Walking home alone

“The patriarchy is a bitch, and I’m mad that my daughters have to grow up in it.”

WalkingHomeAlone

Recently, I was invited to join a science fiction book club that meets monthly at a pub about a mile from my house. Most of the folks in the group are parents, so we meet at 8:00 PM, allowing for family time after work. The night of the club, I helped put our youngest to bed and then told my wife, Kat, I was ready to walk over. She paused, clearly surprised that I would be walking–not because I rarely exercise,1 but because it was dark outside.

As a 6-foot-2 white male, I have the privilege of not thinking twice about walking through my neighborhood alone at night. While anyone, anywhere, can be a victim of crime or police harassment, due to the nature of my skin color, size, and gender, being worried about it is not ingrained into my psyche.

The patriarchy is a bitch, and I’m mad that my daughters have to grow up in it. My daughters will think twice about going for a run late at night. My daughters are going to be taught and learn that men will see their bodies as objects. They are going to be taught that walking alone at night is an “invitation” to assault. Society will tell them that they are naive not to be afraid. They will be told they need a nice man to walk them home.

My daughters will live with a fear of sexual assault throughout their lives. One in six American women have been the victim of rape or attempted rape.

I’ll say that again: One. In. Six.

Think of six women in your life. There is a one in three chance that one of my daughters will experience sexual violence.

I feel outraged and impotent. I can protect my girls from many things, but I cannot protect them from this. When my girls are teenagers, would I let them walk a mile home alone at night? Would I let my teenage son? What should I do to temper the anxiety that all women are taught to feel?

I feel I can only do small things. While they are little, I’m trying to be the man who stops. If I am tickling my girls and they say the words “stop” or “no,” I stop. If they want me to start again, they have to tell me to. If they ask me to not hug or kiss them, I don’t. As they grow into teenagers, I want them to have an ingrained sense of what consent is and how people express it.

One of the tragedies of our society is that we teach women that they are not supposed to enjoy sexual intimacy. This is stupid. Not all women want to sleep with men, but many do, and you’d think that men would have figured this out by now. I want my daughters to experience the joys of being an adult human, which includes figuring out the sex life they enjoy. I am offended by “shotgun and shovel” dad jokes. I am offended by t-shirts like this one.2 I’m not afraid that my girls will have sex lives; I’m worried about the world that makes it an uphill battle for them to have a good one.

I cannot fix how we collectively treat women. I cannot fix that an obscene number of women will know sexual violence. But I think we can talk about it more. So…

To parents of daughters: What do you do to balance teaching your daughters to be both safe and unafraid? How do you convey that consensual sexual activity is both normal and pretty keen?

To parents of sons: How have you taught your son about objectification and consent? How do you teach him about the power he doesn’t know he has?

— ∮∮∮ —

Footnotes

  1. Which is true. 
  2. If I made a shirt:
    1. Everything by mutual consent.
    2. Emotional manipulation nullifies consent.
    3. Treat your partner better than you’d treat yourself. 

Photo by: pietroizzo

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Sam Davies

Sam Davies is the father of two daughters (ages four and seven) who lives in Northside Richmond. He and his wife Kat are trying their best to not raise sociopaths.

24 comments on Walking home alone

  1. As the mother of a son I feel like one of my most important jobs is to teach my son how to treat women. Seriously, this keeps me up at night because I want to make sure we are doing absolutely everything we can. Our son isn’t quite five yet, so for now we’re putting a big focus on consent. Like you, if he asks us to stop doing something, we stop. But it goes both ways. If he’s putting his hands or body on us in a way we don’t like–even if he’s “just playing”–we tell him to stop and make a big deal about it if he doesn’t.

  2. Teaching our children is more than instructing them. “Doing”, to me, is the most important factor. I’m the father of two young daughters and of course I try my best to instruct them. More importantly, I treat their mother with love and respect and she does the same for me. We do our best not to fight too much in front of them and, if we do, to do so fairly. We make good on our promises and we don’t use violence, force, or coercion to try to get our way. The choices we make in our lives, as parents, overshadow the things we tell them.

