A New Dad Asks, If Male Violence Is the Biggest Threat to Women—How Do I Raise a Kind Son?
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My wife and I brought home Rhodes, our first child, four months ago. Here's what I remember most about those first weeks: the smell of his skin and breath as he slept on my chest in our bed—small, warm, and fragile, like an egg. I breathed in the scent of the newest life I’d ever encountered as he slept.
He wasn’t undersized, but still I marveled at how tiny these newest of humans come. We, the most dominating creatures on Earth, start out so helpless and red and beautiful. I knew, as he lay curled against my heart, that I would do anything to protect him, love him, and bring him up right in the world.
Last month, four men in India were sentenced to death for a rape and murder of such brutality it can scarcely be believed. The week prior, four Vanderbilt University football players were charged with raping an unconscious woman (much like last year's events in Steubenville, Ohio). And during the previous spring, just before Rhodes was born, Ariel Castro was arrested in Cleveland for imprisoning three women—kidnapped as young girls—in his house for ten years.
These and similar stories constantly fill our network news, cable opinion shows, newspapers, social media, blogs... It's nearly impossible to avoid stories of violence, rape, and domination. Living rightly is hard enough on your own, and now I must raise a son to do so in a world that is, in part, characterized by men's violence against women.
Louis CK sums it up best: "There is no greater threat to women than men. We are the number one threat to women. Globally and historically, we’re the number one cause of injury and mayhem to women." And I worry that he’s right.
Now that I am a father, this question constantly sits before me: How do I raise a son of compassion and dignity? A man who respects women?
Boy or girl?
Early on during our pregnancy, my wife and I discussed whether we preferred to raise a boy or a girl. It was completely beyond our control, but the conversation stuck with me: boy or girl? We've created a world of great beauty as well as great terror. Would I rather send a young man into it, or a young woman?
As I awaited our child, my awareness of news about sexual violence reached new heights, and influenced how I thought about raising a boy or a girl.
A girl, my early thinking followed, could be protected. I worried about her safety, but I thought I could shelter her from the particular threats made against young women.
But a boy, that really scared me. Boys are the particular threat to young women. If we had a boy, we would have to raise a man. And what kind of man would he be?
I have difficulty imagining my infant son as anything other than the innocent person he is today. My assumption is this: I’ll be a good dad and he’ll be a good boy. But I cannot see the future. I love him and want him to love others, to be kind, to be aware of his actions, and to treat people with respect. I want him to learn from the men who have chosen these things instead of power and abuse.
Men as Peacemakers