The rise of the #MeToo movement the last six months has forced me to see things differently. I look at pop culture with a more critical eye, I pay closer attention to social media, and I am more likely to notice subtle misogyny in the world around me. This awareness has shifted my perspective in a variety of ways, none more than how I parent my two sons.
Consider the song “Gaston” from the Disney movie “Beauty and the Beast.” Gaston fumes, “Who does she think she is? That girl has tangled with the wrong man! No one says no to Gaston.”
I’ve heard this song hundreds of times but didn’t consider until recently the disturbing standard it sets for how women can be treated. It is perpetuating the belief that because Gaston is a man, Belle isn’t allowed to tell him no. That is a frightening interpretation of consent and one I don’t want my sons to learn.
Teaching consent starts early by allowing children to choose their own boundaries and then respecting what they’ve chosen. A child has the right to say no to a hug, to say that a certain type of touch feels uncomfortable (even if it seems innocuous to us), and to shut down a situation that seems threatening. Even very young children can understand that they should ask before they touch someone and that everyone has the right to say no. This is the basis of consent—not only does “no mean no” but anything besides an enthusiastic yes also means no.
We’ve had these conversations over and over in my home and they won’t stop any time soon. As the boys age, the conversations will become more frank. They’ll include real stories of men who have violated consent and women who have suffered because of it. We’ll discuss drug and alcohol use by them and their partners and how each eliminates true consent. These conversations won’t happen all at once; they’ll weave in and out of our everyday life and be much like a drip, drip, drip of a presence. Even if we think our sons wouldn’t ever violate someone’s consent, we still need to have the conversations over and over again. Because every boy who violates consent is someone’s son.
We also won’t forget the part about standing up to others and dealing with talk and actions that demean women and encourage harassment. They’ll know what language to use and who to go to for help if a situation seems impossible. And if someone confides in one of my sons that they have been a victim of sexual assault, we’ll teach them to say, “I believe you” and then, “What can I do to help?”
The #MeToo movement and the stark reality of the prevalence of sexual harassment, coercion and violence have been heartbreaking for me. But I know I can turn that heartbreak into something positive and something tangible through my parenting and the two sons I am blessed to raise.
Meredith Browand is a mother and activist who lives in Purdy.
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