On The Steubenville Boys And My Boys

March 20, 2013

I won’t ever have complete control over the minds and hearts and souls of my children, but I can assure you, I will do everything in my power to teach my boys what it means to respect and even honor girls, ladies, women. Not because they are weaker or less or second, but because they deserve it, every single last one.

When my boys are sixteen-year-old boys, will they get drunk and lose themselves? Will they forget how I drilled it in since they could first speak and walk,

open the door for her. 

let her go first.

do not speak to her that way.

ask your sister before you kiss or hug her.

Don’t surprise her with your smothers. I know you love her and it’s so nice, but just ask her first. If she fusses, move away right away, it’s her body and her space. 

Listen to her. Same goes for your brother.

I talk to them about being kind all the time, you know? About how to treat their friends and almost every time I add, especially to girls. Now, that might seem unfair and I actually don’t think they should be more considerate to girls than boys in an overall sense, but this is an opportunity, for something to become a part of their insides:

The subtle and not-so-subtle message they have yet to fully grasp at ages 7 and 5, but will: There is something very important about the way I treat girls. 

I don’t walk around in fear that my boys will be rapists. I walk around believing that they will not even come close.

I am not putting my past on my children, and I am not playing some sort of extremely out-dated mind games. I am doing everything I can to instill beliefs and values that stay more on the surface of who they are, rather than buried in the forgotten lessons of a Sunday School they no longer attend or from vague memories of a teacher or their mother occasionally mentioning to be nice or be good. No no, this message, it comes with specific and hands-on ways of solidifying a very concrete idea: other people come before me.

And while I’m at it, let’s not forget another very important but often missing message today: You might really really REALLY want something, but you cannot always have that something. Sometimes, you ABSOLUTELY cannot have that something. No questions, no justifications. NO way. 

I love hearing stories of parents and coaches or teachers being sure to relay this age old message. One that steals from the narcissistic, selfish and ME FIRST propensity of our culture.

You’re acting terribly arrogant today, young man. Why don’t you go ahead and think about the value your teammates bring to the game while you do laps for the second half of practice? 

Sixteen-year-old boys are not to be glorified for talents that won’t last their whole lives through. Actually, they are the perfect age to learn the hard lesson that many doors will be slammed in their faces in all their years because we are all the same and that’s life. Deal with it, kid. You won’t always get the job. You won’t always hang with the cool kids. The girl will not always say yes. 

That’s okay.

You are not invincible. You are not above the law. You are not the best anything that has happened to anywhere ever. You cannot have your way with anyone and everyone because of who you think you are. You cannot have everything you want just because you are good at something or you think you’re better than everyone or even simply because it makes you feel better for a moment.

My boys might be good at a lot of things. I hope so. And I will be proud of them and I will cheer them on and I will show up. It will be an aside to our lives, not the center.

You’re so smart. You’re so good at football. You can do anything in this life, whatever you dream to do….now go outside and help your sister shovel the driveway. 

There are no guarantees. I assume the parents and care-givers in the lives of the boys in Steubenville tried to instill beliefs and values that stand for good and right, not rape. They probably did the best they could with the tools they have. But it has been said that these boys did not fail as much as the adults failed all of the kids in this situation. The message is that if you leave kids to themselves at such an age they will do stupid things like getting wasted and gang raping a wasted girl and taking pictures, using social media to share those pictures.

They are sixteen! This is an excusable mistake! Those poor boys…

But no, you see, I don’t think every sixteen year old boy would do this, even if in an alcohol induced black out. I don’t. I have been around many many drunk teens and boys and men in my life and they were, wasted or not, either rapists or not rapists.

That’s the truth. Plain and simple.

There are those that think of nothing other than themselves and their own animalistic physical desires and do not for one second care who they are taking advantage of, even while sober. They gain some sense of disgusting pride in the act of exerting power over someone else.

Then there are those that could be ten drinks in, with a girl, in a hotel room, in the dark and still  say NO. NO, I am not doing this. NO. This is not right. I cannot do this. 

That is the young man that sees he is not always supposed to get what he wants whenever he wants it. He respects that girl too much, no matter who she is or what she’s done. He is too kind to take advantage of the fact that she is very drunk, unable to stand up for herself, that her judgment is off and that she will feel so sorry tomorrow.

For him, no, it’s not worth it. It’s not cool. It’s not funny. He knows this no matter how drunk he is.

He is humble and open-hearted and he started opening the door for girls when he was very very young. He learned to ask for kisses and to stay in his own space when he’s gotten the message that he should, with or without words.

