Think Rape Culture Doesn’t Exist? Think Again
Numerous polls show that most Americans believe the assault and rape charges against the American President Donald J. Trump were right but voted him in anyway.
That’s rape culture.
The Washington Post-Kaiser Poll (2015) found that 20% of young women who attended college during the past four years experienced sexual assault. Other studies reflect similar numbers.
That means 1 in 5 young women are at risk.
That’s rape culture.
Professionals who work in the area of domestic violence have seen an increase in calls from battered women terrified at what lies ahead with the incoming President Donald Trump, who is known for his misogynistic [women-hating] tendencies. Openly hostile to women, he has surrounded himself with appointed politicians, celebrities and sports stars with recorded histories of violent abuse towards women.
That’s rape culture.
But we’re not here to talk about the politics.
We’re here to talk about the continuation of an environment which makes it feel dangerous for women to report incidents of violence.
That’s rape culture.
And that’s NOT okay.
What Do We Do?
How can parents begin to address change? What can we do to make sure our daughters can stand up under pressure and say “No”?
Firstly, we start by understanding what the term “rape culture” means.
Maybe people misunderstand “rape culture,” assuming it means the encouragement of rape. It’s much more than that. Google defines rape culture as:
[pullquote align=”normal” cite=”Google.com”]“a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse”[/pullquote]
We promote rape culture every day, often unknowingly.
brush aside a girl’s rape because she had too much to drink
vote in a president who enjoys “locker-room talk”
stand by as someone makes a derogatory sexual joke
permit people to objectify our daughters (“She’ll be able to go anywhere with that face.”)
From a therapist’s standpoint, “locker-room talk” is not normal talk. It is common talk in rape culture.
Even if you’re not convinced we live in a sexually aggressive culture, we can agree that you don’t want your daughter being pressured, manipulated, or forced into anything against her will.
Let’s decide to consciously raise our daughters to be empowered, one day at a time, over a lifetime.
Empower Your Daughter to Speak Her Mind
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It’s not enough to know an action is wrong. Your daughter needs to understand why. She needs to know she has support. She needs to know her choices and her resources.
She needs to internalize her personal rights.
It is imperative that she knows her ultimate power. Pussy power. (I said it. Deal with it.)
The shock value of that word can be used to explode any hesitation we may have.
We will not walk away from this attack on women.
No waiting and hoping for change.
We will not make nice.
When/How/Where Do I Start?
From the moment you first hold her in your arms, your daughter deserves to understand she has power. The journey continues into adulthood.
Here’s a breakdown – by age – of ways to appropriately discuss your daughter’s sexuality, her emotions and her power of choice. Here’s how to raise daughters who stand up to the rape culture:
Ages 0-3 Years Old
Use Anatomically Correct Names For All Body Parts
Doing this honors the functional aspect of her body, a vast and magnificent terrain.
Encourage Your Daughter’s Autonomy Over Her Body
Note her reactions if someone has physical contact with her, such as a kiss, a hug, or a tickle. If she is not happy with it, stop it. Refer to her reaction and reinforce that she is the boss of her body.
Physical affection is a choice, even with parents, grandparents, siblings and other family members.
No Required Demonstrations Of Affection
It may seem sweet to have your daughter kiss everyone goodnight at your social gathering, but never – ever – enforce a required demonstration of affection.
It’s confusing – and it can be creepy.
As a therapist, I have had many talks with adults and children, teens and pre-teens, and a sense of dis-empowerment and violation may resonate years afterward.
While physical and emotional affection is a beautiful and necessary human exchange, check in with your daughter to ensure that she is giving of her volition.
No Trained Monkeys
ASK her what she wants – and then respect her decision, no matter if it looks impolite to others. You’re not raising a trained monkey; you’re raising an empowered individual who is comfortable with her body, her boundaries and her place in the world.
You can consider alternatives that do not involve physical contact, such as “Do you want to wave goodbye?” (If she says no, so be it).
Communicate to others what you are doing. Inform them that you are allowing your daughter to have final say over her body. You are encouraging her to voice her decisions regarding personal, physical and emotional space.
If they think your child is a brat and you a bad parent because you’re not forcing physical performances, okay. You’ll know who not to invite to your next gathering.
Compliments Don’t Require A Thank You
Little girls get bombarded with compliments, usually on their physical appearance.
Your daughter is not required to say thank you.
She didn’t ask for the comment. She may not even want it.
