Not long ago, a mom asked me how to teach her toddler son to respect women as he grows older. We talked about teaching consent and bodily autonomy at an early age, buying him dolls and “caretaking toys” to play with, never using gender-shaming language, and stuff like that.
The truth is, there’s not just one way to raise boys who will grow up to respect women. I certainly don’t have all the answers. But when that same friend sent me an article by a Christian mom blogger from Entrusted Ministries, I was horrified. My mouth dropped.
Never in my life have I seen such a well-veiled pile of COMPLETE and utter trash.
Her advice for raising ethical boys? Teach them to cover their eyes around any woman who isn’t “properly” dressed.
She believes in teaching boys to look away when a woman wearing a bikini approaches their line of vision. Even on television.
She writes, “I have simply told Lincoln, ‘Please look away, she needs privacy.” He is developing a wonderful practice of protecting his eyes. Occasionally we will be in the grocery store and he will look up at me with his big eyes and say, “Mom, does that lady need privacy?’ I will bend down and kindly respond, encouraging his wisdom.”
On the surface, it seems sweet and respectful, and like she is making the point that it is boys’ and men’s responsibility to manage their own reactions to woman’s bodies.
Which would be great!
But that’s not REALLY what she’s saying. In fact, it’s the exact OPPOSITE of what she’s saying.
She’s not teaching him to manage his own reactions to women’s nudity. She’s teaching him that women’s nudity is POWERFUL, so powerful, in fact, that it should be covered, always, or avoided at all costs.
Because women’s bodies are dangerous.
“In this day and age, it is hard to know if we should even take our children to shopping malls anymore. How do we escape the larger-than-life photos of women in their undergarments? We have chosen to park at entrances that avoid these stores, but the photos are coming at them from so many sources; we can’t just ignore the topic. At some point, we need to train them to win this war.”
Don’t walk through department stores, moms and dads, BECAUSE YOUR CHILD, MAY SEE A MODEL IN A BRA.
No, it’s not sweet. Because no matter how she tries to say it, she blames women’s bodies for tempting her son.
How do we know?
Because, she tells us, one summer she wore midriff-bearing tops.
And she believes that was wrong of her.
“Honestly, never for one second did I intend to make someone stumble,” she says.
MAKE someone stumble.
She doesn’t mean making him literally stumble, not like he saw you and thought “heeyyyyyy” and then tripped over a tree root in the sidewalk. (I did that once, I made a guy trip when I was 20 and wearing new pair of Calvin Klein jeans and a Coca-Cola tee shirt. Pride is a sin, and I am a sinner, Lord.)
She means STUMBLE WITH GOD.
Because of what she wore.
And she regrets it. She regrets how she made men feel … by existing. In a crop top.
Listen up, ladies. Your body can’t “make” anyone do anything they don’t want to do, that they don’t CHOOSE to do.
And while encouraging your son to give women who are showing their bodies “privacy” seems sort of sweet on the surface, and maybe even a lesson in objectification, IT. IS. NOT.
It only teaches them that women’s bodies are powerful temptations into sin.
So powerful, in fact, that they are not to be seen outside the confines of marriage.
Because they can make boys do the wrong thing.
And that is a DANGEROUS thing to teach a boy.
Women’s bodies ARE powerful. But not because of the lust they can cause in (some) men. They are powerful because of all the things we choose to DO with them. Because of the intelligence and humor and creativity, they house within our brains (or, if you like, our souls). They are powerful because sometimes they create life within them and even nourish babies. They are powerful because WE are powerful.
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But so are men and boys. And they are powerful enough, and intelligent enough, to understand that lust is just a feeling. It is just another emotion, another drive, that can be explored, managed, and thought through.
Remind your boys, every day if you must, that seeing a beautiful thing, and even wanting a beautiful thing, doesn’t have to overwhelm their ability to make good choices.
Remind your boys, every day if you must, that others’ bodies are NOT our business and we do not need to “manage” them by imposing our own morality upon their personal choices.
That includes this insidious shaming disguised by the word “privacy”. All “give her privacy” means here is, “She shouldn’t be wearing that, and you shouldn’t be looking.”
Shame on her, shame on you.
And shame is a terrible, toxic, dangerous way to parent.
Your sons are powerful, parents. And they are probably also GOOD. They are powerfully able to manage their own desires and make good choices. Whether that’s in a convent surrounded by nuns or on a nudist beach.
If you teach your sons that women’s bodies are to be respected and honored, rather than feared, they will grow up to respect women … rather than spend a lifetime trying to CONTROL them.
Joanna Schroeder is a parenting writer and media critic whose writing has appeared in The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, Vox, and more.