Dear parents. We need to talk about your sons

Dear parents of boys and young me,

I am writing because we need to talk about your sons.

All of them.

The good boys, the bad boys, the well-meaning boys who are simply led astray on occasion.

We need to have a conversation that doesn’t leave anyone out.

First, I want to acknowledge that I am not a parent.

I have no personal experience of what it is like to raise children.

I am certainly not going to try to tell you how to raise your kids.

I am, however, a young woman. And I have been targeted by some of your sons.

I’ve had some of your sons send me messages to tell me to “shove my stupid incorrect opinions up my ...” well, I’m sure you can fill in the blank.

Or that I am a “disgusting h**” that apparently uses feminism as justification for not getting any sex.

I’m not sure how that’s logically possible, but I digress.

I’ve been catcalled and heckled by them. When I was teenager, I experienced unwanted sexual contact at the hands of a couple of them.

I know that most of your sons are “good boys”.

I know many good men, and I know they would never dream of treating a woman with anything other than the utmost respect.

I know that teenagers do stupid things sometimes, and that one bad apple can spread rot throughout the whole crop.

I know that everyone makes mistakes.

But I also know that some of those mistakes hurt people.

Some of those mistakes can turn girls and young women into victims and survivors.

They can turn good boys into perpetrators of violence and send good kids down a bad road.

They can cause damage that reverberates down the years.

When I talk about the mistakes some young men make, I’m often told that, “boys will be boys”.

I’ve never been able to fully grasp what that is supposed to mean.

It seems to me that the phrase uses a surface truism to minimise and excuse harmful and disrespectful behaviour, especially if that behaviour results in the victimisation of a girl or woman.

I don’t want our boys and young men to be the kind of people that the phrase “boys will be boys” is applied to.

I want them to be decent and respectful human beings.

And I’m sure you do too.

Somewhere along the line, however, your sons are likely being exposed to some pretty disturbing messages, no matter how careful, engaged, loving and protective you are as a parent.

Even if you’re sure that your son is not accessing violent online porn.

Even if you would swear that he’s not hanging out in hyper-masculine online forums, engaging in cyber abuse on social media, playing violent and misogynistic video games, listening to sexist music or participating in secret Facebook groups where boys go to make rape jokes and discuss harassing women, it’s highly likely that he has at least one friend who is.

Rape culture doesn’t discriminate between good people and bad people.

It doesn’t differentiate between low decile and high decile schools.

It’s in the air we all breathe.

It’s an ugly term, isn’t it; rape culture? It’s a phrase that always catches in my throat, snagging my sensibilities and making me feel nauseous.

I don’t enjoy using it any more than you enjoy reading about it, but I don’t have the luxury of pretending that it doesn’t exist.

My honest opinion is that burying our heads in the sand over this will have a devastating effect in years to come.

We’re already beginning to see the destruction when we have young men seeking treatment after finding that they cannot be sexually intimate with a real woman after years of masturbating to hardcore porn.

From Roast Busters to the recent events at Wellington colleges, it seems fairly clear to me that we have a serious problem.

I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume that I have the solutions, but I believe that it would be in our best interests as a nation to come together for a meaningful kōrero about the effects rape culture is having on our young people.

We would do well to follow the lead of the brave young women in Wellington who took their concerns to the grounds of Parliament.

They have shown a level of leadership on this issue that belies their years.

They deserve action, and the boys involved in the incidents in Wellington do too.

Rape culture doesn’t exclusively hurt our young women, it harms our young men as well.

If young men grow up thinking that the idea of raping an inebriated woman is funny, what kind of impact will that have on their future relationships?

What kinds of messages will they pass on to their own sons and daughters?

What harm may they be capable of if such dangerous attitudes go unchecked?

I am not saying for a second that your sons are monsters.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet a number of them, and they are generally wonderful. They are, however, growing up in a time when exposure to harmful and disturbing messages is more widespread than ever before.

The porn they’re accessing is nothing like the porn of your youth.

Playboy, Maxim et al are laughably tame compared with the smorgasbord of positions, configurations, and outcomes now available at the tap of a screen.

Many of them are engaging with porn many years before they become sexually active.

For some of them, porn is their only reference point for sex.

In light of all this, I’m writing to implore you to join the conversation about rape culture, if you haven’t already. I know that many of you are already addressing these issues head on with your sons, but we can’t afford to let any of our young men fall through the cracks.

Thank you for all of the great work that you do raising the next generation.


Yours respectfully,

Lizzie Marvelly 

The NZ Herald

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