What Do We Tell Our Daughters?
It is time to speak frankly about the rape culture in which we live. The current political climate has brought into the open a level of discourse that has never before been in the public arena. For the first time in my lifetime, the presidential campaign was X-rated. We couldn’t let our children watch it or discuss the commentary in elementary school. We couldn’t address the “hot” topics that were making headlines. But the electorate has made clear that we are living in a country that tolerates degrading comments about women and an acceptance of sexual assault by its leaders. The election is over and we have chosen a viewpoint that reinforces a rape culture. Those women who have suffered sexual assault in any form recognize it for what it is. Our task as parents is that of making our daughters aware of it and helping our sons become responsible for changing it.
What perspective can we give our daughters when the newly elected leader of the free world talks about grabbing “p_____” or advocates forcing himself on women because he is rich and powerful? How do we make them understand that this message is not meant for them and that they can resist unwanted advances no matter the position of the person or the importance of the situation? We can protect them when they are young and in the home but what about when they go to college or take a job in a faraway city? How do we teach them to protect themselves?
First, we must help them separate the morality and lifestyle of a leader from his or her ability to govern in political or financial matters. Sadly enough, many of our leaders are not exemplars of decency or integrity in their personal dealings. Our children, girls and boys, must often look elsewhere for moral leadership. Parents who meet those requirements are an excellent choice!
Then we must speak frankly about the reality of a rape culture. The old idea that women and girls are seductresses whose “come hither” behavior overwhelms men’s ability to control themselves is and has always been a way for men to project their lack of restraint onto women. Too many men feel entitled to fulfill their own desires at the expense of women who have neither seduced them nor consented. The prevalence of a rape culture on college campuses or in the military is a reality. Unfortunately, if females want to ensure their own safety they must limit their activities. That is, becoming intoxicated at a fraternity party is a recipe for disaster. Women have not “taken back the night” and, in fact, are not safe walking alone in the dark.
Girls and their mothers and grandmothers must also undergo an attitude change. For too long females have been taught that their proper role is one of obedience and submission. Women have been told that men are in charge and that they will protect and provide for their families. Some men do and they should be congratulated for doing so. But women in great numbers are also providing and protecting their families as the breadwinners and sole supporters. Even if they are not the breadwinners they do a great deal to ensure that their families function well. It is time that they realize that they are the strong ones and that their strength should also be acknowledged and congratulated.
It seems, as has been borne out in this election, that many women are still looking for a savior–that strong, handsome and wonderful man who will protect them, save them and provide for all their needs. They believe that they can find and keep him and will apparently pay any price to do so. But sadly enough, he is not out there. It is largely a fantasy that we have held onto far too long. Our best bet is to acknowledge our strength as women, stand up and be counted as equals, and work along with our daughters to build a society that makes us safe in every situation.
Next week we will talk about how we teach our sons to join us in this endeavor.
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Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.