Controversy is Chris Brown’s middle name. The rapper is a master of taking a bad situation and spinning it to look even worse. (Everyone remember the time he beat the crap out of then-girlfriend Rihanna? And then got a tattoo of her battered face on his neck? Okay, good.) To say I’m not a fan would be an understatement. But this past week he gave an interview that made my heart break for him. He told The Guardian that he “lost his virginity” when he was eight years old to a 14- or 15- year old girl. (Not even going to put the full quote here as it kinda makes me want to barf. Feel free to click through to read it though.)
Brown seemed to see it as an accomplishment, evidence of his ultimate studliness I guess. Many media reports centered on that aspect as well. But for me, the only thing I could think was that he didn’t “lose his virginity”, he was raped as a child. And unfortunately rape for boys can bear an even greater stigma than rape for girls, leading them to report it less, hide it longer and even to try to reframe it, as Brown did, as some kind of weird sexcapade where they aren’t the victim. Except 8-year-olds can’t consent. The end. Which is why it was so baffling to me to read article after article where they challenged the truth of his story, minimized it with an eyeroll, snickered about karma or even congratulated him. Just because he’s not a sympathetic victim doesn’t mean he’s not a victim. Boys can be victims too.
Before I had Jelly Bean, I was a Mom of Boys. Birthing three boys in three years made me an expert in Thomas the Train, the various types of pirate swords and the exact moment when wrestling crosses the line from fun to fratricide. (It’s a very distinctive shriek.) It also made me an expert in how society views “boys just being boys.” This was a pretty eye opening experience for me as, being a girl, duh, I’d spent the majority of my life up to that point thinking about how society views girls.
It started early with a stranger at the park telling my son not to cry when he fell because he was a “big boy and boys don’t cry.” After that, there was criticism for letting my son have a “pink party” for his 4th birthday (it was his favorite color!), letting another son buy a Nerf gun with his birthday money (it does not mean he’s going to grow up to be a serial killer!) and potty training another by letting him pee on a tree in our backyard (in hindsight that one may not have been the most brilliant plan). It all culminated when my boys started school. I remember one meeting with a well-meaning but clueless teacher who insisted my son was ADHD and needed to be medicated as I kept insisting that his behavior was quite normal for little boys as they learn by movement. I left in tears, sobbing to my husband that it wasn’t fair that typical classroom protocol is geared towards girls’ strengths and that boys are vilified for doing what boys at that age naturally do. (You can argue with me in the comments on this point if you wish but it’s pretty well documented. Check out “Raising Cain” for a good read on the subject.)
It was in that moment I realized that I was going to have be an advocate for my boys through their entire school career – because no one else was going to. I know that sounds dramatic (me? never!) but I’ve spent the better part of a decade doing just that. And the kid with supposed ADHD? We had him repeat Kindergarten because he was very young for his grade and also immature for his age and that next year, he did wonderfully. It wasn’t a disease that needed to medicated out of him, it was him needing more time for his body to catch up to his mind – a developmental occurrence that seems to happen more often in boys than in girls. True, I don’t know if that scenario would have played out differently if he were a girl but judging from my daughter, who at three can already sit still longer than her next oldest brother at seven, I don’t think the issue would have even come up.
Now I don’t want to be “that mom” who thinks her little darlings are perfect and lets her boys go through life doing whatever destructive thing their hearts desire. All our kids must abide by the same rules of civility and decorum. I also think that the world is still very much a “man’s world” which is why I’m trying very hard to teach them now how to be respectful of women and kind to everyone. But there’s a difference between teaching boys they need to be careful with their power and teaching them that they’re bad simply because they’re boys.
Obviously I get a little defensive when people make assumptions about my boys simply based on their gender. And it was with all this history that I went into a conversation with another mom at school the other day. Her daughter is in Jelly Bean’s preschool and the girls wanted to play together so we were trying to arrange a playdate. Then she dropped this bomb on me: “We have a no brothers policy.” – explaining that Jelly Bean would have to play at her house because her daughter was not allowed to play at houses with boys in them.How is this not fun?!
I’ll admit it: My immediate reaction was anger – don’t make my sweet boys into criminals! (Who are only 11-, 9- and 7-years old after all!) If we tell boys that they’re dangerous simply because they’re boys they’ll either hate themselves or it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. And what does that say to Jelly Bean? That she should fear her brothers? But then I felt sad. Clearly the mom has had a bad experience in the past that has really scarred her.
