Sexual Consent and Boys: “If you slip up, you’re f***ed.”
It is no question that we have come a long way from a societal tolerance of sexual assault and violence against women, and, thanks to movements such as the #MeToo campaign, awareness of workplace and commonplace harassment have hit an all-time high.
These movements, as well as bringing up many necessary conversations about consent and sexual assault, have created more opportunities for women to break stereotypes of submissiveness and silence. Our generation has given women a voice to share their stories and experiences of sexual harassment, exposing the errors in pre-conceived notions of what it means to be a woman, and the definition of a woman’s “role.” But, whilst giving women the tools to shatter their expectations of compliance and politeness, we have neglected to provide young boys with the same resources. If anything, we are reinforcing a restrictive stereotype by labeling young boys as dominant aggressors and have even done so during consent conversations at Packer.
The recent consent trainings held at Packer are by no means unnecessary, but the vocabulary used to label boys’ roles in these interactions, often as the aggressor or delinquent, is antiquated. We have taken strides toward letting women be who they want to be, whether that fits with society’s stereotype or not. So why have we disregarded the need to do the same for boys?
In terms of the motivation women have been given to break out of their gender boxes, Carter Weaver (‘20) agreed that the same type of support was not given to boys: “Girls are encouraged to wear clothes that are more masculine…guys are not given the same encouragement when talking about clothing. They will often be made fun of, or treated differently when they wear things that are feminine.”
Something as seemingly insignificant as the way we encourage boys to dress feeds into our expectation of how they can act when they get older; the more restrictions we place on any gender, the more people feel trapped and forced to follow the path society has laid out for them. In this case, the path for young boys is one of aggression and dominance, despite that not being the only route for boys to follow. The idea of how boys feel they should act becomes ingrained in them at an extremely young age.
Through using language and consistently demonizes boys, and their roles in sexual assault, we are leaving too much unsaid and too much to the imagination. Boys are now feeling overly cautious and nervous about their day-to-day interactions, and while some of this behavioral change is good, such as the lessening ‘locker room talk,’ forcing young boys to constantly feel as though they are walking on eggshells is not the answer to this problem.
One junior boy, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that these conversations are, “always in the back of my mind, because a tiny little thing could be taken out of proportion, depending on the circumstance. I think guys are really starting to watch themselves and watch what they do.” He added that the recent #MeToo movement, “definitely made a bigger target for guys.”
He agreed that the consent trainings, as well as the conversations sparked by the #MeToo movement and the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, have created a narrative which consistently associates men with the role of the ‘villain,’ and have implied that these conversations are necessary to stop the ‘inevitable truth’ of male aggression: “I think it is a very dangerous time for white guys in America because they are more of a target [in terms of sexual assault]. Sexual harassment and everything is being categorized as just white males, there’s a lot more pressure.”
Although it is still an extremely dangerous time to be a woman in America, and claiming “white guys” have become more of a target in America than anyone else is not entirely fair, this does pose an important question: have we as a society, and more importantly, as a school, silenced the voices of young boys in the process of amplifying those of girls? It seems that we are sending a message to young boys that we are waiting for them to slip up and become who society expects them to be – a dominant aggressor. Boys’ movements are constantly being scrutinized, but to what extent is this actually beneficial to the progression of gender equality, and the enforcement of consent? It’s not, and, if anything, vilifying an entire gender in hope of creating more equality for another is more detrimental than beneficial to the cause.
The junior boy perfectly summed up the current overarching sentiment for young boys at Packer: “You can’t slip up nowadays. If you slip up, you’re f***ed.”