According to many of our nation’s most powerful political leaders, the state has a new enemy: little girls.
A meme circulating on social media in the wake of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh summarizes this growing sentiment: The all-caps title reads “MOTHERS OF SONS SHOULD BE SCARED,” and in further text it declares that “it is terrifying that at any time, any girl can make up any story about any boy that can neither be proved or disproved, and completely ruin any boy’s life.”
Donald Trump Jr., father of five, echoed a similar fear when he told the Daily Mail TV that he is “afraid for his sons,” adding that “when I see what’s going right now, it’s scary.” President Trump himself echoed the statement, infamously declaring that “it’s a very scary time for young men in America.”
I am the mother of three sons—and I’m scared, too. I am scared of a society that does a poor job raising boys to be good, fully-developed men who respect women without question. I am scared of patriarchy and sexism.
We should be afraid, but not of little girls who will grow up to be the liars and false accusers determined to ruin our sons’ lives just because they can. Instead, we should be afraid of the world we’ve built in which survivors aren’t believed.
False rape reports are incredibly rare, and it doesn’t take much to see that there is no real gain in fabricating a story about sexual assault for an accuser, especially when so few of the cases that actually get reported ever make it to court or achieve anything close to justice. RAINN estimates that out of every 1,000 rape cases, only 13 percent go to a prosecutor, and only seven lead to a felony conviction. That amounts to a lot of time, effort and emotional and physical energy for a false accuser to go through just to “completely ruin any boy’s life.”
We do not need a world where boys, or their mothers, fear girls—but rather, one where boys respect, love, cherish and empathize with the girls and women in their lives. They need to see girls as their friends, confidantes, partners, companions and sisters—as people they trust. They need to be provided with rich experiences where they participate in the world together with women and girls, as equal human beings.
Teaching boys that girls are the enemy lying in wait is counterproductive to how far feminism has taken us. The fault lies not with boys, however, but with a society that subconsciously and consciously teaches them that girls are different, opposite from them, the other.
As parents, grandparents, teachers and coaches, we gender children daily, despite our best efforts not to. We send messages to boys and girls about their abilities and their potential with our words and our actions, and often the message is that being a girl is close to the worst thing anything could be. “You throw like a girl.” “You act like a girl.” “You cry like a girl.” Such comments, and our cultural insistence on proscribing and enforcing outdated gender roles, lay the foundation for adulthoods rife with misogyny and everyday sexism.
We should instead foster friendships between boys and girls when they are young, and celebrate the shared experiences of their gender identities—whatever they may be. We should help our boys discover the range of feelings alive within them, help them to fully grasp the complexity of their emotional lives and teach them that it is not girls alone who experience sadness, pain and loss and that anger is not their burden solely to bear. Boys are kind, gentle, loving, artistic and sensitive, too—and recognizing this does not render them pansies or sissies, just whole and healthy.
We must teach boys how to apologize and accept fault when they have done something wrong—not to get angry and blame others. To help cultivate this sense of accountability, we must clearly explain to our sons the concept of consent, and from a very early age. They must understand personal boundaries and not touching another person without permission; as they mature, consent should already be an inherent part of their daily lives and minute behaviors. The better we become at teaching them these lessons, the more likely it is that our boys will be aware that someone else’s body—including a woman’s—does not belong to anyone but her.
It would also help a great deal if boys were taught to see girls as strong, smart, funny, worthy—fully human, just like them. Boys should read books and watch movies where girls are all of these things just because they are. That kind of representation should seem ordinary. Girls are not silly, weak, petty, catty, boring—and boys shouldn’t be raised to believe that only a select few escape such fates.
Let us be strong, fierce and independent mothers, aunts, friends and grandmothers. Let’s allow the boys in our lives to see us as equals to the men with whom we share our planet. Let’s show them that women are professors, janitors, medical practitioners, construction works, scientists, electricians, dentists, plumbers, welders, legislators and lawmakers—professionals and complex people striving to make this world a better place. Let’s help boys see women as their colleagues, partners and even supervisors.
I’m scared—not of the little girls I see at my sons’ elementary school or at the corner bus stop. (They seem pretty harmless, actually.) Instead, I’m fearful of a society that doesn’t care enough about our boys to ensure that they grow up to be the kind of men no one would ever imagine accusing of sexual misconduct or assault, men who would never contemplate sexually assaulting or mistreating women, men who have a deeply-rooted and genuine respect and admiration for the women and girls in their own lives and around the world.
We can and should do better—for our boys and for our girls.
Maglina Lubovich teaches gender studies and English at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College and holds a Ph.D. from SUNY Buffalo (UB). She has published peer-reviewed articles on 19th-century American literature and co-edited an essay collection on male beauty. Maglina lives in Duluth, Minnesota with her husband and three sons.