When you encounter these compliments (usually given with good intentions), offer a reinforcement of another attribute that goes beyond physical appearance.
Complimenter: “Oh, she is adorable, look at those dimples!”
Empowering Mama/Papa: “Yes and she can jump on the monkey bars! … or … “She is kind to her baby brother,” etc.
Play around with the responses that feel appropriate to you, acknowledging that human kindness is a consideration. However – be mindful of the underlying message that may accompany an enforced ‘thank you’ to even well-meaning compliments.
I have seen many parents push their child to say “Thank you” to a stranger’s passing comment. While it may be “polite,” it holds the potential for eventual disempowerment, victimization, and even abuse.
An example of where it all can lead:
You’re so pretty.
That skirt looks good on you.
It makes me want you.
You got me hot.
It’s all because you look so good.
It makes me want to grab your…
That’s rape culture.
(Continue with the above, from the 0-3 age group)
Bring Up Gender Differences
Boys, men, girls and women are different. Start the conversation, referring to the anatomical uses of body parts.
Bring It Back To Her Body
Engage in dialogue that is physically self-referential. Ask questions regarding her emotional and bodily reactions to everyday events.
If she feels scared of the dark, for instance, ask her: Where in your body do you feel that?
When she is excited about seeing a friend, perhaps ask: What does that feel like?
Eating ice cream on a warm day could inspire an inquiry into where she feels the cold in her body.
Inquiries as to the effects of pleasure and discomfort from both physical and emotional situations – experienced on a physical level – help your little one tune into a gut understanding of what feels right, and not right.
Continue with the above
Continue with sex ed – see resources at end
Re-frame Current Events To Empower – Not Terrify
Your daughter may have overheard adults discuss current situations of female abuse, assault and more. While it’s not age-appropriate to bring it to them, if they are curious and ask, find ways to reframe the details.
Watch social media (TV, movies, the internet) with your daughter, and use stories of feminine disempowerment to initiate a discussion. Note her reactions first and then offer yours. These can be great learning tools. Keep the viewing selections age-appropriate, and if in doubt, go G rather than R.
Again, we want to teach our girls self-empowerment, not future fears. Be mindful of how you are presenting these lessons to your daughter.
Reinforce the times your child stood up for her boundaries and go over the times when she did not achieve that. Mistakes are awesome opportunities for learning.
Ask her how it felt to her – both emotionally and physically. Perhaps she gets a pit in her stomach; maybe her throat tightens up when confronted. How does it feel in her body during the event – and afterward?
Maybe the event was an incident where her toys were taken from her or when someone said a mean remark.
Taking the time to acknowledge and validate any feelings your little girl has will set the stage for future events when her intuition and gut response are clear indicators to action.
When Racism Gets Mixed With Misogyny
While this will come up before your daughter turns five years old, at this age, your child has a more intellectual capacity to understand the issues of race. I’m a white woman, and while there are similarities, many problems are different – when you add racism to misogyny, you get an f’d up kettle of fish.
Since I cannot speak from personal experience on how to raise a black child, I consulted with friends and colleagues. All said a variation of what Lurie Daniels states in a post,
[pullquote align=”normal”]It’s hard out here for a Black parent raising Black kids. We have to protect our kids from all of the usual dangers that other parents are concerned about. But we have the added task of protecting Black kids from internalizing the onslaught of messages that tells them that they are not good enough, too violent, not smart enough, not pretty enough or simply not as valuable as other kids. Just because they are Black. [/pullquote]
White and Black feminism tend to get blended. While misogyny will impact all women of all colors, there are unique and specific threats and challenges to females of color.
Awareness is the beginning of change.
Communication Styles in Your Family
Yes, we are parents. Yes, we have the ultimate decision-making power (when they are young).
However, consider taking a more collaborative, as compared to a unilateral, top-down approach to communicating and decision-making.
Approaching both with full consideration of your daughter’s input is key to her knowing that her word and opinions matter.
We need to ask ourselves:
- How can I, as her mother, release my authority so that my daughter can be more confident asserting her power and agency in her world?
- How can I give her the space to explore her dominion over her thoughts, her body, and her actions?
(Continue with the above)
Focus on privacy, nudity, and appropriate dress.
During this potent pre-puberty age, continue to emphasize boundaries. Bring up issues surrounding privacy, nudity, and proper dress.
Discussing sexuality’s shadow and pleasure aspects with her is tough, but necessary.