  3. This. This all the time! I’m a 20-something and I experience this a lot… this number one cause? Men have no idea why I’m afraid to be alone and think the steps I take are “silly.” For instance, I never have cab drivers drop me off at my apartment, I go to the gas station across from my apartment and walk over once they drive away. Also, I never let men into a secure building… if they don’t have a key they can wait for someone they know. I read that most women who are attacked in key-card access buildings let their own attacker in. Your mission is a noble one. I finally am dating a guy who was raised properly and knows how to treat a woman. Also, my dad never acted like he owned me (which is where the tradition of those stupid rules comes from) which I think helps. Just know that any little thing you do with your daughters will help them for a long time… but also know they are being taught that their (sexual and bodily) safety “is their own problem” at schools, especially under abstinence only edu in VA.

  4. Also, your stats are kind of old. Under the broader definition of sexual assault (not rape alone) it is 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 for ladies of color. I’d also argue it is close to 9 out of 10 for street harassment/cat calling.

  5. Sam Davies on said:

    @E, do you have a link to the updated sexual assault statistics?

  6. I was always told it was 1 in 3, not 1 in 6. http://www.woar.org/resources/sexual-assault-statistics.php

  7. What you’re doing is already more than so many parents. When I was assaulted, my mom acted like it was a rite of passage. “Oh I was raped in college.. yeah I felt pretty bad for a few days but I got over it.” Another friend was abused by a family member and her mom’s reaction was pretty much “whoops.. I guess I should have expected that” because he had abused her too.

  8. Sam, this is an AWESOME article. Thank you! Mattmoment and I talk about this ALL the time. Now we have a boy and girl to worry about (Lord help us). I’m a birth worker in RVA and a bit of a feminist (cough) it’s amazing to me how this goes hand-in-hand. Childbirth is a hot bed for bringing up past sexual abuse. It only makes sense, as women are so vaunerable in labor. It’s beyond infuriating that women experience this abuse and then, perhaps have to relive it during the birth of their child. Please parents, talk to your kids about this. We need our girls, especially to grow up to be strong women who own their sexuality.

  9. Lindsay on said:

    From the bottom of my heart, thank you for writing this. You can’t imagine what it means to me.

  10. Matt on said:

    Here here. Way to go, Sam!
    I think one of the really hard things that our society doesn’t want to talk about when talking about consent is alcohol. We think that it’s some fort of right of passage for young women and men to “get drunk and screw” (to quote my archenemy Jimmy Buffet). I’m going to teach my son AND daughter that if someone has been drinking or consuming drugs and is NOT in a state that their decision making is sober and intact, that may not be the time to engage in intimacy and that ONE sexual encounter does not mean consent for future encounters. Obviously, there are special situations where having drinks and sleeping together may be appropriate and fun, but I want my kids to know that the sanctity of consent is top priority when interacting with other humans.

  11. Margaret on said:

    Sam: You will go crazy and begin wrapping your children in bubble wrap if you delve too much and too often into statistics. Each society and time period children are born into has its own set of unique challenges. In our modern society there were minor differences in the childrearing philosophies we applied for our two. We have one of each and both are now over 16 years old so we hope we did most things right.
    Our daughter we encouraged her to be fiercely independent, emotionally strong and not to take guff (respectfully) from anyone. We understood that as a woman she needed to be seen as ‘fragile’. Our son, on the other hand, we fostered his innate sensitivity at the same time helping him cultivate his own brand of self-reliance and identity. For him, it was important to us that he learned how to be empathetic. As a family we have had many discussions on how to treat and how others SHOULD treat them regardless of the relationship dynamic-family, work, play, intimacy.

    A rule of thumb that I was taught by my dad who was told this by his own mother when trying to decide whether to become “involved” with someone else at an intimate level: “Pay attention to how the other person interacts and reacts to the parent/guardian of the opposite sex. That is a good marker to how he/she will treat you during the course of the relationship.” There are always exceptions to this rule but those are few and far between.

