You are still a little boy and we’ve only begun to really talk about all of the weird and wonderful things that there are to know in life. I think you’re doing an excellent job of understanding as best you can, though, and I think you realize that I only understand things a little bit better than you do.
We’ve also been talking a little bit about the bad things in life, about violence and poverty and things like that. These are even harder to understand and you can’t begin to imagine how nervous I am about being the person to explain them to you.
But it is my job, my duty, to do my best, to open the channels of dialog with you, to allow you to ask questions, to be honest about not having all of the answers, and to ask you questions to better understand your perspective on things.
One of the most puzzling aspects of humanity is gender and power and how people of different genders interact with each other. There are boys and there are girls and there are lots of people who are in between. Do you remember when we were talking about time and how I told you that it was something that humans created to help them make sense of the world? Gender is another one of those things. Boys and girls, at their core, are not fundamentally different creatures. But over many, many years, people sort of assigned roles and behaviors to both sexes. For better or worse, this also helped people to make sense of the world.
I will be perfectly honest with you: if I live to be 1,000 years old, I will never really understand gender. I’m a feminist, and there’s a lot about that that I don’t understand, either. I think you’ll find that, as you become a man, there are a lot of things that you won’t understand, either. And that’s okay.
But let’s agree on this: men and women, whatever their differences, are equal. Throughout history, and even today, people forget this. And when they do, things get very, very ugly.
A few days ago, a young girl went to a dance at her high school. And, like many high school kids, she took the opportunity to do something kind of taboo and drank alcohol with her friends.
What happened next was one of those truly awful things that I don’t know how to explain. My baby, some boys only a few years older than you hurt her very badly. Very badly. They did something called “rape.” Rape is when you have sex with someone even though they don’t want to or aren’t able to tell you whether or not they want to.
We’ve talked about sex a little, about how people have sex because they love each other or really like each other in certain ways or they want to make a baby. Sex is a good thing, a fun thing, a beautiful thing. It’s something that I know you will enjoy very much when you are older and ready to handle it.
Rape is a horrible thing. And what made this rape even more upsetting is that many people who knew this girl watched this happen to her. Many people who knew this girl, who sat next to her in class, decided to join in. Many people, who were perhaps this girl’s neighbors, took pictures. Many people could have stopped her from being hurt so badly.
None of them did.
It may seem silly to tell you that there are some things that you must never do. And perhaps the parents of those boys just assumed that they knew better. Or maybe their parents said some mean things about women that led them to believe that hurting girls is not that bad. Or maybe they heard some “logic” that some girls “ask for it.”
Son, you must never, NEVER, rape someone. It is never okay. If you are ever uncertain about whether or not the person you are with wants to have sex with you, you must stop. If you are ever in a situation like those boys were and you see someone being hurt in such a way, you must do what you can to make it stop. Even if you’re scared, even if it means that you’ll lose some friends.
You will hear a lot of, “Well, yeah, but…” conversations about these matters. You will hear a lot about what people should do to avoid being raped. These are certainly good pieces of advice. However, very rarely will you hear advice about what people can do to avoid being rapists.
As your mother, and as a woman, I am here to tell you that it is never okay to rape someone and I don’t care what the circumstances are. I don’t care if there’s a dark, unsafe area. I don’t care if there’s alcohol or drugs involved. I don’t care if there are skimpy clothes or suggestive dancing. I don’t even care if sex is already happening and someone changes their mind.
Just as I would tell you that you must never hit someone (unless, you know, there’s a dire need to do and we’ll discuss that, too), and that you must never kill someone, and that you must never treat someone poorly, you must never rape. Never.
I don’t know how these things happen, and I don’t know what was going through the minds of those boys that night, but I’m willing to bet that no one ever really told them that it was never okay to rape, that no one told them that it was never okay to stand by and watch someone be hurt so badly.
I am telling you that it’s not.
And for as long as I have words to share with you, I am always here to talk to you about it.