Your daughter can start to understand matters of sexual coercion, abuse, and rape. While the shadow aspects of sexuality are necessary to discuss, it is important to highlight the pleasure of sexual interaction.
Your Daughter’s Body Manual
Anatomical lessons, with attention to the areas in the body of arousal and pleasure, will give your daughter a confidence to later discern what a good touch is and what is not.
It’s her body, for her lifetime, and knowing its parts, functions, and strengths is self-awareness as its most essential.
Continue with the above
Explorations In Expressing Her Sexuality
Profound intellectual conversations can start during the age of adolescence, with its rapid cognitive development. During this exciting transition to adulthood, your daughter will most likely begin to have an interest in expressing her sexuality with boys – or girls.
Regardless of her gender alignment, she will need tools and resources to maneuver the often minefield-laden territory of gender.
The Body As A Source Of Wisdom
If it doesn’t feel right, it’s wrong. Rape culture creeps up on you, and you don’t realize your lines have shifted.
Paying attention to her bodily-felt sensations will align your daughter with the inherent wisdom in her body. Feelings range from the quotidian – sleep (or lack of), eating (well or poorly) – to events such as test-taking, going to parties, meeting someone she likes.
Awareness of her physical body will connect her to an inner wisdom that is often overlooked when hormones, emotions, new situations, and perspectives are whirling around her.
Hormones Are Raging – And In Balance
Also, the hormonal flux of menarche adds to the chaos! Again, having your daughter tune into her body will empower her to recognize these changes as they occur. She will understand their genesis and – in time – learn how to work with her body to achieve balance. Your daughter’s periods are enabling her to become a woman, and this miraculous transition requires mindfulness.
The moment your daughter starts to bleed – her life irrevocably changes.
Remind her – and yourself – to breathe. Deeply. A pause is a perfect way to stop the madness and regain some sanity.
This is her time to enter into the magnificence of her feminine power. You – as Mama -get to witness, in solidarity, your daughter becoming a woman!
The Power Of Puberty And Womanhood
Let your daughter know that her womanhood is a unique gift. Not to vulgarize a fascinating process, but to embolden her to step up and live into her confidence.
Women birth the planet, nurture the species, transform the world. There is nothing she cannot do, with mindful confidence. There is everything available to her.
Your daughter holds a treasure in her reproductive system, and NO ONE – EVER is allowed to malign it.
Continuing Talks On Power and Empowerment
Feminine allure is a powerful energy. It’s big. Profound. Scary. Transforming. Destructive. Enrapturing.
Men may attempt to control it – including her dad, brothers, boyfriends, bosses, friends and strangers.
Only your daughter controls her sexuality.
It all comes back to her, not rape culture – what does she want? Whom does she want to associate with – and whom does she want to avoid? What is she hoping to achieve?
Apply this to romantic partnerships, as well as school and work relationships and friendships.
Just because a guy likes her and wants her, your daughter holds the ultimate decision in any and every interaction. Here’s where not having to say thank you to random compliments will give her that tacit understanding that she owes nothing to an admirer.
The appreciation of her beauty is thank you enough.
The rest is up to her.
Clothing Styles And Intention
How a society feels about clothing plays a huge role in their stance on rape culture.
Her choice of clothing is a projection of her unique style. Conscious attention to what she may be tacitly expressing is empowering.
This in no way says that if she dresses in a provocative fashion that she deserves slut-shaming.
Knowing that certain dress styles will attract attention is self-knowledge and key to understanding her feminine allure.
Most of all, your daughter’s body is hers, and she chooses her temple and any postulants.
If your daughter is LGBTQ, she will have additional considerations. Be sensitive and enlist help if this is foreign territory to you. (Resources at the end)
Bodily touch affects sensitive nerve-endings in the body. Even unwanted or unsolicited touch may feel physically good. Having someone shower her with attention and flattery could feel emotionally satisfying.
However, discernment may reveal a different perspective.
This is inappropriate, I feel disempowered, I feel confused are all messages that could arise from sexual attention administered by someone not right for her.
It’s usually not black and white. A fine line delineates cognition and emotion.
Awareness of the potential repercussions of a situation – even if it feels good and emotionally exciting – is where discernment will empower your daughter.
Consent Is Never Tacit
Permission is given when the following is in alignment: the physical feel-good, the emotionally-satisfying, matched with an assurance that this person is safe, loving and appropriately matched.
Will they make mistakes? Hopefully.