    Finally, one of the best ways to prepare a child for the adult world is by being a living example. Children ‘see’ all the unspoken cues, even when you do not think they are paying attention. In the end, when anyone’s child goes out into the world it will be up to her/him as to how often and how well they apply the lessons taught by the adults that surrounded them.

  12. Your kidding right? I guess we’re condemn to repeat history because no one remembers when it was safe to walk home at night, kids were allowed to roam unsupervised and unafraid and the worst thing to fear was the fabled boogeyman.

    The epidemic in sexual violence is due to redefinition, a culture I’ve seen decend into the pits of hell and lack of role models. When you grow up in a real family your model for treating women is how were taught to treat your sisters, mothers, cousins and neighbors.

    Blaming the patriarch won’t get you anywhere. Start by looking in the mirror.

  13. One further comment. What’s need is to see how we got there (a time when common sense prevailed) to here (where fear prevails). It didn’t always used to be this way.

  14. Matt on said:

    “My daughters are going to be taught and learn that men will see their bodies as objects. They are going to be taught that walking alone at night is an “invitation” to assault.”
    Screw you. Teach your kids that most people are good and some people are bad. Teach your kids to be educated about their surroundings If your so concerned then become a beacon of positive energy in your community. Men and poor people are not inherently criminals.

  15. Amanda on said:

    As a mother of a boy it has never occurred to me to teach him not to be a rapist. Maybe I am naive because I am one of the lucky 2 in 3 women, but I assumed that men that grew up in happy, healthy homes learning how to be decent human beings would also not be rapists. I’m sure some men are just born bad and having good parents doesn’t matter, but I wonder what the research says. Are 1 in 3 men raping? Are there circumstances in childhood that trigger such negative behavior in men–with the implication being there is something we can fix? Is this an innate impulse in men that we as society have to fight to correct or is it the result of something “going wrong”? So much rape prevention work seems to focus on women as victims, but it seems like focusing on men would have a large impact since they are perpetrating the crimes. Wow, I seem to have had a lot of thoughts on this target. Thanks for a thought-provoking article.

  16. Kimberly on said:

    Just because a guy is raised in a “happy, healthy” home does not make him immune to being a rapist. We have to be direct with our children and say the things that may be hard to say but are necessary. Like No Means No. You are responsible for your actions. I have two daughters and I am always afraid that there is a young man out there not being taught these things directly and my daughters will suffer for that. I don’t believe it is some type of carnal behavior exhibited by all men. I do believe that it is a behavior that needs to be talked about head on. Don’t tip toe around it, tell your young men that it is NOT okay to touch, grab or anything of the sort a person who is clearly saying no. It is also not okay to take liberties with a young woman who may have been drinking or may be otherwise vulnerable. Teach him about honor and respect (Because I teach my daughters that honor and respect are important qualities in a man). All men don’t rape. My hubby has always been a very respectful and honoring man. I have know him since we were 12. His mother raised 3 boys neither of which raped or abused a woman. She was not scared to approach the subject of consensual sex with her sons and neither was their father. No one talked around it… get straight to the point.

  17. Amanda, I’m so glad you are having these thoughts. We definitely do need to approach it from all angles — “no means no” is most effective when all sides understand exactly what that means. Teaching both boys and girls to respect each other’s bodies and feelings is so important, as is developing self-respect. The more we can convey this to the next generation, the less hold rape culture and “she was asking for it” excuses will have.

    Matt, I think you may be interpreting that quote as Sam saying he will directly teach those things to his children, when the implication is that they will learn these things from society and our culture.

  18. Matt on said:

    American society already tells young boys they should feel bad about being male and ashamed of their sexuality. Maybe we should take it a step further and just lock them up at age 12? I mean, reading the comments here there’s a 3 in 2 chance they will rape someone, so why not get ahead of the problem?

