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Note: I originally posted this in May of 2014. In view of the news and revived public conversation about the conduct of men, particularly men in positions of power, toward women I think Leo’s words below are very important.
Growing up I had heavy exposure to women as I lived with my mother, 4 sisters and grandmother. I learned early on that their experience of life was completely different than mine. In fact it is one I can’t experience. Now, in the wake of the tragic shootings in Santa Barbara I’m reminded of that again. Leo Babauta author of zen habits (http://zenhabits.net) posted the following about raising young men who respect women. It really hit home as true parenting advice. This needs to be in our cultural conversation as it addresses one of the many ‘elephants in the room’.
Posted: 27 May 2014 08:55 AM PDT
By Leo Babauta
The shootings near Santa Barbara on Friday night hit too close to my heart: my daughter attends college at UC Santa Barbara and lives minutes from where this tragedy happened.
She’s safe, but shaken not only by the nearness and severity of this hate crime … but by the misogynistic diatribes by some men she’s been reading online. These are men who agree with the sentiments of the killer’s “war on women”, who call him their hero.
That’s unbelievable to me, but it highlights a huge problem in our society: that women are objectified, treated like toys, treated like meat, insulted, abused, raped, and then made to feel it’s their fault. Sure, not all men do it, but the fact that pretty much every woman experiences some degree of this fear and humiliation is horrifying.
It’s horrifying as a father of three daughters, who will have to experience this their whole lives, worrying about being raped if they walk alone, putting off unwanted sexual advances, being made to feel like a slut.
And it’s worrying as a father of teen-age sons, who will either participate in this type of treatment of women, or watch as it happens … or perhaps become a part of the solution.
I’d like to speak today to my fellow parents who are raising young men … whether your sons are in college, high school or middle school, let’s talk to them.
Let’s teach them what it’s like to respect women.
Let’s let them read the YesAllWomen discussion going on right now, and help them see the point of view of women who have been abused or raped, who feel degraded or unsafe, who are treated as things that must give sex to more powerful men. Let’s let them hear the stories, so they can understand, empathize.
Let’s have this discussion, because if it’s not talked about, nothing will change.
Let’s set the example for them, and treat women with respect, with compassion, as equals and not objects.
Let’s talk to them when they see TV shows or movies or music videos where women are portrayed as sex objects, and why that happens, and how to see them as fellow human beings instead.
Let’s talk to them about what it’s like to feel powerless when someone wants to violate you, use your body without your permission, treat you as less than human.
Let’s help them open their hearts, as we try to open our own, to feel the pain of the victims of abuse, without blaming them for their choices, blaming them for how they dress.
Let’s talk about how we as a society shame women for how they dress, which of their body parts they show, but never make men feel that way. A guy can go shirtless but a woman can’t show her shoulders or bra strap.
Let’s talk about “slut shaming” and how we make girls feel bad if they enjoy sex as much as a guy does. I know I’ve participated in this myself in the past, and have only in recent years been changing my behavior.
Change is possible, but it has to start with us.
Let’s make this world a better place for our daughters, our mothers, our sisters, our friends. Our fellow human beings. Because every one of us deserves to feel respected, and safe.