All of these are great opportunities to learn early on, and the dialogues that you start with her at a young age will be her guiding star her entire life.
Your work is not done, Mama! (Aren’t we fortunate to have this life-long gig?!)
Continue discussing your daughter’s sexuality, her relationships, her ecstasies and her heartbreaks. Keep fighting against rape culture, pushing out of your comfort zone.
Yes, it’s confusing and chaotic and loving – and delightful.
Life and love and aaaah!
Step back. Let her fall and leap and make a mess and return to you.Help her come into alignment with her beauty and power.
Yay! Girl Empowerment.
Healing YOU As Mama
As you engage in empowering your daughter, from birth to adulthood, take the time to heal yourself. As women, we have endured abuses to our power. Perhaps we handled them all perfectly.
Most likely, we did not.
Forgive yourself for any action or reaction which in hindsight you wish were different. Process what you’ve gleaned from these unfortunate encounters.
You may want to share some of them with your daughter.
As a woman bringing your beloved daughter into the world often fraught with sexual turmoil. Take care of yourself, first. Seek help, talk to friends, journal, walk in nature. Whatever helps you grapple with your core identities of empowerment.
It’s not just for you, but for all the girls to come.
Engage Early In Dialogue To Instill Healthy Boundaries
A few years ago, a prominent member of a rural American town had committed several acts of pedophilia. The community held talks as a means of processing the horrific news. While some of the children had been victims of this man’s abuse, a few managed to avoid his advances.
What is it about the health of the child who can say no, respecting the body and its boundaries? This man was beloved and respected. His attention most likely felt like a compliment. A bestowing of honor.
- How do we help the young ones (in this case both boys and girls) who could not fend off a violation of their boundaries?
- What can we do to validate a child’s feelings when they say no to something that doesn’t feel good?
- How do we raise children who can act on their intrinsic awareness that something is wrong?
So, what clearly came out of these discussions was the need to start early instilling in children a confidence that will take them from babyhood to adulthood.
You start from birth, and you never stop.
Hold Responsibility – Not Blame
Acknowledging that we all hold responsibility – not blame – for the contemporary derogatory attitudes towards the feminine, future change (both personally and globally) is not only possible, but it’s also a guarantee.
We can empower our girls – and boys – to do better.
Yes, we can. Yes, we are. We start now.
Please, share if you care. Thanks!
Sex Ed for Kids (additional resources are listed) Why Sex Ed Has to Include the P Word
SexEd info for teens and emerging adults Scarleteen
Reproductive and sexual health for young people Advocates for Youth
Black Parents Raising Black Kids
Raising Racially-Conscious Kids
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Nice and informative content that tackles about it. And rape culture should not be tolerable and the victims shouldn't be blamed.
This is an amazing article. Sexual assault is finally gaining some attention, specifically in the media. It upsets me, though, that victims normally speak up only after others bring light to the assault. We must raise courageous daughters, and in my teens, I did not possess that courage. As a victim myself, I only spoke up after my niece, also a sexual assault victim, faced her attackers. Well, she plans to, but three years later, the D.A. has yet to move forward with prosecuting these young men, further encouraging the rape culture in our country. How can we move beyond a culture that our legal system does not promptly respond to?
Carrie, this message slipped past me somehow! So sorry for the delay! You and your daughter’s courage and determination are inspiring. I’m so sorry for what you went through and wish wholeheartedly that our legal system would be more proactive in addressing sexual assault and harassment issues. I truly believe the more we talk about it our experiences with the system, them ore change we can motivate. Sexual assault is something we far too often hide and pursue our attackers behind closed doors. Your voice and courage are what we need to implement change, along with holding our lawmakers and legal system accountable for their actions (or lack thereof). Your voice is a strong one and I hope we hear it more!
Thank you for bringing up this topic in an open and honest way. I have made it a point to talk to my 4-year-old daughter about her anatomy. My family thinks it weird but I wanted her to know that she has a vagina like mommy and she came out of my vagina. It’s important for her to know that her body has a purpose and is not a form of entertainment or pleasure for anyone other than herself. I will use the suggested conversations as she continues to grow into a woman and what that means for her.
It is really challenging as a mama to maneuver all these areas of our children’s love and sexuality. It requires us to turn inward, look at our beliefs, see how we came to form them – and then – possibly, change what is not in alignment with our truth. Congratulations on starting the conversation – it will have bumps and smooth rides! (I have 3 kids, 2 daughters – one in her teens, the other 20s). Even if the conversation never began when the kids were little, it is NEVER TOO LATE!!
