Recently my daughter shouted, "You broke my toy, now you'll get what you deserve!" at her brother and my heart dropped. I ran to my son, dried his tears, and wondered where my daughter learned that from. People who make mistakes don't deserve bad things happening to them. That's not what I believe at all. Had I done something to teach her victim-blaming is OK? As a sexual assault survivor, I know it's impossible to escape rape culture. As a mom, I've learned there are things parents do every day that perpetuate rape culture, too. Most of the time, without realizing it or meaning to.
There are the overt examples of perpetuating rape culture, like telling or laughing at rape jokes, not stopping what you are doing when someone says no, or saying "boys will be boys" when a man does something problematic. But there are also more subtle examples, too, like when you call someone's outfit slutty, make your child kiss their grandma, or make jokes about "rules for dating" your daughter. These things seem so innocent, but they can really do damage by teaching your girls that they are sexual objects or your boys that they can get away with bad behavior. In fact, in general, the aforementioned examples teach all kids that they don't have a right to bodily autonomy.
Because we live in a rape culture, us parents have our work cut out for us if we want to prevent or undo the damage. We have to be more conscious about what we do and say in front of our kids. The good news, though? Us parents are huge influencers in our kids' lives. We have the power to change the way our kids see and interact with the world, to advocate for our kids, and teach them our values, not our rape culture's values. We just have to unlearn a few bad habits to get started. It isn't easy, but our kids totally deserve it.
When We Enforce Sexist Dress Codes
As parents, my partner and I respect our kids as individuals, including their right to bodily autonomy and to choose their own hairstyle, clothes, and/or style without interference. As a result, we are often challenged by sexist school dress codes. They seem innocent, and many parents don't even think twice about making their kids follow them. But, honestly, there's no other way to look at a dress code about no spaghetti straps for elementary-aged girls than subtle slut-shaming. These "rules" imply that girls' bodies need to be policed, or that female bodies are "distracting" to boys, which is so messed up. Besides, we are talking about children. Can we please stop sexualizing children?
We shouldn't subtly or overtly shame our kids for what they are wearing, especially when it really doesn't have anything to do with their ability to learn and when there are different rules for boys and girls.
When We Let People Touch Our Child Without Their Permission
Bodily autonomy is the concept that your body belongs to you and no one else. We all want our kids to safely grow into confident adults and teaching them about bodily autonomy and consent is a great place to start. However, as parents, we break these "rules" all the time. Anytime you don't stop when your child doesn't want to be tickled, make them kiss grandma, or make them sit on Santa's lap, we relay the wrong message about bodily autonomy.
When We Make Jokes About Who Can Date Our Daughters
When we found out we were having a daughter, my now ex-husband almost immediately started joking about sitting on the front porch with a shotgun when boys come to pick her up for dates. I didn't laugh.
We don't get to decide who our children date, and we really shouldn't threaten to harm their future partner. Bullsh*t jokes about fathers having "rules for dating my daughter" assume ownership or decision-making authority over our children always. Parents, our kids are not property.
Plus, these so-called "rules" are super heteronormative and that's gross.
When We Victim-Blame A Child Who Got Hurt
"Mom, he hit me."
"Well, did you do something to him first?"
I find myself doing this all of the time, and I really need to stop it. Victim-blaming is not OK, even for innocent things. I really need to find another way to find out what happened. A better strategy would be to simply ask, "What happened?" or ask my kids how I can help, beyond getting their siblings in trouble. It's so hard.
When We Say "Boys Will Be Boys"
Saying "boys will be boys" is not only harmful to girls, but to boys, too. We shouldn't expect less of our sons just because they identify as boys. And we shouldn't contribute to rape culture by giving people who do harmful things a pass, or worse, teaching our sons that it's OK to be loud, rowdy, and damaging to those around them. We shouldn't expect them to treat women and girls poorly just because they're men. We should expect more from our sons.
When We Slut-Shame Someone In Front Of Our Kids
Slut-shaming is not cool, ever, but especially not in front of your kids. So when you comment about someone's slutty outfit, short skirt, or wonder out loud if she should be "wearing that" at her age or with her body type, you reinforce some really problematic concepts. Besides, what you wear doesn't make you a so-called "slut," and having lots of sex is not a bad thing (yes, even if you are woman). We have got to stop reinforcing these sexist stereotypes that praise men for being sexually active, but shame women for doing the same.
When We Teach Our Daughters About Personal Safety...
I clearly remember the moment, during college orientation, when I received my "rape whistle" and was required to take a "women's personal safety" course. Of course we want to keep our kids safe, but the problem with telling our daughters that they are responsible for keeping themselves safe from harm (typically from strangers) is that when and/or if something bad happens, they think it's their fault. The only "rape prevention tip" that really works is teaching boys not to rape. Period.
...But We Don't Teach Our Sons About Consent
In our house, we teach our kids to stop when someone says "stop" or otherwise indicates that they have had enough or don't want to be touched. It may seem like overkill to teach our kids to ask for consent, and that they need to respect someone's wishes when they say "no," but it's not. In my opinion, we need to teach our kids about consent if we want to protect them from harm, and perhaps more importantly, to stop rape culture from teaching them the opposite.
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