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Raising a Boy in a Rape Culture

Dear Loch,

You are a big kid. A powerful kid. A 6-year-old who can knock me right over. A boy who gives his Dad a run for his money. You are strong and nimble and able to use your body to get what you want…but you don’t. Instead you’re someone who uses his words, his powers of persuasion, his intellect to seek what you need. You’re the kid who asks if someone is ok and helps people up when they’ve fallen. The one who felt he should make a “moat” with his arms around the smallest girl in your class because “she’s so little mommy, people are going to knock her down.” I’ve always felt incredibly grateful for your temperament. It’s kind and thoughtful when it could be aggressive and wild. You’ve shown no violent tendencies or instinct towards cruelty. You’re empathetic and sweet and have been known to burst into tears when you feel something is unfair to you or someone else. You might give me a run for my money, but overall you are a darling boy who’s the epitome of a “lover not a fighter”. My problem lies in the fact that you’re growing up in this increasingly hoochie, shake your ass, women as objects/vessels, let me please you, sex society. You’re coming of age in a time when women are getting killed for refusing to date a boy or gang raped by friends at parties or shot en mass by teenage misogynists on a rampage. A girl was recently stabbed to death in her high school hallway for refusing to go to prom and the most recent statistics show a woman is sexually assaulted in America every 2 minutes.

This is a real ad for a high end car. It's difficult not to get the impression that women are there to service in some way from it.

This is a real ad for a high end car and though it’s cheeky (in more ways than one), it’s difficult not to get the wrong impression from it.

How do I properly raise you in a culture that uses sex as currency and women as objects. A country with high profile rape cases involving high school and college students that are so grotesque, so abusive of power but with communities that rally around the perpetrators because they’re sports stars or popular kids? How do I properly guide you through a world of sexting and snap chatting? Or an internet with teen rape clubs like Roast Busters who publicly boasted their behavior for two years before anybody did anything? On her popular and informative YouTube show “Sex +” Laci Green talks about the culture of “toxic masculinity”. How we, as a society, have created an environment where men feel entitled to women, friends, sex and when that entitlement is met with opposition some of them become so angry they lash out violently.***** Green notes that 70 of the last 71 mass murders were committed by men, mostly white men, who felt in some way alienated from the culture of powerful, cool, sexual masculinity that permeated their lives. There are entire websites (like devoted to young people degrading themselves on camera to become famous, rich or popular. How do I ensure you make the right decisions in the wake of so many bad ones? The age old adage “if all your friends jumped off a cliff…” seems weak when we’re talking these kind of extremes.

Kids need to understand the reality of the situation. We can’t just inform our girls about how to protect themselves we have to teach our boys how to rise above it. I want you to be far above the lowest common denominator. To be aware and confident enough to speak up and say enough to the misogyny, the derogatory jokes, the “she was asking for it” justifications.

Even girls that make bad decisions don't "deserve" to be victims.

Even girls who make terrible decisions don’t “deserve” to be victims.

No more victimizing the victims ^^ and debating over “consent”. Consent should be obvious. “No means no” but YES should be the word you’re looking for. If a woman is willing she’s aware, she’s conscious, she’s agreeable and verbal about that decision. Just because you don’t hear no, doesn’t make it so.

You have to distance yourself from the base behavior of your brethren. You must fight against it. Protect, when it’s easier to dismiss. Standing idly by does not make you innocent. Complacency is akin to guilt. Zaron Burnett III recently wrote an essay that went viral entitled The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture. Rape Culture being defined by Marshall University’s Women’s Center as an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. It is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety. In the essay Burnett says, like it or not, as a man you are a part of the rape culture and it is your responsibility to correctly navigate your way through it.

Australian Calvin Klein ad

Is gang rape supposed to be sexy in this Australian Calvin Klein ad?

