It’s hard to talk to your kids about consent. In a household of five, including some big personalities, there’s a lot of shouting, “DON’T PUT YOUR SHOES ON THE KITCHEN BENCH AND WHERE IS YOUR CLARINET?” and not a lot of time for quiet reflection and reasoned discussion.
By now you’ve probably read the incredible victim impact statement by the woman raped at Stanford University by Brock Turner. (I hate calling her that, as she is undoubtedly much more than that, but I don’t know her name and I refuse to reduce her to “the victim.”) You’ve also probably read the entitled and telling character references from Turner’s family and friends, which have done us the favour of highlighting not only the environment Turner grew up in but in illuminating the white and male privilege of that environment.
So I’ve been thinking a lot in the past few days about Brock Turner, the woman he raped and how we as parents can make sure our own children don’t turn out to be Brocks or in relationships with Brocks.
It’s a cliché, but parenting is hard, our ability defined mostly by the mistakes we make. Much of the time I feel like I’m failing at the most important thing I’ll ever do. Our success as parents tends to be measured and rewarded based on our child’s ability, not his or her kindness. You can read this in Brock Turner’s father’s letter. He raised a man who was an exceptional swimmer but, based on the available evidence, a terrible person. It’s clear from his letter that the truth of that is too confronting to acknowledge.
Do you know the band 5 Seconds of Summer? No? I envy you. The slightly edgier One Direction, they play their own instruments, sing songs that are catchy as hell and are sooooo cute. We listen to them a lot. Constantly, in fact.
On the way to school this morning with Ella, aged 10, we were listening to 5SOS’s “Heartbreak Girl,” which I’ve heard, conservatively, 52 gazillion times. It’s a template unrequited love song.
But with the Stanford rapist’s family and friends’ focus on his suffering and his deprivation going through my head, for the first time I found myself really listening to the lyrics.
I’m stuck in the friend zone again and again…
I know someday it’s gonna happen
And you’ll finally forget the day you met him
Sometimes you’re so close to your confession,
I gotta get it through your head
That you belong with me instead.
I asked Ella, “What do you think the friend zone is?”
“It’s when they’re friends but he wants to be more than friends.”
“But she just wants to be friends?”
“Well, I think she likes him, because he says she’s close to confessing.”
“But that’s just what he thinks. Don’t you think she would say if she did like him?”
“I guess so. Maybe she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“Maybe. But she’s not responsible for his feelings, he is. If she doesn’t like him, it’s not her fault. He just needs to deal with it and get over it.” He’s not entitled to her feelings or her body, I thought, but I didn’t say it, not today.
Yes, parenting is complicated and difficult. But I feel in this instance we have access to a pretty simple truth we can pass on to our sons and daughters (especially our sons). You should never have sex with anyone who wants it more or less than you do.
So these are the things I will talk about, at least until I get an eye roll and “Dad, it’s just a song.”
Then I think, my work here is done. For today.