If you’ve been on social media in the last week or so, you could not avoid seeing post after post of “#MeToo.” Actress Alyssa Milano brought attention to the hashtag, encouraging women to come forward with their experiences of sexual abuse and harassment in partial response to the allegations against Hollywood movie executive, Harvey Weinstein. It is interesting to note that the “Me Too” movement actually began in 2007 by Tarana Burke to help give sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities a voice to help in their own healing of such abuse.
I read that over 1.4 million tweets and 13 million posts on Facebook used the hashtag, but I am willing to guess there is not a single woman who has not been subject to some form of sexual abuse or harassment in her lifetime. Why did it take a hashtag for our eyes to finally be opened to the fact that this is a REAL problem that can no longer be tolerated? Until we women are truly respected and valued and no longer viewed as objects by men, we will continue to hear despicable stories of abuse and see hashtags blow up our social media feeds.
As with any issue of great magnitude, it is hard to imagine where to begin to fix this. You may wonder, “Can my voice really make a difference?”
I am writing this to say, “YES! Your voice can make a difference!” and it starts in your own home. Mothers of boys, you MUST use your voice to talk to your sons about this problem. It may be uncomfortable. It may be embarrassing. But I encourage you to use your own experiences to let your boys know your expectations for how they treat females. Nothing will make a greater impact than your boys knowing that you too have been the victim of sexual harassment or abuse.
Here’s what I told my 16-year-old son this morning:
“Hey, son. First of all, you’re not in trouble. I just wanted to have a talk with you that might be kind of embarrassing, but it is important. I know you have been dating _____ and things are getting serious. I wanted to make sure you knew what my expectations are for you as far as how you treat ______ and women in general.”
Yes, there was a lot of shifting around in the chair and the avoidance of eye contact by my son.
“My hope for you, son, is that when you think you are ready to have sex with someone, you will make sure it is with someone very special to you. Though I would like to think you would wait until marriage, I know that might not be the case. But I hope you will not treat it like something to mark off your to-do list or something you have simply because it feels good in the moment. I think God created sex to be the highest and deepest expression of love between two people, and I hope you will never belittle that by choosing to have sex with just anybody without giving it a lot of thought.”
“When I was a teenager, I unfortunately didn’t have that opportunity. I was taken advantage of by someone who did not give me a choice in deciding whether it was something I was ready to share or not. This made me not see sex as something beautiful shared between two people. It was something that made me feel bad and ashamed. I never want you to feel that way, and I especially never want you to make a girl feel that way.”
I continued the conversation with a discussion about using protection to prevent pregnancy and STDs which honestly was more embarrassing to talk about than the other stuff.
And I also reiterated- because my boys have heard this from me multiple times before- part of his responsibilities as a man is to help a female if he thinks she is in trouble. Even if he doesn’t know the female. Even if it involves a friend not treating a female appropriately. Even if he feels like it is none of his business. He must have the courage to step in and help… Because perhaps someone could have helped me when I was in my moment of need.
Was it hard having this conversation? Yes. And sure- my son slinked out of his chair without saying much more than, “Ok, Mom.” But in less than five minutes, my voice was heard. My son knows what I expect of him as a man. And hopefully my boy will never be the cause of a someone typing “#MeToo” in the future.
Moms, talk to your boys. Have the uncomfortable conversations. Use your own experiences to teach your son how to treat women. This is how we can make change in the world.
Now that I have had this conversation, the door is open, and I can tell my son about-
The time my date wouldn’t drive me home, and I had to run from his house to a friend’s house to get away.
The time a complete stranger called me the C-word in the middle of a party.
The time someone cornered me in a kitchen and grabbed my butt.
The time my client asked me to sit in the front row to distract the judge with my sexy legs.
The time my cab driver played a cassette tape with the sounds of people having sex.