I am playing a part. My boys will be this boy. The boy that knows what love is; what it means to love well.

There are things we say to them all the time…

The truth is always the right answer, no matter what you’ve done or how hard it is to say it.

You belong–always, no matter what, here with us, you belong. 

It doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing, you are doing the right thing. You will know what the right thing is, if you don’t, let’s talk about it.

You are going to screw up sometimes. We all make mistakes. Please let it teach you.  

If your friends are doing something wrong, you do not have to do it. You owe them no explanation. You can always walk away. You can always get help. You do not answer to them.

As they get older, we’re going to talk about rape. It is so much more than what comes to mind. It is a sickening violation and it is violent whether or not there are screams of no or pushing away and kicking. It is not an act of only the sociopath stalker on the street, but of any boy-man who takes advantage even in the slightest way–should she hesitate, grow very still, whisper no or turn her face away with tears rolling down her cheeks, stop. Stop. She is saying no with the only voice that she has and I know you know she does not want to do this. I know you can see it. If you do not stop, you are raping her.

Yes. Rape. This word is only used for the loud with slapping and scratching, but it can and should be used in Stuebenville and in a million other situations we consider confusing with fine lines. It is not confusing, we have just made it so.

In the drunken stupor of a group of kids who adults swear could not have known what they are doing, it is rape. It is not her fault. Somebody needed to respect and honor her. Somebody needed to stand up for her. Someone needed to do the right thing when no one else would. Someone to answer only to God and to her and to themselves. No one did.

It is not her fault. Drunk or sober, aware or unaware, quiet or loud, pictures or no pictures, flirting or no flirting, making out or no making out, passed out or wide awake. It is not her fault.

There are people who are rapists and people who are not rapists, no matter their age or how high their blood alcohol level or how good they are at sports.

We all want our boys to know this, so let’s keep talking to them, and teaching them who comes first. Maybe a lot of people do, but certainly not themselves and ideally, a girl. A cherished girl who is always shown respect and honor, always. Every girl and any girl. First.


Related post: After Steubenville: a letter to Future Elsie Jane

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Liz March 20, 2013 at 1:54 pm


tracy@sellabitmum March 20, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Damn you Heather. I love you.
tracy@sellabitmum recently posted..The Five Essentials For Spring

rachieannie March 20, 2013 at 2:01 pm

AMEN!!!!!!!!!!! My kiddos are so young, so innocent, such babies that I could never imagine them doing something like this. But, I’m sure these boys’ mothers never imagined it either. You’re right, it is not a lesson to be whispered to them once in a blue moon. Instead, it needs to be SHOUTED over and over and over again. Each person in this world is precious. PRECIOUS. Whether they are man or woman or girl or boy. Whether they look like us, act like us, have what we have or not. Every person deserves respect. Not a blank slate to do whatever they want, but respect as a living breath person.

Kate March 20, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Well said. Your boys, and your EJ will know who they are because you led them there.

Thank you for this.
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Jami March 20, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Heather, this is perfect. It is such an awesome responsibility to teach our little ones a soul-deep respect for other people. Thank you for sharing your insights on this hard subject.

Leslie March 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Oh, Heather, thank you. This is perfect. I will be sharing it with my almost-15-year-old boy when I get home.

Katie March 20, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Well said Heather. There is never an excuse for Rape. 16 year olds know this is wrong and completely unacceptable. When a person says no, we need to respect that person and their wishes. No matter how hard someone will try to justify their actions, it is always wrong. Teaching our kids to respect others and themselves is such an important lesson.

Elaine March 20, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Every last thing you say is true and should be read by all.

I’m so saddened by what I read about this whole situation and many others that I am sure go unreported. But yes, WE must stand up and we MUST raise our children different and better than that.

Elaine recently posted..Onward to Bliss…

Summer March 20, 2013 at 10:12 pm

chills! So well written! I need to share this so all mothers of boys and girls can read this!
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Christa March 21, 2013 at 12:27 am