Burnett points out, as Rutger’s college students also recently did with their “Rape Poem to End all Rape Poems”, that we’ve created a culture “in which women must consider where they are going, what time of day it is, the day of the week, what she’ll be wearing and if she’ll be left alone.” That we’ve allowed our society to get to a point where women are not safe to walk by themselves, leave their drinks unattended or, heaven forbid, pass out at a party without putting themselves in imminent danger. Yes, women should be responsible for their actions (see the above picture – Good Lord girls!), but something has gone terribly wrong if our society’s default is to pass judgement on the victim not the perpetrator. There is a serious problem if seemingly innocuous choices (choices that men like you take for granted, like clothes and independence) become the source for imposing fault or blame. It’s not a new phenomenon to blame the victim, it’s just become completely out of control. Women shouldn’t be afraid of being killed if they break up with a boyfriend, or attacked if they wear a crop top, or raped in the middle of high school.

Because there shouldn't be a need for glassware from companies like designboom to indicate whether your drink has been drugged or not.

There shouldn’t be a need for glassware from companies like designboom to indicate whether your drink has been drugged or not.

My message to you, my boy, is that none of this is right. As you move forward in your future you must take control and responsibility for your behavior and decisions. You are accountable for both your actions and the actions you fail to take. You were raised to be a hero, not a villain. As Burnett says,“You may think it’s unfair that men have to counteract and adjust themselves for the ill behavior of other men and you are right. It is unfair. But if issues of fairness bother you, get mad at the men who make you appear questionable. Because when it comes to assessing a man, whatever one is capable of, a woman must presume you are also capable of. Unfortunately, all men must be judged by the worst example. If you think this sort of stereotyping is bulls*^#, think about how you treat a snake you come across in the wild. You treat it like a snake. That’s not stereotyping. That’s acknowledging an animal for what it’s capable of doing and the harm it can inflict.” * 

article-2071890-0F1B8BB800000578-130_634x806Freud wrote extensively about the herd or mob mentality. The idea that an individual can basically turn off their conscious mind in favor of the group psychology that is often more base and violent. There’s a feeling of anonymity in a group. People felt protected, free to tap into their baser instincts while simultaneously accepting less responsibility for those actions. People often try to use this theory to explain why they did something they clearly knew to be wrong. You hear a lot of, “I was just doing what my friends were doing” or “I got caught up in the situation.” This is not a legitimate excuse. It’s a cop-out defense of the weak minded. You know right from wrong. You are in control of what you do and no matter what “everyone” chooses, you stick to YOUR morals.

You're bombard by pictures like this every day. It's bad for women and it's bad for your opinion of what women are here for.

You’re bombard by pictures like this every day. It’s bad for women and it’s bad for your opinion of what women are here for.

Whether I’m here or not, I expect you to be a good man who makes honorable decisions. Someone who behaves with forethought and respect. I also charge you to look out for those who are weaker. To speak for those who don’t have a voice. To be brave enough to stand up and take charge of a situation before things become chaotic. I’m not advocating violence to prevent violence. I’m advocating leadership that inspires nobility. Even if all you do is walk straight to the police.

Burnett challenges the good men of the male species to return to the world of the gentleman. To avoid using language that objectifies or degrades women. To think critically about the media’s messages about women, men, relationships, and violence.** To be respectful of others’ physical space even in a casual situation and to help women feel at ease in your presence. It’s your job to communicate with your sexual partners and not, even in a relationship, simply assume consent.

Burnett says:


A real cover from Vogue Homme.

“No one is suggesting violence. In fact, that’s what we’re looking to avoid. But sometimes, a man needs to confront another man or a group of men in a situation. When I’m out in public and I see a man hassling a woman, I stop for a moment. I make sure the woman sees me. I want her to know I’m fully aware of what’s happening. I wait for a moment for a clear indication from her of whether she needs help. Sometimes, the couple will continue right on fighting like I’m just a hickory tree. Other times, the woman will make it clear she’d like backup and I approach the situation. I’ve never had to get violent. Usually, my presence alone makes the guy leave if he’s a stranger, or explain himself if they’re familiar. It changes the dynamic. That’s why I always stop when I see a woman getting hassled in public. For any reason. I make sure any woman, in what could become a violent situation, one I may or may not be correctly assessing, feels that she has the opportunity to signal to me if she needs assistance. If you see a situation spiraling out of control, and especially if someone is crying for help or being attacked, you should confront the situation. You don’t need to “break it up.” But engage, get involved, take down pertinent information, alert authorities, call the police. Do something.” ***

The world is a broken baby. When things like #YesAllWomen become necessary, the time has come to insist on change and, I believe, real change starts at home.

xo Mom

P.S. I would strongly advise clicking on all the links in this letter. They are incredibly telling of how bad things really have become.