THank you for taking the time to comment!
One thing I’ve also noticed, that even I do often to my niece, is call her cute and adorable all of the time. While she may be a very cute little girl, I think we as a culture are much too obsessed with physical appearance. Instead I think we should refrain from so much of that talk and instead focus on the God-given beauty of the child’s soul and their inner uniqueness as a human being.
I think one of the largest fuels for this rape, over-sexualized, women-degrading culture that we live in is the prevalence and normalization of pornography and the like. It disgustingly perverts and objectifies both men and women, especially women. We need to fight these things and educate especially young boys what it means to value a woman, and respect her as a fellow human being.
Yes! That’s it! And if we do call a child beautiful, then let’s add in “You’re beautiful inside and out, you have a great heart” etc.
Pornography and a constant over-sexualization in media, commercials and the like bypasses the beauty of sexuality, making it a commodity – bought and sold. Being vigilant with our young ones, using our money to purchase goods that are marketed without resorting to degrading women, and choosing TV and films that do not always feature a woman being raped or brutalized (one of the top plots twists) may be good starts.
Thank you for bringing up your points of view – well-taken and appreciated for their insight and wisdom.
This was such an important article, and one I will carry with me. It leaves me reflecting upon my behavior. In particular- I really enjoy chatting with kids. So often I am at, for instance, the supermarket and see a preschool girl all dazzling in her sparkly pink outfit. I will start the conversation: “Oh, I really like your dress, your tights, your headband, what have you.” My intention is to point to something concrete as a way to say hi. And, though, you can tell there is some self-expression in the sparkle, perhaps it is not what I should reinforce. I am going to challenge myself to find another conversation starter!
Thanks Carla! That is all we can do – notice it and then make the changes when we see fit. I had someone years ago point that out to me and it radically changed my interactions. We can’t help but be formed but the cultural collective, which teaches a very different, underlying message.
Carla, thanks for bringing this up! “Another conversation starter” is exactly what I need when talking to kids (and adults, too, I think!). Therese, perhaps we need to brainstorm a list of conversation starters???
Thank you, Therese, for such a powerful article. What can people do now that the marches are over? Your article is an example of how to carry the work forward. You give parents concrete ways to make a difference throughout their daughters’ lives, I hope all my friends with daughters will read this!
And also the aunts, uncles, neighbors and even passers-by. We can hold the space for a child’s viewpoint – boy or girl. For instance, seeing a kid in a store, saying “hello” and the kid not wanting to reply. Sometimes the parent prods their son or daughter to respond. I like to say – “That’s not necessary for me – and I totally get not wanting to say hi back! Perhaps another time – or not!” Without undermining the parental authority, but to make it light that it’s not a big deal and it is up to the child.
Denise, I found an awesome citizen’s pledge that a group of designers has created. It would be awesome to see done outside of the designer realm. Basically, it’s a pledge to focus on social justice issues – at the local level. Check it out. It has great ideas for families, too, even if you chose one part of the pledge to focus your attention on (like attending one local governance session per quarter or pledging to vote in every election, not just the presidential one). What I like about is they are focusing on making change at the local level, which is really what we need. https://www.fastcodesign.com/3067393/design-is-political-pledge-now-to-do-your-part?partner=rss
Therese – bam! This article is on in so many ways. Thank you for having the courage not to shrink back from challenging conversations, and for offering not only great insight but practical ways to be a more conscious parent. As a male survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I also want to echo Candice’s comment above about the value of sharing this information with those raising sons, too!
Thanks, Benjamin. In light of recent events in the U.S., the focus was more on girls – but boys are in this picture as well. I’m curious if there are any particular points that were not covered in the girls’ article that would be appropriate in reference to boys?
Thanks for being so candid and sharing your story – it makes working with this less clandestine and in the dark, and more illuminating and transforming. Deep gratitude.
Benjamin, I would love to hear if there is anything you feel should be mentioned about raising boys? Thank you for your courage and strength!
I’ll be sharing this article with everyone I know who’s raising a daughter OR a son. And thank you for including race in this conversation. Feminism can’t afford to be colorblind.
Candice, thanks so much! You are so right about sharing with sons, too! I wish every parent would push past the fear of these types of conversations. Thanks for being so strong!
Thank you, Candice, for your generous comment. These are scary times and we have to be in this together, knowing that our issues are similar and different at the same time.