Thank you, wise woman. Thank you for raising your children so intentionally, and for sharing these insights, these lessons, these hopes for the future world of our children and our children’s children. This story, this tragedy, is such a dreadfully old and familiar one. Retold a million times — too often by the wrong tellers: the defenders of violence, the evaders of change, the keepers of injustice and victimization and oppression. And I realize that my generation is tired of these powerful words, uneasy with conversations about power and oppression and sexism. I know that my generation — now parenting small ones — have been pretty lazy about keeping injustice in the news and carrying the serious conversations about feminism and civil rights into the now. For many of us, these battles appear to have been won. Activism seems do out-dated. But then this terrible, typical Stuebenville story makes it into the news and the awful familiarity of it all is a reminder that we have moved the needle just barely. The really bad stuff – the beatings, the poverty, the raoe, the violence, the humiliation — these instances of sexism have changed very little, especially on a global scale. And so we can no longer consider ourselves strong, righteous women if we are not using some corner of our wealth and privilege and influence to SAY SOMETHING. To connect the dots between various seemingly fragmented incidences of oppression and marginalization and bullying of women, people of color, immigrants, gay men and women, transgendered people, and all of us who are marked, for one reason or another, as questionable or irrelevant or abnormal or less-than. These issues are united in their sensitivity to intolerance and rage within a culture, a community. There is work to be done. My generation if women have been asleep at the wheel. I owe my daughters (and your sons) do much more.
THANK YOU for this post. I will be sharing widely and saving forever.

Tracie March 21, 2013 at 6:18 am

“Sixteen-year-old boys are not to be glorified for talents that won’t last their whole lives through. Actually, they are the perfect age to learn the hard lesson that many doors will be slammed in their faces in all their years because we are all the same and that’s life.”

Yes! We need a lot more of this in our world.

Great post, Heather.
Tracie recently posted..Rainbow Day – Being Bold

anna see March 21, 2013 at 9:30 am

Yes, yes, yes! Crying as I read this. Not all boys will do those things, regardless of the situation.
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Chrisor March 21, 2013 at 11:52 am

You are doing some amazing work parenting your kids! You are definitely doing your part to teach your boys, which in turn makes the world a better place. I’d like to think everyone else teaches their children right from wrong but it seems to be obvious they don’t. At the core, it seems to be what has been ingrained in them at a young age that keeps coming back to them later when they are at a crossroads and could do something bad or good. Your sons will be extraordinary just like their mama!
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Jill March 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

As all that is Steubenville has been unraveling, I found myself way behind the media curve on this. Somehow I missed the first story and then missed it again when the verdict was announced. Not sure what rock I’ve been under, but as I was catching up and reading online this morning I thought- Oh, I wonder whether Heather at the EO will write about this? How will she put it all in context? And then I found this in my inbox. I’m a faithful reader who comes from a very different background but loves to read and loves to write. I always finds passionate, thoughtful, wise things here, written in a clear, beautiful, way that often gives me goose bumps. Thank you for sharing what moves you. I learn so much about my own self and also about the craft of writing from reading you blog.

Alexandra March 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

Before you write, watch this “If I had a daughter..”

Alexandra recently posted..How Our Society Raises Young Boys

Heather March 22, 2013 at 9:24 am

Oh I’ve seen it and I LOVE it. Thank you, Alexandra.


Marta March 21, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Yes, yes yes. A million times more yes.
Marta recently posted..It’s Not Our Fault.

Yael Saar March 22, 2013 at 9:49 am

I love you (even more) for this post.
Yael Saar recently posted..Loving Guidelines: stating clear boundaries as an act of love

Ann March 22, 2013 at 9:54 am

Tears tears lump in throat. You make me a better parent, Heather. You make this world a better place.
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Jenni Chiu @ MommyNaniBooboo March 22, 2013 at 11:38 am

Beautifully written. You echo so many of the thoughts I wrote about a couple days ago. I see so many parents raising a new generation of boys in this way. These are the boys that will change the rape culture. Your boys and my boys will be among them.
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Jennifer March 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm

Heather. Thank you for writing this. I want to instill the same values in my son that you and your husband are instilling in your boys.

Thank you for writing this.
Jennifer recently posted..Ten Reasons I’m Thankful I Went to Wild Mountain

Carina March 22, 2013 at 1:31 pm

Oh Heather, this was perfect. I have thought about this so much lately as my sons try to smother their sister with kisses and hugs and she says “NO!” I agree–it starts NOW, it starts in our home, it begins with us. You don’t always get what you want, you are not entitled to anything, and if she doesn’t want to, you just can’t.

It’s just as important to me to teach her that she can say NO and it’s respected and honored in our house. Teaching all our children to respect, love, and honor each other.
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Loukia March 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

The hardest part about parenting isn’t those early years… it’s the lessons we teach our children as they grow. What is acceptable behaviour, and what is not; what words should never be used; and how to treat other people. As a mother of two little boys, I cannot imagine for one second they’ll ever do anything to really dissappoint me, but as a mother I will continue teaching them right from wrong forever.
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Tiffany March 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Amen to infinity.
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