When my son grows up, I hope he is like his dad. If not, I hope he is like this guy.

 

There’s an article you should read. I’ll tell you about it in a minute. First I have to tell you this story:

The other day, while at the train station, my sister-in-law saw a bunch of college age dudes checking out the posterior-region of my thirteen-year-old child. “I just didn’t know what to do,” she told me. “It was so galling and so totally out of the realm of what I expected. I felt torn between wanting to tell them off and wanting to usher my beautiful niece as quickly as possible out of the vicinity so that she wouldn’t ever know what happened, and wanting to kick them all in their respective groins. I chose the middle thing.”

(I told her about a similar instance where I ducked behind my innocent child, looked the offending onlookers straight in the eye, gave them my laser-beam stare, and gave them the ole double-middle-fingers. These men were my age. They, suddenly realizing how young the girl at my side actually was, turned beet-red and skedaddled.

We didn’t know, their faces said.

Fuck you, said mine.)

Here’s the thing. In my younger years – on the 21 bus on Lake Street in Minneapolis during high school, at parties and on the job and once even during a professor’s office hours during college, on airplanes and in bars and walking home late at night and again on the job in my twenties, and even at professional conventions in my thirties – I have been subjected to groping, oggling, propositioning, butt-grabbing, space-invading, unwanted pick-upping, cat-calling and even scary and gross insistence (You know you want this, he said. No I do not, I said. Then why are you – OUCH! he said. And then I didn’t need to say anything at all.). It happens. We all know it happens.

To cope with these things I have used a variety of tactics – my fists (twice), my feet (a lot – I am fast), my sharp tongue (in both English and halting Spanish! And once in very bad French! Hooray for lingualism!), my clever maneuvers and quick thinking, and once, the very lucky appearance of a bus.

In my teens and twenties, my body was a liability. A vulnerability. I was not my mind. I was not my accomplishments. I was not my life. I was not my friends or my ideas or my care or my love. I was flesh and breast; I was lips and hair. And nothing else. The world that I loved was full of threats. And it made me angry. This has been true in my thirties as well, though less so, primarily due to circumstance. I live with a good man who is wildly in love with his wife, and associate primarily with good people of both genders with whom we collectively care for our children and trade stories and share food and love our respective spouses. It’s a good life, and I don’t venture away from it all that often. There’s a benefit to not getting out much. I had one horrible experience with an editor at a SFF convention (there was luring, there was a conversation that I thought was platonic but apparently was not, there was a sudden shirt removal and a lot of explosive chest hair and a proposition and a very astonished mother-of-three who had no idea how to respond. Of course I didn’t. I was out of practice), and it makes me reluctant to leave the safety of my neighborhood, to be honest.

But my safety is no longer my main concern. Now I have daughters. And I have to warn them.

We train our daughters to be street smart and tough. We train our daughters to be aware, to know the escape routes of any room, to have a buddy, to protect and protect and protect. We tell our daughters that this is the world we live in. It sucks sometimes. Be tough and be tougher. Find your allies. Make a battle plan. Know the weak spots. Fight. 

My oldest left earlier this summer for a three week summer camp. She was going to be in a dorm, in a college. I’ve been to college. I know what goes on there. So we had to have Conversations. The first one was called “Why You Should Never Leave Your Drink Unattended”. The second one was called “The Buddy System – Not Just For the Beach!” The third was called “How to Know When to Knee a Boy in the Gonads: A Primer”.

And it breaks us to tell our girls these things. It breaks us in half.

Lately, my beloved SFF community has been in some intense conversations about harassment and autonomy and the rights of any individual to feel safe in their environment. Since I have been limiting my time online, I have missed much of these conversations, but they continue, and they deepen and they are important. Folks have been talking about  respect and consent and have been outing serial harassers. A bright light now shines on bad behavior – which is good because bad behavior can only be addressed when it is named, clarified and known. People can learn. They can become aware of their privilege. They can change. I truly believe this.

There was the ugliness at Wiscon and then the attacks on N.K. Jemison after she (rightly) called Theodore Beale a sexist and racist a-hole, and then of course this little brouhaha. It makes me tired, is what.

