Screwing Up Our Kids: Fighting Rape Culture as a Parent

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[Image from here.]

I know I will screw up my kids.

That Andy and I together will screw them up in some way.

This is the scenario right now:

I’m an ordained minister in the PCUSA. Andy is an ordained minister in the PCUSA. We are both older siblings. We are from different cultural regions of the country. I’m Korean American. He’s white. He’s more Gen X. I’m more Gen Y/millennial. He’s pretty type A. I’m more laissez-faire. I forget to put things away. He’s not the handiest guy in the world (though I will be first to admit he’s surprised me numerous times).

I know – sad and crazy, huh? They don’t stand a chance. But, I digress.

There’s a whole host of reasons our kids are going to spend years in therapy. But I hope and pray to God Almighty – and every other name given to God – that it won’t be for any kind of involvement in a sexual assault.

My mind has been spinning with all that’s out there right now – everything from the debacle at UNC-Chapel Hill – which brings up incredibly unpleasant feelings (read: rage, disgust, and the need to sterilize my brain with Clorox) related to the Sandusky evil – to the reminder of how widespread the rape culture is in this world with more stories coming out of India to what has been happening in Steubenville.

It’s too much. I have a little girl. I have two boys. And I know that there is enough that I will do that will screw them up – all my unspoken expectations, pressure to perform or live out my dreams, and whatnot – but I can’t stand the thought of how screwed up our culture is right now, and what kind of effect that will have on them in the future.

If there is something Steubenville is making me aware of right now:

It’s that rape culture is ever present and even more insidious now.

Rape culture is victim blaming, slut shaming, trivializing sexual assault, and putting the burden of prevention on potential victims, all of which have been culturally linked with increased incidences of homophobia, racism, classism, religious intolerance and even ageism. It is television and film exploiting murder-rapes to get more ratings. Rape culture is every overweight girl whose sexual assault was met with reactions of, “just be glad someone wanted to f*ck you,” because of the misguided notion that being f*ckable is what makes a woman. Rape culture is trying to classify digital rape and penile rape separately, as if one form of violence was less serious than the other. All of these things contribute to a culture in which a boy in Steubenville doesn’t realize that watching his friend shove his fingers into an unconscious girl’s vagina is violent, or rape at all, because he has been given a world in which a girl who expresses her sexuality in any way is fair game and he is entitled to her vagina.

I honestly would have cut and pasted the whole article – the internet version of highlighting in obnoxious bright yellow – there’s so much more to it. What has made rape culture a horrible and awful phenomenon, and most of all, continuous and enduring, is how no one for the longest time would talk about it. Point it out. Call it out. If there was any dialogue, whether from males or females, it was one-sided and one-dimensional, and always involved the blatant perpetuation of subjugating women to violence, injustice and oppression.

And I admit I was complicit in it, too, once long ago. The first time I acknowledged that perhaps I wasn’t too blame…that because I had blacked out wasn’t consent for him to do whatever he wanted with me (I still have no idea)…that because I was there didn’t mean I wanted to be there and was asking for it…the first time I said something aloud was quite a few years later when I was in seminary at a worship service centered around the theme of victims and survivors. I will never forget what opened up in me at that moment.

Because what is in the darkness needs to come into the light to heal, to protect, to transform and to change. And I stepped into the light that day and rejected the deceitful and destructive words of the culture around me.

It’s that rape culture demands intentional and deliberate dismantling by everyone, but especially parents.

My parents never talked to me about sex or sexuality or really anything to do with my body. I can’t totally fault them for it – again, it has to do with culture, and this time Korean culture. But I often wonder if it had more to do with Christianity then their motherland culture. The conservation of rape culture is rooted in power dynamics that rely on untruths about human bodies, and specifically female bodies, and especially in the Christian sub-culture of my childhood – mostly traditional, conservative, evangelical, narrow – is where bodies were shunned and flesh and blood was seen as gross, messy, and even wicked. This perspective has only helped entrench rape culture in larger society, but even within the Christian community.

So, now I see that I have a responsibility, not only to my children, but for all children, to speak up, to work, to stand for something more by helping the twins and Baby #3 to do and be more in relationship to other human beings:

Give your [kids] the tools they need to understand that their sexuality is a powerful thing, one that they are solely responsible for. Give them a framework for understanding that sex carries an enormous responsibility, not just to themselves, but to their partners…Pull the curtains back on the grey areas…

I want to teach them what it means to be honest – that when there is something that is awful happening in front of them, and it is making them squirm, they need to trust that feeling and be honest about that feeling, and speak up and out. I want to teach them what it means to be compassionate – that when someone needs an advocate, a voice to speak for them in a helpful way, they will respond courageously. I want to teach them what it means to be God’s light in the darkness – that this means sometimes being seen as foolish to the rest of the world, and protecting the weak, the fragile, and the rejected even when doing so will screw up people’s views of them.

Someone re-tweeted Eugene Cho today and I keep thinking about it (not because it’s really earth-shattering but because of the timing):

I keep thinking about stories. And the truthiness of stories, and how they are sometimes so much more truthful than rational proofs or mathematical equations or physical, historical, archaeological evidence. And then I think that, wait, actually, yes, I do want to screw up my kids.

I want to screw up all the stories that “Christianity” sometimes says about what a man is, what a woman is, and everything about their bodies and even what is unsaid about their bodies (which can say just as much).

I want to screw up all the stories that the media tries to burden them with in terms of who they should be, what they should look like, how they should dress, and who’s to blame.

I want to screw up all the stories that the world says about what it means to be screwed up, and give them the eyes and heart to see what is truly screwed up so they will have the grace and love to do something about it.

|| sigh ||

|| deep breath ||

What is it about Steubenville? Why is this story causing massive upheaval particularly in social media, and all sorts of responses at so many levels? And made me just add to the noise and clamoring on the interwebs? I felt the need to say something, and in a weird way it is like I have entered into a covenant that I will be a part of the movement. I echo the same hope:

Wouldn’t it be amazing if this case went down in history as a turning point in rape culture history? Perhaps we’ll tell future generations that, after Steubenville, more parents started educating their kids about consent, college students stopped thinking their peers were “asking for it” by going out to bars, police and cities started prioritizing sexual assault cases, and fewer people thought that a teenage girl is ready and willing when she is actually just unconscious.

It’s not just about me anymore. Having kids and a family, it’s not about me anymore. It’s about them. It’s about all our kids.

4 thoughts on “Screwing Up Our Kids: Fighting Rape Culture as a Parent

    • March 27, 2013 at 4:08 pm
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      Thanks, Katherine. I honestly am having trouble articulating myself these days. But processing on the blog helps a tiny bit. Sometimes! You’re so encouraging!

  • March 30, 2013 at 1:29 pm
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    although i agree with your blog, i find it ironic that you are talking about fighting rape culture, but are using violent words that symbolize the act of penetration and fucking. to say screw this or that is no better than saying rape this or that. this is rape culture.

    • March 31, 2013 at 9:36 pm
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      You have something there. Rape culture has “penetrated” a lot of our language. But I think language is tricky. I think most people would gather from the context of my writing that “screw” in this case is far from sexual.

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