Yesterday's New York Times ran an interesting column about a movement to deal with that image – and reality – by giving boys a separate kind of sex ed. Perri Klass writes:
It has never been easy for adults to deal with young teenagers honestly and sensibly on this subject, and it isn’t easy now. We live with an endless parade of hypersexualized images — and a constant soundtrack of adults lamenting children’s exposure to that endless parade. There’s increasing knowledge of dating violence, including well-publicized celebrity incidents. And there’s always a new movie to see about how adolescent boys are clueless, sex-obsessed goofballs.
Stir it all together, and you may get an official worldview in which boys are viewed as potential criminals and girls as potential victims.
The 'official world view' is, of course, wrong and dangerous, and the idea that that all men are dangerous is not accurate or productive. But the push to make the guys talk and learn about issues around rape and violence is a good one. I'm tired of it always being the woman's responsibility "not to get raped." And given the constant questionable role models both young men and young women are exposed to in pop culture and porn, any alternative can't come fast enough. Klass goes on:
As a pediatrician with two sons and a daughter, I acknowledge the need to emphasize manners and respect as boys maneuver into adolescence and adulthood, and to help them understand the implications and obligations of their increasing size and strength. And I acknowledge that for their own protection, boys need to understand that there are people — male and female — who will see them as potential predators, and judge them automatically at fault in any ambiguous situation.
I love the phrase "the implications and obligations of their increasing size and strength." She goes on to say that as a feminist, we should teach the same lessons to girls: Respect, manners, not taking advantage of people, and understanding doubt and ambiguity.
Absolutely, but please let's keep the focus on the boys just for a bit. Helping young men understand these issues and learn to take responsibility for their actions doesn't make women victims. We can take all the self-defense and empowerment classes we want, but unless we put the responsibility in the hands of the guys, we won't change a thing.