What do my 3 year old son and Rep. Todd Akin have in common?
They are both someone’s child.
They both have parents who are responsible for teaching them how to be men. Kind, intelligent, aware, gentle men.
In our house, we are on Day 1 of Potty Learning with 3 year-old Max. While I’d prefer that he doesn’t pee on the floor, what really matters most is that he is learning to be aware of his body. We use the anatomically appropriate words for body parts. He knows he has a penis. We say the word penis. We’ve already had to do an impromptu “Make sure your penis goes back IN your underwear” lesson, and it’s only mid-day. But isn’t learning where your penis goes an important part of becoming a big boy?
You have to start somewhere.
Rep. Todd Akin said in an interview recently that “First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy after rape] is really rare…If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” In case you wondered who skipped out on Sex Ed to go smoke cigarettes in the parking lot, well, there you have it.
Yet it goes beyond that. “The female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” isn’t just grossly misinformed, it’s a great way for a man to not have to take responsibility. For the fact that sexual assault will change the trajectory of life for ONE IN FOUR women. For the fact that most rape cases are perpetrated by someone that a woman knows, and in many cases, someone she trusts. For the fact that ALL rapes are committed by someone’s son. Someone’s child, who grew up to be someone’s rapist.
Men rape for power and control. Our culture encourages men to exert power and control. Our culture ALLOWS it. We put misogynists in office so that they can promote it. When someone like Rep. Todd Akin “misspeaks” (his words, not mine), he is encouraging a level of ignorance among other men of power. A failure to understand basic anatomy and physiology, is not acceptable in my family. And it definitely shouldn’t be acceptable that our elected leaders do not have an accurate understanding of how women’s bodies work. Yet they **ahem** still think it’s appropriate to legislate our bodies, apparently. When you say that a woman’s body can protect her from a pregnancy after rape, you are really saying that you WISH a woman’s body could protect her. Because you feel that you can’t, and you’re too afraid to stand up and do anything about it. Denial is a tricky thing, but it doesn’t fix something that you don’t have the courage to change yourself.
How do we change the tide of power, control, and ignorance?
We start with our children. We teach our little boys what their penis is for. We teach them about vaginas. We say the word. We don’t call them “pee-pees” or “hoo-has”. We teach them about privacy. Respecting someone else’s space. Asking “Can I give you a hug?” instead of tackling a friend. We model gentle love in front of our children. We don’t hit. We take care of our bodies. We listen when our friends ask for space. We show respect when our friends are frightened.
As Max grows up, and he asks questions about sex and relationships, I know that Sean and I will need to be prepared to give him honest answers. Not just about how his anatomy works, but about how his partner’s anatomy will work. He will need to know that there will come a day when he finds himself at a crossroads with his partner, and his body will tell him to go forward as his mind tells him to go back. The only way that he will know if it is safe to continue, is if his respect for his partner’s spirit equals the respect that he has for his own. The line that seperates men who rape and men who respect, is drawn early on. It’s drawn in preschool classrooms. It’s drawn during sex ed. It’s drawn in families. I hold the blueprint for that line, as Max’s parent. It is our job to teach him. It is our job to prepare him for that moment.
Rep. Todd Akin is making me a better mom. He is reminding me of what happens when our children aren’t encouraged to learn about their bodies. He is reminding me of why I fight for women to have equal rights to healthcare and to “own” their own bodies. Fighting rape begins with me. It begins with you. In your living room. In your child’s bathroom. In family meetings. Thank you Rep. Akin, for reminding me of why Day 1 of potty-training my 3 year old is so important. Because body awareness starts now. Respecting your body and learning how to respect others, starts now. Rep. Akin, my three year old will learn the lessons that you haven’t. It’s not too late for you to start.