Raising Children to Resist Rape Culture: Part 1

Part 1 of Raising Children to Resist Rape Culture

There are lots of scary things about having a baby. After all, you are responsible for literally keeping them alive and performing all basic functions of feeding, cleaning, and clothing them from birth till- well, my kid is 20 months old but I don’t see any end in sight. For some, parenting can be scary and if you’re like me, you worry a lot. About whether they are happy, healthy, and if they are going to be a biter in preschool (just me?).

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The Worry is strong in this one. Three days old.

I can so clearly remember the moment when I was 20 weeks pregnant, lying on the table for an ultrasound that would reveal the gender of the little life I was carrying within me. That moment sticks out, not because I was hoping or wishing for one gender in particular, but because it was one of the first times I remember feeling truly scared about parenting. It wasn’t the (oh so real) sleep deprivation that I was fearful of, or whether the baby would have proper latch technique (which was apparently a thing). In that moment, I was scared and worried because I knew that whatever the ultrasound tech with her wand and cold jelly was going to tell me, that I was responsible for raising this child in a society completely permeated by rape culture. And that terrified me. It still does. Why?

Because I knew that if the wand woman told me I was having a boy, he would be growing up in a world that condones and endorses rape. This is the very definition of rape culture, and the dominant culture would make it excruciatingly easy for him view girls and women as objects of sexual desire. It wouldn’t matter how nice or gentle a man he might become- he would still always benefit from women’s fear of being hurt for saying no, as all men do, even in non-sexual situations. Lastly, I knew he would be constrained from a very young age by a toxic code of masculinity, reinforced and perpetuated by the prescriptive gender roles of the dominant culture, and that additionally, because he would be multiracial, his masculinity would also be viewed through a racialized lens. 

And if she had said, “it’s a girl!” I knew all too well that her body would be sexualized at a young age. I also understood that the structures of authority in her life from school, to sports, to church “purity” culture, would force her to assume responsibility for the objectification and sexualization of her own body. If she attended college, she would have a 1 in 5 chance of being raped and the odds of her rapist facing any consequences would be minuscule. She would live in a world that told her the only way women can avoid rape is to change their behavior or their clothes or their actions and if she didn’t follow this narrative, she would be shamed. Not only this, but, once again, I knew that violence against her body would racialized, since she would have a white mother and Korean-American father.

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As it happened, I had a boy. And yes, the whole “keeping him alive” thing has kept me busy, but I am still, even as young as he is, seeking a faithful and feminist way to raise my son to resist rape culture. Let me be clear- I do not do this because I am trying to brainwash my child into liberalism or whatever else  . I do this for the simple fact that God calls me to. God calls us- all of God’s people- to be healers of the world and rape culture is hurting us all, men, women, and children alike.

How? Victim-blaming, the foundation of rape culture, teaches men and boys that they are without autonomy, that their actions can and will be repeatedly excused without consequences, as per the old adage“boys will be boys.” This creates a culture of toxic masculinity where men are socialized to be violent, unemotional, and sexually aggressive, thus domestic abuse and partner rape also flourish. Rape culture spreads false myths about sex which, in combination with poor sexual education across the U.S., produces young men and women who don’t the basic tenets of consent, such as the fact that the absence of no is not equivalent to yes. When women and girls, who face threats of sexual violence everywhere, from the street corner to online spheres of social media, dare to express negative feelings about their objectification, they are routinely ridiculed as overreactors, as “angry feminists,” their outrage reduced as anecdotal, and they are, of course, shamed for daring to speak out . Those of us who are white women also need to understand the particular risk facing women of color and transgender women, towards whom sexual violence is statistically more likely as it is amplified by white supremacy and transphobia- we as white women should lift up their voices as they are doubly and triply silenced. 

Women are told, over and over again, that it is their responsibility to keep themselves safe. And in the event that you fail, rape culture will ensure that people will blame you for dropping your vigilance, while directing little, if any attention to the person who actually acted without consent. -LaToya Peterson

This is our world. Female trauma and rape are reduced to character-building plot devices or byproducts of “historical accuracy” in popular media. Everywhere we turn, rape culture is normalized and perpetuated. Just in the past month, we have a campus police chief who can publicly state that he thinks most women who claimed to be rape are lying, and a sheriff who can say of a 12-year old girl, raped in a CVS bathroom in Texas, “she wasn’t all that unwilling.” Both still have jobs. Pastor, writer, and activist Mihee Kim Kort uses despicable ads from huge, multi-million dollar corporations to illustrate the insidious ways rape culture is constantly “trafficking women’s bodies” with “words, images, and stories” as well as physical violence. 

And so I worry about my son and the other children whose lives and identities matter so much to me- how do we raise and teach children to develop a powerful counter-cultural view towards rape and sexual violence? Because the problem is that rape culture is an inescapable byproduct of our heteropatriarchal society, helping to maintain the systematic privilege of cisgender men while simultaneously reducing women to objects of sexual gratification. We know that this is antithetical to the Gospel and to God’s purpose for us as human beings.

God is the Great Creator who gives each of our identities value and worth. My identity as a woman is a reflection of my full humanity before God and the God-in-me. When we teach our children that each and every one of us have been God-breathed into life, then we speak out against the dominant culture of our day and boldly make the intersectional claim that each of our individual liberation is bound up in the liberation of us all, to paraphrase Lilla Watson. But this task goes beyond simply (if we can call it that) teaching our kids respect and love for all.  We must also call out and name the destructive injustices of rape culture in order to begin a journey towards healing these deep wounds. 

So as a parent and as a woman, I am grateful to those who are already doing the work of naming the injustice and sin of rape culture, and whose writing and theology have helped me think deeply about this issue and from whom we all can learn much- just off the top of my head I can think of Dianna E. Anderson, Austin Channing, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey and Mihee Kim Kort and I know there are many more.

It is my hope that the Church will help me raise my child, and the many, many other children I care for deeply, to not only resist but dismantle rape culture. We must be the generation that teaches our boys not to assault, so that we will not have to teach our girls to be scared. We must envision a world without rape, and this means we must leave fear behind and start imagining a new reality. What would a world healed of rape culture look like? As time goes on, I will add to this series in order to share my journey in mindfully parenting against rape culture. I would love to engage in more conversations about how we as parents, as people who care deeply for children, and as the Church, can do this work as a community. I look forward to those conversations, in whatever form they might take.

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