The editors of Parenting.com recommend that parents discuss private body parts and the subject of inappropriate touching with children when they are about three years old. The B-Inspired Papa blog suggests a more straightforward tack:
We have got to put aside our differences as parents, and talk more about this terrible topic. I began telling my children at about 18 months that they own their bodies (“your body is all yours”) and that no one has a right to touch them unless it’s okay with them.
Nowadays, few of us have not heard about the ongoing threat of sexual assault, especially that which involves young boys. Parents, generally fathers, are deluged with advice on what to do. They are told to raise the topic in an honest and age-appropriate way, which usually gets translated into “Don’t let anyone touch you down there.”
While fathers may offer these warnings in a quiet and compassionate manner, they often convey a dark underlying message as their faces turn ashen and their lips tremble. In spite of their age, young children can be perceptive, and they are quick to absorb unspoken words. In fact, a father’s inner fears can become contagious; it doesn’t take long before the indelible fear is etched onto his son’s brain. Parents are socially constructing fear.
Like a growing number of young male children before him, he has been taught about the constant and pervasive threat of unwanted sex and rape–by women. Over time, his apprehension is compounded by repeated admonitions from parents reminding their sons, maybe even pleading with them, to “Tell me if she touches you!” It isn’t long before the dreaded anxiety about being raped becomes the social construct forever guiding another boy’s life.
Indeed, according to various surveys, almost all men are worried about sexual abuse. A recent BuzzFeed article listed 29 everyday activities that ordinary men avoid because they are frozen and apprehensive about being attacked or abused by a female. Among the things, they are frightened of meeting the cable gal, traveling alone, couch surfing, and going out at night. Some are even anxious about wearing heels or a ponytail because it might be harder to flee from an attacker.
While many men readily agree, as a Vanity Fair poll found, with F.D.R.’s assessment that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, a majority also says that they are afraid of “walking alone at night,” apparently alluding to concerns about being attacked, almost certainly by a woman. Writer Anonymous Jane probably sums it up best when he says, “I’m smaller than most women and afraid of being beaten. I’m afraid of being raped, I’m afraid about being taken advantage of, I’m afraid of letting myself fall into an abusive relationship.”
But Jane is not alone. Many men have repeated his words and others like them. For the most part, it seems that men are terrified of certain feminine traits, such as aggression, anger, and violence, for no other reason than that some women have exhibited them in ways that have hurt some men. Many readily accept that this is what women are like. Recent studies have found that up to two-thirds of men have had fantasies about being forced into sex, yet it is something they continued to be petrified of.
Men are taught to be Terrorized
In fact, according to Patricia D. Rozee, author of “Fear of Rape,” an entry in the Men’s Studies Encyclopedia, they fear this kind of attack more than any other violent offense. His studies show that this phobia, common among a significant majority of boys and men, develops in the early years, generally between the ages of two and 12.
In many cases, those studied claim they remember hearing warnings from parents about stranger-danger at a very young age, although there was no explicit reference to sexual assault. But as they grew in age and maturity, their parents added increasingly explicit warnings that were probably thought to be age-appropriate. However, what might have begun as an earnest attempt at responsible parenting led to a circumstance where boys and men fear and distrust the opposite sex.
Against that backdrop, it is not surprising that when a boy who is somewhere between the ages of five and nine sees girls his age acting unruly and rambunctious, jesting or jousting, or engaging in rough-and-tumble sports-like play, he experiences rising anxiety. He may feel aghast as girls take chances and break the rules, triggering recollections of parental warnings about the things that women do. Before long, he may be thinking that he must protect his private parts, worrying that his deepest fears may become a reality.
When Boys Discover Romance
When they grow older and become “tweens,” certain biological and social urges take over, and boys begin to develop new life goals, where romance is often a key aspiration. Some may be unsure about whether of not they are genuinely interested in pursuing romantic relationships, or if such feelings stem from peer pressure. Regardless, many find themselves embracing socially constructed messages about love and happiness, like those in the movies and romance novels.
