whatkidslearnedsexualharassment_sized

When I first found out I was pregnant with a boy, I freaked out. I had no idea what to do with a boy, and just when I felt like I was getting the hang of it, I was blessed with another one.

Two boys.

Two people that will one day grow into men. Two males that might one day become someone’s boyfriend, husband, or father. Eventually, those two boys will leave my house and set off on their own into the world, and it is my job to make sure that they’re ready to interact with women without acting like complete a*sholes.

My husband sets a remarkable example; he treats me with respect. He doesn’t comment on women’s bodies. He doesn’t ogle other women in front of me (if he does notice attractive women, he’s very good at hiding it). In our 13+ years together, he has never made a negative comment about my appearance — not once, even when I’ve gained and lost a lot of weight. If he isn’t saying something positive, he keeps his mouth shut. I’m sure he notices things, good and bad, but he keeps his thoughts to himself … which is probably why we are still married.

That’s respect.

His actions let me know that he values me beyond my appearance, and that is the lesson I wish to instill in our children. I don’t want one of my sons shaming or belittling a girl at school because of how she looks. I want them to know that what makes a person who they truly are lies beneath their exterior. As a woman who has experienced more than my fair share of sexist remarks, rude comments, and unwanted advances, I am keenly aware of my responsibility in raising our sons to be gentlemen. We do not tolerate negative comments about other people, ESPECIALLY members of the opposite sex. I try to drill the importance of asking permission, listening when someone says “no,” and talking about how it’s never okay to overpower another person.

We can talk and talk about respect and manners and tell them it’s rude to make comments about other people’s bodies, but witnessing it in person turned out to be the best lesson I could offer.

One afternoon, I was at a local gas station filling up our tank. My husband went inside the store, and all three of my kids were inside the vehicle. I was leaning into the side of the van, doing something with one of the kids, when some idiot walked by and started loudly talking to me about my body and what he wanted to do to it. His buddies cheered him on from their car.

I felt my blood pressure rise as I chose to ignore them, but what I really wanted to do was chase him down and beat his a*s right there in the parking lot. I mentally weighed my options: Which would scar my kids more? Seeing their mom ignoring a strange man who was talking to her in an inappropriate way, or seeing their mom attempt to claw his eyes out?

My kids, whom I assume he did not see through the tinted windows, heard every awful, degrading word. My husband, who was inside the convenience store, missed the entire thing, which is probably for the best, because we really don’t have time for jail.

My oldest kid started asking questions from the backseat.

“Who was that? Was that man talking to you, Mommy? Why would he say those things?”

I was LIVID. But then it occurred to me that I could use that situation to paint a picture of the kind of person that I don’t want to see my sons become. Rather than sheltering my children from seeing that some people suck, I can use these situations as a learning tool.

So I did. 

“That man was the opposite of a gentleman,” I told them. “You know how we talk about manners? That guy doesn’t have any. When we tell you to treat ladies with respect, this is an example of what we DO NOT want you to ever do. That man does not know me. He just saw me and started talking to me in an inappropriate way.”

“Why would he do that?”

I took a deep breath and looked my son straight in the eye.

“Because he’s not a nice person. Because something is wrong with him.”

I will never understand why some men choose to degrade women and basically act like animals, when manners would get them so much farther, but I can rest my head at night knowing that I am doing everything I can to produce two good men. And thanks to the random a*shats of the world, my kids know exactly what not to do.

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