By Shannon Brugh
I remember. I remember all the times I felt like I should. Like I had to so he would still talk to me. So he would still like me. So he wouldn’t be angry. Even the times I wanted to… until it was happening, and I didn’t want to anymore. I remember the times I spoke up, and the times I didn’t. I remember all of it. And I see all of it so differently now. All of it is different now.
I am a mother. I am a mother of boys.
So now, I see it all through the eyes of a mother, too. What my mother would have felt like, had she known. What my mother will feel like now, when she reads this. What the mothers of those boys would have felt like, if they had known. What I would feel like if my wonderful, sweet boys did something like that.
My boys. They would never. They won’t. They can’t.
But how do I know? How does anyone know?
I think about what must’ve been missing. What the boys I knew or the Steubenville boys or the millions of other boys who intentionally—or unintentionally—rape or push or pressure people into sex, were missing. What was it?
I think, or hope anyway, that it was because no one ever talked to them about it. No one ever came right out and said, “Hey. You cannot have sex with another person unless you are sure—100% sure—that they want to have sex with you. If there is any hesitation, if you have to “convince,” then it’s not okay and you have to stop.” No one ever said that to them; I’m sure of it. Because really, how often to parents really say that to their boys?
It’s becoming more common, I think. Things are changing and people are becoming more comfortable talking to their kids about the uncomfortable things: sex, drugs, mental/emotional/social health. But I think it’s still new, and I doubt it’s part of the plan for most parents of boys.
Parents of girls, on the other hand, they know they have to talk about it. To talk about pressure and making sure their daughters wait until they are ready. Birth control and being careful. Some parents even go so far as to warn girls not to dress too suggestively or “give the wrong impression.” Because as all women know, we—the victims of this kind of aggression—are blamed.
But who says to their sons, “It does not matter what she’s wearing. It does not matter if your friends say she’s a sure thing. It does not matter that you want to. Do not pressure. Do not push. Her body is her body. His body is his body.”
I will. I will say those things to my sons. I will tell them—explicitly—not to rape. Not to pressure. Not to push. Because if I don’t, who will? I will not wait until it’s too late. I will not assume that they know. I will not allow my sons to fall victim to the idea that men are entitled to anyone’s body.
And if I have to, I will tell my boys that once, boys who could have been just like them felt entitled to my body. That one boy tried to take my body. That after I made it clear that I didn’t want what he wanted, he held my body down and tried to take it. That he knelt on my arms so I couldn’t fight. That he sat on my legs so I couldn’t kick. That he touched me and took off clothes and that I fought him as hard as I could. That he only stopped when my friend screamed from the other room. That my friend, who couldn’t fight the other boy off of her, saved me. That I fought my way out from under him and tried to fight my way to her, but it was too late. That then, because we were too young and too stupid to consider alternatives, we let those same boys drive us home. And that then, when he tried to touch me again in the truck, I elbowed him in the ribs as hard as I could, and that he opened the door of the truck on the freeway and tried to throw me out. I remember. All of it.
I can’t change it now. I can’t change anything that has happened to me or to anyone else. But I can try to stop it from happening again. I can teach my sons that they are not owed anything. That their feelings and hormones and urges are not any more important than anyone else’s. I can teach them that they have the power to stop, and that they must if there is so much as a shadow of doubt.
I can teach my boys be safe. Safe with themselves, safe with their bodies, save with others and their bodies. I will teach my boys that they are not entitled, that they are not owed, that they have the power to wait. To stop. To save.
And I will teach my boys to listen. To pay attention to the words of those around them and in front of them. To speak up if they hear something questionable. To step in if they see someone being pressured or pushed around. To help.
I remember, and I will do what I can to stop this, beginning with my boys.
Shannon Brugh received her B.A. in English Lit from University of Washington and her Masters in Teaching from Seattle University. In addition to her contributions at Rattle & Pen, she can be found on her personal blog Becoming Squishy. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two young sons.