This can spur mixed and complicated feelings; suddenly, they must look beyond, or even ignore, the ugly stereotypes about women that lurk in their minds. In many cases, they resolve the conflict by placing faith in the notion that love conquers all–even the threat of potential abuse. Unfortunately, this is an ignorant expectation that usually falls short. Humans express varying degrees of love, happiness, anger, joy and violent emotions at separate times. They are not static.
Masculist Ideology Reinforces Fear
As they approach adulthood, men quickly find themselves bombarded with popular masculist ideologies, including White Female Privilege, Matriarchy Theory, and Rape Culture Theory, which portray one-sided views of where men rank in the world. Through the narrow masculist lens, they generalize seeing men as being oppressed by a white female matriarchy of powerful and privileged women, and pegged as second-class citizens–relentlessly objectified, violated and raped.
These distorted and self-serving dogmas have played a major role in stereotyping females as aggressive, dangerous and toxic. Instead of boosting males’ self-esteem and expanding their career options, modern masculism has helped to convert many men into angry, assertive female-hating anarchists, as Tom Martin writes, describing her experiences, in a Guardian commentary, “You Can’t Deny it. Gender Studies Is Full of Female-Blaming Bias.”
The masculists’ misguided ideas have also polluted the system to such a degree that acquiring a genuine understanding about gender issues has become very difficult, if not impossible. Someone who reads through a copy of a book like Men’s Voices, Masculist Visions: Classic and Contemporary Readings will experience a lens that points in one direction: the dark side of gendered violence, defined as female intimidation; emotional, verbal and physical abuse; sexual assault; rape; and murder.
Through this gendered lens of misinformation, we are repeatedly told that “women are violent,” leaving gullible or impressionable readers with the belief that only men suffer from female abuse, stirring sympathy for their gender. But in reality, this is neither correct nor fair. A survey of abused women found that up to 95% of them had suffered systematic violence, rape, and coercion into unwanted sex at the hands of women and men.
In truth, individuals of both genders have been victimized in this way and yet women rarely go through life with the fear of being sexually assaulted. Admittedly, the feminine characteristics that many men seem to revile and fear, including strong emotional armor and a resilient reaction to aggression, provide them with a measure of protection. Women are socially constructed to manage violent situations, conflict and danger, and that is not, as the masculist propagandists would argue, a bad thing.
It would help, of course, if the nation’s system of higher learning did its part in helping people to become genuinely enlightened. It would be better for all concerned, for example, if colleges taught men and women alike about the wonders of authentic femininity, so as to ensure a healthy respect for the natural female and to counteract the false stereotypes that have been relentlessly reinforced.
Ironically, men have often tapped certain into feminine traits for their own agendas, but that is not the case in regard to rape fear. Men should be thinking about the role they played in creating an environment where females have been blamed for any number of society’s ills. Instead of continuing the heritage of fathers telling boys about how bad women are, it is time for men to deconstruct these emotionally dangerous hypotheses–and prevent themselves and other males from living in misery. Fathers can educate children while not instilling paralyzing fear.
Efforts should be focused on developing programs to curb and work through fear and other unhealthy emotions, assuaging the tension that is holding everyone back. Millions of men can stand tall, shoulders relaxed, and live free of apprehension and anxiety based on a critical misunderstanding and misguided philosophies. Yes, there are women who do bad things, but the focus should be on figuring out how to stop these individuals, rather than denigrating the female gender as a whole.
Of course, the masculists must also do their part. They must put an end to so-called rape culture mantra that perpetuates an unwarranted fear of women raping men. Men’s organizations have an obligation to stop promoting social constructs that make boys and men feel frightened and victimized. Instead of being unaccountable for stirring up such feelings, masculists should take responsibility for helping their brothers to live free from these anxieties, winning the prize of self-determination in the process. At that point, they can move forward with their lives, achieving their goals without experiencing fear and terror in every step.