Sex Positivity and Common Sense: Raising My Daughter in a Rape Cultured World

March 12, 2017  |  

rape culture

I spend most of my days teaching sexual health and preaching sex positivity to other people’s children.  I’d like to think I’m playing my part in arming young women with the tools they need to navigate their sexuality in a healthy way in a world where they’ve been told birth control is only their responsibility, and they should be subservient, independent, sexualized and innocent all at the same time. The messages their parents have been instilling in them range from, “Don’t have sex,” to “There’s condoms under the bathroom sink.” and I hope that I can serve as a happy medium that they can come to for open, honest communication about sex and relationships even if it’s only for two hours for three days in a school year.

But now that I have my own daughter, things are different. Even though she’s only two I’m finding myself rehearsing these same conversations I seem to have so easily with other peoples’ daughters. I’m contemplating my reactions to questions and behavior that may catch me off guard in the future so she’ll still feel comfortable coming to me no matter how awkward or embarrassing the situation may seem. Like I tell my students, my hope is that she can come to me first before the “Condom Lady”, but I understand that isn’t always possible. I don’t want to be the mom shutting down any conversation that even hints at leading us down Sexual Development Drive or spazzing anytime she mentions what may be happening in her bathing suit area. By age 13 I’m sure my daughter will be able to recite the differences between Paragard and Mirena like the Pledge of Allegiance. But that’s not what I’m worried about. What worries me is how to teach her to balance sex positivity with common sense.

I may not want my daughter to be busting it open for the Gram like Amber Rose, but I want her to be able to own and acknowledge her sexual identity. I feel like the more she’s in tune with who she is as a sexual being the easier it will be for her to identify her values and boundaries and the less of a big deal sex will be. But I also fear wiping my trembling daughter’s tears away in the middle of my living room much like Anika Noni Roses’s character had to in a recent episode of BET’s The Quad. I don’t want her to have to wonder how she’ll ever regain her sense of safety and her sense of self. I don’t ever want to have to tell my baby everything will be OK when I secretly don’t know if that’s true.

The “Quicksand” episode commented on rape culture on college campus when a character named Sydney (played by Jazz Raycole) is the victim of sexual assault of which the whole campus learns about through surveillance video posted online. Throughout the episode it’s clear that the idea of consent takes on multiple meaning among students and staff alike, some thinking what they’re watching is just rough, drunken sex between coeds and others saying she is clearly being assaulted. The perpetrator, starting quarterback of the GAMU Mountaincats, Terrence (played by Kevin Savage) even seems confused himself about the encounter. He too had been drinking and doesn’t seem to be aware that something is off until he carries Sydney from the scene of the incident and she flips out when he drops her off at a nearby dorm.

Until this point, Sydney is portrayed as sassy but smart. She prances around campus trying to shake the innocent image she feels she’s been force to uphold as GAMU President, Dr. Eva Fletcher’s (played by Rose) daughter.  She wears short skirts and high heels to class, flirts with anything with facial hair and even engages in a game of strip poker in one of the first episodes. I’m sure the script was written in such a way to make viewers question their own bias and assumptions and none of these traits meant that she deserved to be violated in any way. So why do I still want to tell my daughter to avoid situations where she’s overly intoxicated around men? Why do I still want to tell her that going to visit a man at 2:00 in the morning means he’ll probably expect her to be bringing more than popcorn and her Netflix password?  Why do I want to tell her that what she wears doesn’t determine whether or not she wants to have sex, but I’d still be more comfortable if she wore a track suit instead of a short skirt to the party? Is advice like this common sense or is it contradictory to my sermons on sexual empowerment and death to slut-shaming?  How do I teach her to be sex positive in a world where men still seem to have the final say most days on exactly what that looks like?

None of these answers are easy but what I do know is that these conversations shouldn’t only be taking place between mothers, fathers and daughters. Teach your sons about what consent looks and sounds like and that anything but a clear yes is a no. Teach your sons that just because a woman consents to sex doesn’t mean she consents to having it recorded and furthermore even if she does consent to being recorded, it’s not with the expectation that her future actions will be manipulated by that recording. Be honest and teach them that at least for now their patriarchy gives them power and that power should be invested into uplifting women, from the Amber Roses of the world to the Amal Clooneys, because no matter what a woman chooses to do with her body it’s still HER choice and that choice should be respected.

I think the more those types of conversations start happening the sooner mothers like me will feel more confident telling our daughters that the short skirt they want to wear to the party is cute and not an invitation for foreplay. To be clear I still want to raise my daughter to practice self-respect, but I want whatever she wears to be because she wants to and not because she thinks she needs to cover up because a man can’t exercise self-control. Because if telling my daughter that she shouldn’t have too much to drink whenever she’s in the presence of testosterone so she won’t get raped is considered common sense, then so should having a conversation with your son about not being a rapist.

See Anika Noni Rose and Jazz Raycole’s message about sexual violence below:

Image via Instagram

Toya Sharee is a community health educator and parenting education coordinator who has a  passion for helping  young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health.  She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about  everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.

 

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