Okay, so we all need an emotional outlet. We need to be heard and acknowledged, and we need redemption. Skin or Deborah Anne Dyer OBE sings the song ‘Weak’ with all the fight and breath she can put into it, because it’s just wrong to be violated and it’s equally wrong to become a violator. Yes, we become violators…
The cycle of oppression and the fight against it continues. The British band Skunk Anansie and their vocalist Skin gave us the song ‘Weak’ back in 1995: millions sang it, and millions continue to sing it (last year the band performed for a quarter of a million people in Poland).
Weak as I am, no tears for you
Weak as I am, no tears for you
Deep as I am, I’m no one’s fool
Weak as I am
In this tainted soul
In this weak young heart
Am I too much for you?
I live in a country where 88 women are raped every day: what ever happened to the goddesses we celebrate with such devotion? That’s why when women tell me that India has a rich history of treating women with respect, I recoil, because I would rather not be sucked into the void of ignorance. It’s easy to speak of goddesses and cultural heritage when you haven’t experienced what so many women, girls, and babies are experiencing daily. And I am certain there are violated little boys, who don’t get covered by media reports.
I think we women need to recognise that we are not raising our boys—and our girls—well. Positive Masculinity is an essential part of the stand against sexual and gender violence. To turn the situation around, men need to learn to respect not just women, but to respect boundaries, and women too need to learn that it’s okay to have boundaries. This lesson begins with our response to our sons and our daughters, a large part of early childhood is with the mother and the other women in the house, we are teachers and nurtures, and we need to own this role: each one of those ~88 rapes puts the onus on us.
I often wonder if a mother’s bias towards her son comes from social acceptance, deeply rooted in our subconscious, and if her own upbringing as a girl (missing in symmetry and marked by prejudice) makes her an insufficient example that the daughter emulates? This is a question for the new-gen. of mothers, who have the respect that all people deserve. We are the ones who need to take the most responsibility, because we are the ones with the privilege of social recognition and physical security.
No means no worldwide has done a fantastic job of including positive masculinity and assertive voice in their program. The children they train in countries in Africa are learning to protect and to resist. When both boys and girls learn to maintain their personal boundaries in relationships and interactions, they will begin to learn how to be equals and friends in the true sense: it is an irrefutable necessity. Till such time, we will be fighting a losing battle, because laws can punish but they cannot alter the mental orientation that leads to crimes of sexual violence and abuse.
The trouble with lust is its prevalence; it is as habitual as greed or anger (and as violent), and to keep it under control is a matter of developing the right habits or of developing an evolved consciousness; the latter is hard to attain, and the former is important to build: Preaching is insufficient, we need to be aware of the environment we are creating for the maturation of children.
About a month back, I watched a group of six children play tag. A young boy of about eleven, did something between a grab and a pat, where he reached for the bottom or buttock of a girl his age or slightly older—he called out, ‘You’re it,’ while doing the grab-pat—the girl ignored this intrusion and so did the other children, and they continued to play. My immediate instinct was to reprimand the boy, but because the children were so unconcerned, I watched carefully to see if he repeated the action. Thankfully, he did not, and they moved on to another game.
What we need to ask really is, what made him cross the line without a moment of reflection? And another pertinent question is what made the girl ignore this transgression? I have never seen my nephew resort to such behaviour, and that’s not merely because he’s a “good kid.” Tremendous intention has gone into his upbringing by both parents, and they illustrate through their own behaviour the behaviour expected of their children. My sister reads him stories about women heroes, and speaks to him about gender equality and women’s rights, and his elder sister (my niece) has been empowered to hold her own. She has been taught to respect her space, emotions, and her physicality. These children have had a liberal upbringing balanced synchronously by the desired yet often missing quality of responsibility. They treat others exactly the way they treat themselves, with care, affection, and respect: they are not extraordinary!
There is nothing easy about parenting, but sometimes observations from a non-parent can be as worthy as experience in helping us read the map. With this in mind, I, a non-parent, share a list of what might help parents navigate to some extent the space of behavioural development.
- Be cognisant of your own habits, don’t push them on your children.
- Help them nourish healthy relationships with friends and relatives. Ask yourself what constitutes a healthy relationship.
- Draw your own boundaries with them. Do this with love, sensitivity, and understanding. You will realise that you don’t need to be a tyrant or get reactive, you simply need to be firm and compassionate.
- Communicate with patience and care. Be mindful of your words and explanations and the understanding you hope to elicit.
- Sensitise children to issues in present-day culture—gender, homosexuality, respect for life, climate emergency, ageing and disease.
- Don’t overload them with gossip, chatter, and information. Let them learn through relationships. If you need to have frivolous talk about your neighbours and relatives do it away from their ears.
- Don’t wait for children to become teenagers, engage with them consciously from the very start.
- Be engaged: Carefully choose what children view and watch online.
- Read to them and read with them, and read around them. Remember that we are inspired by good just as we are influenced by bad: pick and choose the books they read.
- Don’t hand them a phone till they are well into their sixteenth year; comfortably settled into and at the mid-point of their adolescence.
- Adolescence is a phase of transition and it’s a difficult switch to make, therefore care must be taken to help children adapt to it with love and good sense.
Please continue to add to this list and share it with thoughtfulness and goodwill, because raising a child has to do with developing the skill of parenting; if we really wish for this world to be a safer and happier place, we need to become the right kind of parents.
The basic thing we teach our kids is to treat every human with dignity and respect – man or woman, rich or poor, etc. Also understanding their own boundaries – they should feel comfortable saying no when they find something intrusive or disrespectful. Even to us. That is very tough in a culture that equates respect with obeying your elders. Also, the women in our society often don’t have enough power – their sons by virtue of being boys have “more” status. So until the men decide to become part of the change, it’s going to be difficult. Rape is often about asserting power not just satisfying a physical desire. We have to address the underlying power dynamics in society for rape to stop being an option of control.
How can the power dynamic change? Men are as conditioned as women, right? The training to reconsider the dynamic and to change conditioning begins when we are children. You’re right in saying boys have more status, but mums at least in more progressive or nuclear households have some influence. There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer, but to expect men to take a positive stand is hard; only a small minority have the correct mindset. The battle against this malady may be long. While we work consciously on what we impart to children (morality is learnt as well) the men who have a voice need to use it to put the brakes on this injustice.
Also, sexualised behaviour and dynamic of control are linked but exclusive. I see very liberal men treat women as objects of desire and vice-versa. This objectification of the other is a problem that we seem to be tolerating and perpetuating.