Then, my darling Genevieve Valentine wrote a piece called “Dealing With It”, which I would urge all mothers to read, and to give it to their daughters. If my daughters are as tough as Genevieve, I will have succeeded beyond my wildest imaginings. And the overwhelmingly positive feedback she’s gotten from the piece is telling, I think. We’re all of us dealing with it. And sometimes we have to push back with all our might just to stand still. And sometimes that’s a colossal success.

But then I look at my son, and I wonder what kind of man he will be. How aware is he of his privileged status in our culture? How can I, as his mother, train him to be conscientious and kind, generous and brave, to use his strengthened position to do good in the world and to stand up for others? How does he resist being the guy who takes up more space, who uses more resources, who operates with impunity just because he can? Because we have all met that guy. And nobody likes that guy.

Which brought me to this gentleman, who wrote this piece: “Changing the Creepy Guy Narrative.” Stop what you’re doing and read that piece. I have printed it out and made a file called “Things To Show my Son”.  This is not to say that we should all start sexually harassing the sexual harassers (though it does make for good blog posts), but it is to say that we have a voice. And our voices matter. And my son has a voice too. And I hope he uses it.

How can we, as thoughtful citizens, shine a light on obnoxious behavior? How can we call wrongdoers to task, identify and clarify bad behavior, and insist on change?

We can’t force change. But we can insist. There’s a difference. John Scalzi is insisting. So is Tobias Buckell. So are a lot of people. And so am I.

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8 thoughts on “When my son grows up, I hope he is like his dad. If not, I hope he is like this guy.

  1. Re this: ” I had one horrible experience with an editor at a SFF convention (there was luring, there was a conversation that I thought was platonic but apparently was not, there was a sudden shirt removal and a lot of explosive chest hair and a proposition and a very astonished mother-of-three who had no idea how to respond. Of course I didn’t. I was out of practice” Are you following the news about SF editor James Frenkel ?

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    • I have been following that story, and it makes me sad – particularly since the inciting incident occurred at Wiscon, which is a magic and wonderful event. I keep thinking about a phrase that a woman said to me, years ago, back when I was a waitress at Keiran’s Irish Pub. This was back in the mid nineties. I was nineteen and slinging beers for college money. In those days, the bar was on Third Street, just across from a “gentlemen’s club” called Sheik’s. We would get their crowd filtering over, and they were already drunk on gin and high on naked ladies and boners. And they would say things. Ugly things. About my legs, about my butt, about what I might look like naked, about what they’d do to me if they had a chance. One of the other waitresses, a very beautiful woman in her forties, was very adept at telling them off. With swears. Then she’d look at me, roll her eyes and say, “Another day; another douchebag.”

      Granted, “douchebag” is a sexist term and should be avoided. But here it was very apt.

      • 1) I admire your coworker. And I’m sorry you were subjected to that treatment.

        2) I sent that query after reading the passage I quoted, and before I saw your link to “the ugliness at Wiscon.” Sad all around — esp that it happened at WisCon, one of my favorite events.

  2. The biggest influence on your son’s understanding of how he ought to treat women is his opportunity to observe how your husband treats you. So it sounds like he’ll be fine!

    That said, you make several great points. We must all insist!

  3. If we are to truly end gendered violence in our society, it has to start with boys and men respecting women and other men. I would think the best thing you can do is to always talk about it. Never ignore, and use ongoing social events as ways to talk about privilege. I love that you, as a parent, are thinking about this =) it’s a sign of hope for change!

    • I hope so. This whole “men’s rights” malarky on the internets is a concern for me, combined with the completely obnoxious “alpha male” nonsense. The net has become a hotbed for misogyny, and the language has become more ugly and more violent. The people on those sites want to punish women. Hell if I know why.

      In any case, the rules in my house are as follows: Be thoughtful; be respectful; be fair; be someone’s hero. The more my kids focus on what they feel entitled to possess, the more unhappy they’ll actually be. The only path toward happiness is the good we do for others. That’s my philosophy.

      • Yea mens’ rights and fathers’ rights groups are…sometimes just scary. They espouse so many lies and spew so much hatred (sigh).

        And great philosophy. well said, I really like it!

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