I wasn’t sure what to do about my playdate dilemma (and all my mixed feelings) so I put it up on Facebook. 85 extremely passionate comments later I’m still processing it all. Apparently this idea of boys and how they should be treated as they develop into men is a very sensitive subject. The comments seemed to fall in one of three categories:
1. Ditch the playdate because the mom obviously has issues that at best make her rude and at worst make her a man-hating harpy who will mess up Jelly Bean. There may also be something hinky going on at her house. You don’t need the drama.
2. Ask her for more information and then based on her answer, decide which course of action feels right. Some added the suggestion to meet in a neutral place like the park where we could both supervise our kids playing and get to know each other better.
3. Be sensitive to the mom’s wishes because she obviously has her reasons and statistically speaking more crimes are committed by males. After all, the little girl and Jelly Bean could simply play while all her brothers are at school, right?(I was also amazed at how many commenters in this category admitted to having the same policy or a similar “no male caretakers” rule for their kids. Some pointed out that it was as much to protect their husbands/sons from false accusations as it was to protect their kids from being molested by others.)
And then there were the dozens of private messages I got from people who didn’t want to post about their childhood abuse on my public FB wall but still wanted me to know how the woman’s policy made perfect sense from their perspective. I even heard from a friend who works at a women’s prison and she shared how her job has changed how she looks at men and what decisions she makes for her own young daughter. It’s a scary world we live in.
I appreciated every single person’s perspective because honestly I hadn’t put a lot of thought into this before and clearly it elicits deep feelings in a lot of people. I had started in a place of sheer defensiveness and needed to come to a place of understanding. In the end I realized that it comes down to risk assessment and mitigation. It’s a scary enough topic for a woman thinking just of herself – how many times have you or I had to make the calculation between riding an elevator with a strange man or taking the dark stairs in a parking garage? And I realized that as much as I hated hearing her say it out loud, I too have made the same decision under other circumstances. It was just last week after all when I wrote about having a bad experience with a male yoga teacher and then never having gone to another yoga class taught by a man since. I didn’t even know them and yet I was afraid of them simply because of their gender.
But how much risk one can handle become infinitely more difficult when it comes to your precious kiddos. At that realization, my anger melted away as quickly as it had lit up. So I decided to go with option #2. The next time I ran into her, she brought up the playdate and again suggested her house. So I casually (I hope – my “casual” can often come off as twitchy weirdo) asked her why. And she said what in retrospect is the only thing she really could have said: “Well you can never be too safe!”
Except that you can. I know first hand how worry, when left unchecked, can lock you into your own tiny prison. Sure, no one can hurt you in there but at the same time no one can love you or help you either. And you can’t see the bright sun in the blue sky without all the bars getting in the way. I’ve learned the hard way that taking risks, especially when it comes to other people, can be a beautiful thing – even if it sometimes takes pain to get there. Even though I’ve had the misfortune, especially as a survivor of sexual assault, to come across some evil, awful or just inconsiderate men in my lifetime, I’ve had the privilege to know so many more good, honest, brave, kind and gentle men. My dad. My husband. My brother. My sons. All are not just good people, they’re some of the best people I know. And they’re not amazing in spite of being men, they’re amazing, in part, because they are men.
But ultimately none of that is important in this case. In the end the only thing that mattered was that this was her rule. This was her line in the sand. This was her protecting her daughter the best way she knew how. And not only are her reasons for it not my business, it’s also not my job to talk her out of it. Her choice is not my choice but that doesn’t make it less valid. The only question left was if I can live with her rule.
Honestly I’m still not sure. Part of me wants to defend my boys – and innocent little boys everywhere – on principle. Boys are not bad because they’re boys. It’s true there is still so much discrimination against women in the world but that doesn’t mean that discriminating against boys will make that right. It just means everyone loses. But on the other hand, I have a lot more compassion for this mom and, as a mom of a girl myself, what she’s facing in a world where 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. I think, in all honesty, there’s too much in my head now surrounding this subject for me to make a clear decision. I don’t feel good about any of it. I hate that I’m in this position of choosing between my boys and my girl. I hate that it even has to be a choice – why does it have to be one at the expense of the other?
What would you do about the preschool playdate situation? What is/was the rule in your families? What do you think about Chris Brown’s interview?