Last week, I posted something of a response to the hilarious “if you touch my daughter I’ll kill you!” stance that many fathers enjoy taking when their daughters start dating. I wrote the post to make light of the idea that it’s supercool for adults to threaten children with violence.
As I was writing, I found myself worrying about my credibility on the topic, because I don’t have a daughter who might one day be asked to prom by a leering, peach-fuzzed boy with only one thing on his mind and it’s not matchbox cars I’ll tell you that much!
I only have a son. And boys don’t need protection.
It’s getting harder and harder to pretend that’s true.
As yet another in a string of “adult women taking advantage of teenage boys” stories makes its rounds, it’s getting harder and harder to pretend that half of our kids are invincible, merely by virtue of their chromosomes. But why are we pretending in the first place?
Everyone is vulnerable all the time. That’s what makes life so precious. I can’t deny that there aren’t different circumstances in which different people are more vulnerable than others (toddlers being a prime example; they’re so stupid), nor am I trying to diminish the very real dangers females face and are statistically more prone to. (Sadly, it’s pretty much impossible to diminish it, it’s so prevalent.)
But I think we can all agree that children are among the least secure, whether they’re five years old or fifteen. Regardless of how quickly they seem to be growing up these days, physical development almost always precedes mental development, and a seventeen-year-old with the body of a 25-year-old is still just a 17-year-old. Hell, I’m 38 and I’m still a 17-year-old.
Kids are kids, no matter their gender. And yet, while we constantly see “rules for dating my daughter” and dads getting tough in the face of their little princesses’ emergence into young women, we rarely see such concern for boys. The implication is always that boys are the problem. And maybe they are. But that doesn’t invalidate their own vulnerability or need for protection.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that boys struggle with a lot of the same things as girls. Boys have body issues. Boys are insecure. Boys face peer pressure and bullying and all that great adolescent nonsense that feels like the end of the world and usually only is if you’re from Sunnydale. Obviously, with different genders come different struggles, but that doesn’t mean that boys don’t need someone to lend them a hand, or a shoulder, once in a while.
The dismissal of the possibility that boys might be at risk is one of the things that makes it hard for them to show vulnerability, and to be sensitive, and to ask for help, even well into their adult years. Those things have long been considered anathema to manliness, which is absurd and damaging. (And may even contribute to feelings of powerlessness that can seemingly only be assuaged by violence, especially in a country that worships at its altar.) Frankly, it’s a viewpoint that should have gone extinct ages ago. Just as women are capable of strength and toughness, men can be sensitive and caring, and those qualities should be celebrated, nurtured, and validated, not ridiculed and stereotyped into repression.
Of course, when grown men are threatening teenagers with guns merely for taking a young girl on a date, it’s no wonder we fear boys. Look what they turn into! Kids copy what they see, and threatening to shoot prom dates, jokingly or not, can’t help but imply that aggression and violence are acceptable solutions. What are our sons supposed to think when the answer to everything – even to someone wanting to take a girl to prom – is a surly attitude and a subscription to guns and ammo? Violence begets violence; kids raised with that kind of example can’t help but grow up emulating that behavior.
So it’s understandable that some dads feel the need to protect their daughters from boys when boys need to be protected from themselves.
Which is where we come in.
We need to teach our sons well. We need to teach them to respect women, and other boys, and, perhaps most importantly, themselves. We need to teach them that violence and aggression and defensiveness and closing themselves off from other people are not constructive solutions. We need to teach them that it’s okay to feel vulnerable and to ask for help and to resist peer pressure and to be afraid, and that they can come to us without fear of shame or retribution.
If we do, if we instill in them a sense of empathy and compassion, and a better understanding of boundaries, and a better understanding of themselves, we can save them from themselves. We can prevent them from becoming the type of people who need to be threatened with a firearm or a beat-down from someone twice their age in order to not do something gross and despicable and harmful and/or illegal. We can save them from becoming the type of man that women need protection from.
In order to defend our daughters, we first need to take care of our sons. Because boys need protection too.