As a mom of a twenty-two year old daughter, I worry about the sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct stories coming out in the news seemingly every day. I’ve had many conversations with my daughter about the importance of speaking up and together we have applauded when victims are heard and perpetrators are given their just punishments. I worry about her safety and the circumstances she may encounter in the future.
But I am also a mom of two teenage boys and I worry about them too. This morning when my son asked me, “Mom, do you think ALL men are jerks?” I realized boys are affected by these stories in the news, too. My son described how everyone at school was talking about these sexual harassment stories and hating on men in general. He was getting the feeling that just because he was a male, he was being lumped into the category of “jerk,” that he was guilty simply due to his gender.
I started to think about how it must feel to be a boy in this current climate. These young guys are watching their male role models fall from grace on nearly a daily basis. They see men who are supposed to be good guys turn out to be jerks (and worse). They are listening to the deserving outrage of females but also to plenty of male bashing as well. Is this affecting the way they view themselves and their gender in general? By making broad statements such as, “All men are jerks,” we run the risk of damaging our sons’ self-concepts and creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
While it is so important to talk to our girls about sexual harassment and how to deal with it, it is equally important to talk to our boys about it as well. How can we help them see that a few bad apples don’t spoil the entire bushel? How do we ensure that they understand appropriate sexual boundaries and develop respect for women? As always, education and communication are the keys. We can use these stories in the news to spur difficult yet important conversations.
We can help preserve our sons’ self-esteems while educating them at the same time. It’s important to convey to them, “You are not a jerk just because you are a guy.” There are still plenty of good guys out there who do not do these things, just look at your dad, your uncles, your grandpa. Follow their example.
We can help them understand that women are angry and they deserve to be–but it doesn’t mean they hate all men.
We must teach our boys to be the good guys–to protect, support, and respect women and to stand up to the men who are behaving badly.