  19. paul hammond on said:

    As far as raising children, here are the two rules I grew up with.
    1. Never hit a woman, ever.
    2. Always treat women (an anybody else) with respect.

    Matt, Right on.

  20. This is a very important and thought-provoking article, and Sam, I thank you for sharing.

  21. Chelsea on said:

    Sam, great article! This mentality regarding this very rampant issue that is not talked about enough definitely needs to be shared throughout our society! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  22. Joey on said:

    Really.. I wonder about some people sometimes.. People come to Richmond to attend VCU with no understanding of the community they are moving into. Probably being told by the schools that they have moved to a shining oasis of peace and diversity. Well, let me be the first to tell you that isn’t the case. Predatory people are targeting people in that area. It’s a cirtain look and stereotype they are going after… Women and men who maybe don’t have that “manly” look. Maybe they wear skinny jeans and beanie hats. Yes they love hipsters.. You are constantly hearing about these kids getting robbed or beaten just walking down the street minding their own business.. I was “fortunate” enough to grow up in a shitty part of town, going to ethnically bias schools, where you were targeted just because of the color of your skin. I learned a long time ago that there are so many subtle things you can do to put yourself in a position to not be a victim. Im not going to get into teaching common sense or how to carry yourself in the “streets”, but it’s obvious. If you look weak, you will be a target. If you look like you are maybe well off financially, with no way to defend yourself, you will be a target. If you are walking in dark alleys and the back streets of Shockoe Bottom or the areas around Cary Street or pretty much any area around the immediate VCU area, you might be a target.. . As an adult you can simply carry a pistol, I don’t care how much of a target you may seem, that little piece of metal is a real game changer. Aside from arming yourself. You just need to have the awareness that there are predators out there who don’t know any other way to get anything in life, other then to take it.. And for FUCKS SAKE! DO NOT LET ANYONE YOU DONT KNOW APPROACH OR ENTER YOUR VEHICLE!!!!!!! I’ve known 3 people now who have been coaxed into giving someone a ride only to be forced to take them to Gilpin and Mosby Courts. Adults can get raped and kidnapped too..

  23. carly on said:

    Matt: “American society already tells young boys they should feel bad about being male and ashamed of their sexuality.” – sources, examples, anything? Because from where I’m sitting, as a woman living in this American society, men are paid more than women for equal work (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Male%E2%80%93female_income_disparity_in_the_United_States), aren’t assaulted (sexually or otherwise) at nearly the rate that women are (see comments above), pop songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” celebrate [hetero] male sexuality, and…well, I could go on. The ones who are being told to feel badly about their gender and ashamed of their sexuality are WOMEN. A good example of this is the most recent incident in a nationwide trend, the Marysville, MO rape case: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/10/12/4549775/nightmare-in-maryville-teens-sexual.html

    Now tell me that boys are being told to be ashamed of THEIR sexuality?

    The point of this article is that the majority of rapes and attacks are perpetrated by men and against women. You just can’t argue that that’s not true.

  24. Matt on said:

    carly: women who express their sexuality are “liberated” and even “brave.” Men who express their sexuality are “creepy” and “gross.”

    Men aren’t assualted? Please do yourself a favor and look at even the most basic research. Men are assaulted at a far FAR higher rate than women are. And yes, men are sexually assaulted too. But people like you contribute to a world where they are ashamed to come forward. There are even numbers that show more men are physically abused by their domestic partner than women are by men, men just don’t report it as often.

    If you actually look at the numbers the wage gap is pretty much a myth. If women did work as dangerous as men and had as many years on the job as men, there wouldn’t be any gap. But they don’t.

    Cited Robyn Thick? I guess Rhianna or Pink or whoever has never made a sexaully charged song, amirite?

    And your last line is pretty disgusting. If you look at the statistics, there’s more crime percentage-wise commited by blacks than whites. So what does that lead you to believe? You’re saying there’s a “problem” with blacks in this country?

    Please look at some unbiased statistics and try to expand your mypoic, sexist, fear based view of the world.

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