK.

Ad failed to load

The sad truth is that rape culture is everywhere, and probably in my own house, despite my attempts to teach my children otherwise. It makes itself known when I talk to my children about bodies or consent, sex. I feel it when I hear my children discuss what they overhear at home, school, or on television. My son is young, and I know he means no harm, but if don't instill in him the need to always seek out consent? Well, thinking of how he could act in the future is unbearable. I owe it to him, and his sister, to seriously reflect on how the things he's learned perpetuates rape culture, so I can fix it. Now.

Ad failed to load

Affection Is Mandatory


When we urge our kids to hug a relative, or even us, when they don't want to, we're subconsciously teaching them that their boundaries and personal space mean nothing. I know my son prefers to have his space respected, and it occurred to me recently that imploring him to hug a relative is taking his bodily autonomy away from him

It's important to teach our kids, and our boys in particular, that hugs and kisses aren't assumed. Consent is always necessary. The best way to educate our children is through action. We must show our sons what acceptable, respectable behavior looks like, and that means respecting the moments when they don't want to touch someone, or be touched by someone.

Some People "Deserve It"


My kids argue a lot, just like my brother and I did when we were kids. It comes with the sibling territory. But when I blame both children for arguing, trying to figure out who "started it" and who reacted with violence, I mirror a situation in which a victim of sexual assault is blamed for the assault itself. If I dismiss my son's actions as "boys will be boys," I fail to hold him accountable for the pain he has caused his sister.

Aggression, in either of my kids, should be dealt with so that it doesn't manifest into something far more dangerous later on. If I allow my son to blame his sister for triggering his anger, I'm part of the problem.

Girls Should Dress With Boys In Mind


My son is always watching and listening. So if my daughter chooses to wear something that is inappropriate for school, because of the established school dress code, I try to tell her privately so not I don't unintentionally shame her in front of my son. If my son notices what his sister is wearing, and says something, it's important that I intervene and remind everyone involved that it's her body, her choice.

There's no denying that school dress codes that disproportionately target girls are problematic. And while I fight to combat the idea that what a female student wears is responsible for the attention span of a male student, I must mirror body positive talk at home.

Ad failed to load

You Pick On The People You Like


When boys bullied me in elementary school, administrators and parents told me it was because they liked me. The idea that inappropriate touching or acts of violence is in any way "romantic" perpetuates rape culture, so we must teach our sons that hitting, punching, kicking, yelling, bullying, or anything toxic and abusive isn't courting. It's violence.

Persistence Pays Off


I loathe the trope about the person who's eventually "won over" by a romantic interest simply because the person was persistent. In real life, that's called stalking. That's called manipulation. That's called control, and that's something I do not want my son to do.

My son will learn that no means no, not "keep trying."

Consent Is Evergreen


Giving someone your consent once does not mean that individual automatically has it in the future. Boundaries are confusing when you're 5, yes, but I need my son to understand that just because his sister let him hug her today, doesn't mean he can automatically hug her tomorrow.

None of these messages are easy to combat. The fact that I have to continually stop and think about what I'm doing to contribute to my son's actions, and the outside lessons he has learned, weighs heavily on me. I want my son, and my daughter, to grow up respecting consent and bodily autonomy, not further perpetuating rape culture with words or actions.

And for not it ends, and begins, at home.

Watch Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Check out the entire Romper's Doula Diaries series and other videos on Facebook and the Bustle app across Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire TV.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

These Millennial Parents Are Taking Gender-Neutral Parenting To An Entirely New Level

A woman on the subway looks at my bulbous shape and asks, “What are you having?” I take a deep breath and throw a glance to my 5-year-old. “I’m having a baby,” I say to the woman. “No, no” the woman says laughing as she pushes further. “Are you havin…
By Madison Young

I’m Registered At Babies “R” Us, & I'm Freaking The Hell Out

Hi. My name is Abi, and I’m registered at Babies “R” Us — and I’m freaking out. This may sound silly, but after being a die-hard Toys “R” Us kid, I was so excited to register at their baby store once my husband and I finally got our big fat positive …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

My Daughter Is Obsessed With Being "Pretty" & I'm Way Past Terrified

Last week, when I picked up my daughter after school, she immediately wanted to know if I liked her hair. "Is it pretty?" she asked. Her hair was pulled up into two ponytails that were intertwined into thick, long braids. A shimmering pink and purple…
By Dina Leygerman

7 Things No One Tells You About Having A Baby In Your 20s, But I Will

I was 24 when I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. The pregnancy was a surprise, since I was on birth control (side note: antibiotics and birth control don't mix), but my partner and I decided to continue with the pregnancy and committed to m…
By Candace Ganger

