Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Consent isn't enough.


I'm sure most of you know about the rape case in Steubenville, OH. If you don't, a quick google search can tell you all you want to know. I haven't been following it too closely because to be honest, I have a hard time dealing with it emotionally. I don't want to know all the details. I have a pretty active imagination, to the point where empathizing with the victim makes me feel ill.

But it is hard for me for another reason. Namely, that I am the mother of a son. And when I (involuntarily) imagine myself as the mother of those sons, it is pure agony.

We like to think that we're good enough parents for that never to happen, but our children, in the end, are their own beings, free to make choices for good or for evil. I know nothing about those parents; I don't know what good and bad choices they made in raising their sons. But I do know that we live in a culture that wants to shape our boys, if not into rapists, then into men who have no idea of the dignity of women, of themselves, and of sexuality. As a parent trying to raise sons (or daughters), it's a battle to even stand in the checkout line of the grocery store, where magazine covers teach through headlines (and more importantly pictures) that women are objects to be consumed--and by extension, men's bodies are reduced to the tools of that consumption. The desires of men and women are distorted and then exploited by people who want their money.

People want to teach men not to be rapists by emphasizing consent; but rape starts long before that moment when a man decides to violate another's body against their consent. It starts long, long before that, in the way that men, as boys, are taught to view women. If you teach your son to view their own dignity and that of women with respect, then you will never have to even use the word "consent," because rape is something they would never even dream of. "Consent" was not a word that was part of my sexual education, because it was a GIVEN. And frankly, it's not enough, because consent isn't always clear cut. What about the woman who feels pressured, or who doesn't want to have sex but wants to prove she loves her boyfriend and so remains silent?

Simply emphasizing consent is not only inadequate, but exacerbates the problem by presenting a distorted view of sex. If consent is the ONLY requirement for sex to be hunky dory and okay, if everything else is fine from pornography to sadomasochism to whatever ... you are not preventing rape. Rapists are the people who choose to ignore consent, so throwing that word at them over and over does nothing. If we are not teaching our sons that our sexuality MEANS anything beyond base animal instinct and self-gratification and feeling good--if it is only about our bodies and not our souls--if it is only about pleasure--if we are not required to learn virtue and the strength say no to OURSELVES--do you really expect everyone to learn to listen when others say "no"?

I can only hope and pray for the grace to help my son grow into a godly man, one who resists pressure to cave in his beliefs, who has the courage to do hard things and holy things, who knows that his body is a temple and so is that of every woman he will ever meet.

St. Joseph, pray for us.

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