***** The fact that these boys are lashing out with access to a high powered arsenal of weapons is it’s own issue.

^^ I am literally sickened by this “helpful” website on how not to get raped. Sickened!

* Zaron Burnett III, The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture

** Zaron Burnett III,  The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture

*** Zaron Burnett III,  The Gentlemen’s Guide to Rape Culture


12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mo #

    As a mum from the 70’s, I am totally shocked but am impressed that the training of sons has been brought to the forefront. Congratulations on your thoughtful, wise words.

    June 9, 2014
  2. Amazing letter, if I had a son, this would be something i would give him. You couldn’t have put it more eloquently. It needs to be openly discussed and spoken about, to boys who are growing into men. Great great blog.

    June 9, 2014
  3. Printing this out to share with my own boys one day.

    June 9, 2014
  4. Michael Gunn #

    I just want to thank you I really appreciate you sending me your letters I also have a little boy he’s beautiful his name is Dima he lives in Russia he is the most beautiful thing I have ever done and I love him so much I am concerned about not being with him my concern go this far as trying to understand what has separated me from him. I know that he needs me and that he needs a father to guide him to teach you how to be a man and to explain to him the difference between right and wrong this is also your passion as well. I am sorry to hear that you are ill, my name is Michael Gunn I am half Black and half Scottish and I stand alongside you good luck and feel free to contact me at anytime.

    I would like to know have you thought about what to do with regard to is spirituality regarding the knowledge of God its just a question I’d like your opinion thank you.

    June 10, 2014
    • I’m sorry you can’t be with Dima Michael. I don’t know what keeps you apart, but if you are aware enough to know that he needs a father and a teacher as he embarks on his journey to manhood I hope you will find a way to make your way back into his daily life. As far as your question regarding what to do about spirituality and knowledge of God, I am still finding my way on that front. I would consider myself a very spiritual person but I’m still trying to navigate my way through the modern world’s take on religion. Thank you for your concern but I feel I’m doing alright as far as that goes. All the very best, thank you for reaching out. xo leigh

      June 10, 2014
  5. Teaching our boys is as important as teaching our girls in respect to all of the issues you mentioned above. I have no doubt with your guidance, Loch will grow into a young man with the same empathetic tendencies he possesses as a young boy. Another powerful post Leigh, full of great advice!

    June 10, 2014
  6. Absolutely incredible post as always. Sharing a link to it with my modest following on my blog. I deal with the situation Zaron states above that “Unfortunately all men must be judged by the worst example”. Sadly, the snake reference can be all too apropos for men. As a man I am aware of the culture but many of the images Leigh shared made me realize it is much worse than I thought.

    Thanks again for making me think.

    June 10, 2014
    • Thank you for your support and for sharing my post caracarn3. I sincerely appreciate it. It’s an incredibly important issue and I’m so glad you are able to see that. Best always, Leigh

      June 10, 2014
  7. Laurie Wallace #

    Eloquent, Leigh.
    Love, L.

    June 11, 2014
  8. logan #

    Very eloquent words. 🙂 Sadly, rape culture has always existed, from Rubens’ Rape of the Sabine Women to child prostitution in the Victorian era, and violence during wartime; the use of women as sex slaves, the Jewish women imprisoned during WWII and Korean women as “comfort” women during the Korean War. There will always be rapists, serial killers, and murderers in every generation. I think the best we can do is show our children how to respect women via example. Men learn this, not through their mothers, but primarily by example from their fathers. In this current era of the ubiquitous single parent, little boys have no role models aside from what they see in the media: the glorification of prostitutes and rape victims in Hollywood and everywhere else.

    As long as your husband shows and treats you with respect, your son will do the same in his life.

    July 9, 2014
    • Logan, thank you for both your responses yesterday. They are both incredibly poignant and well thought out. I agree that Loch will look to his Dad for how to treat women. It’s too bad more parents don’t realize that their actions will only be mirrored in later generations. The “do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t really work does it? xo leigh

      July 10, 2014

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