Women Who Miscarry Early Deserve To Grieve — Here's How Hospitals Should Be Helping

When I lost my baby back in 2013, it was because of a very early miscarriage. Because of the little amount of time I spent being pregnant, it was though my child had never really existed, which made the next few years hard — I felt like they had been…
By Risa Kerslake

7 Things I Wish My Partner Had Said To Me In The First Hour After Giving Birth

I don't know if it was the buzz of the surrounding machines, the non-existent cry of our son as the doctors tried to resuscitate him, or the fact that I'd already been through labor and delivery once before, but I knew something was missing after I h…
By Candace Ganger

Moms’ Groups Weren’t For Me, Sorry

I go to my moms’ club everyday of the week, but not usually on weekends. My moms' group is a place I can always count on finding fellow mothers who understand the daily struggles and triumphs of parenthood and of juggling life’s responsibilities. Dep…
By Samantha Taylor

Millennial Women Are Getting Married Later Than Gen X, & The Reasons Why Are Pretty Badass

The battle of the generations seems to come up when it comes to every lifestyle or career choice people make. Women, especially, are an important demographic when it comes to analysts looking at the lifestyle choices we make or the expected milestone…
By Josie Rhodes Cook

I've Had 3 Miscarriages But *Please* Keep Telling Me About Your Pregnancy

I can feel the tension the moment my friend announces her pregnancy. I can hear the forced nonchalant attitude she's willing herself to exude as she fishes for the ultrasound. I know why I was the last to learn that she was expecting; why she keeps l…
By Danielle Campoamor

7 Early Signs You're Going To Need An Epidural, According To Experts

Even if you've constructed an elaborate birth plan, it's impossible to control every aspect of labor and delivery. Complications can occur, proactive measures might be necessary, and your mind is subject to change when those damn contractions really …
By Candace Ganger

I'm Pregnant & I Refuse To Read Any Parenting Books

I didn't read any parenting books when I was expecting my daughter, and I refuse to read any parenting books as I await my second child now. I'm the first to admit that I don't really know what I'm doing when it comes to raising my daughter. A good d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

7 Reasons Why March Babies Are Total Badasses

From the moment you become pregnant, you begin to wonder what your little one will be like. Will they look like you, your partner, or your Great Aunt Edna? Will they be the quiet, thoughtful type or arrive on this planet raring to go? It's fun to ima…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

12 Overnight Face Masks To Use To Wake Up Feeling Pampered AF

Spring is right around the corner, and as far as I'm concerned, the sunshine and warm breezes can't come soon enough. But now that we're about to say goodbye to winter, it's a good time to take stock of your facial skincare routine. You know, in the …
By Katie Malczyk

11 Essential Products To Pack In Your Hospital Bag, According To OB-GYNs

The minute you go into labor (or think you're going into labor), chaos ensues. You and your partner are likely to get a little frantic, just like in the movies, so you most definitely want to have a hospital bag packed before the day comes. This prec…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

7 Photos You *Must* Take In The First 6 Months Of Motherhood

In my experience, becoming a mom is like becoming an amateur photographer. There's just something about the need to capture every single coo and sorta-smile that leaves you obsessed with all things photography. I know I couldn't stop taking selfies w…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How Early An Ultrasound Can Actually Determine Your Baby's Sex

From the moment you see those two lines on a pregnancy test, there are a few markers along the way that stand out as especially exciting. Amongst them are hearing your baby's heartbeat and feeling that first, sweet little kick. And if you are finding…
By Caroline Shannon-Karasik

9 Easy Kid Foods To Turn Green, Just In Time For St. Patrick's Day

The best part about having kids is that you get your own personal crew to celebrate the holidays with, in all your color coordinating and matching glory. And with St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, you are obviously working on turning everyth…
By Mishal Ali Zafar

Here Are Some Conditions That Might Require You To Be On Bed Rest During Pregnancy

When I worked in an office, I worked with quite a few pregnant ladies all at the same time. Something must have been in the water, because while I was there for three years, two of my coworkers got pregnant twice, and another girl was pregnant with h…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

I Didn't Follow The Pregnancy Diet Rules & My Daughter Turned Out Just Fine

My diet is an ever-changing and wholly personal thing, which is precisely why I refused to follow any pregnancy diet rules when I was expecting my daughter. For years, I've essentially practiced intuitive eating, in that I listen to my body and eat w…
By Marie Southard Ospina

5 Foods You & Your Partner Should Eat If You're Trying To Get Pregnant

When you're trying to conceive (TTC) and it's just not happening, it's easy to feel like you're doing something wrong. It can be soul-crushing to keep seeing negatives when all you really want to do is wave a positive pregnancy test in the air. So wh…
By Kate Miller