When Benny Boy was a baby, a friend gave him a t-shirt that read “Lock Up Your Daughters” with a little pad lock at the bottom. It is not something I would have ever bought for him, but I thanked the gift giver and remember feeling grateful neither of my children could read yet. I tucked the shirt in the far back corner of a drawer, meaning to donate it the next time I changed out Benny’s closet.
Months later Benny was sick and had gone through all of his clean clothes. I put the t-shirt on him as a last resort, hoping to get some of the wash done later that day. We weren’t leaving the house, so I rationalized with myself that I was covered in baby puke and sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do. I’m fairly certain it was the only time he wore that shirt.
Fast forward to last night, I’m at the grocery store picking out produce and a family wheels up next to me. I smile at the little girls in the cart. The dad and the mom are playfully arguing over whether or not they have ever purchased blackberries. Then I turned to say hi to the baby (we all know how much I love chubby babies) as I moved my cart out of their way and I noticed that he is wearing the “Lock Up Your Daughters” shirt. On someone else’s baby, it was so obvious to me why that shirt had always made me feel uneasy.
It promotes Rape Culture. I stood there horrified I had ever put that on my son. My beautiful son, who loves his mama and his big sis and whom I am trying to raise to be a man like his father: intelligent, kind, caring, respectful, and strong. The shirt sends the message that the boy will be out on the prowl, and your daughters are not safe around him as he looks for prey. Best lock them up. It sends the message that girls are responsible for preventing sexual assault, as opposed to, you know, boys being taught never to rape.
This shirt’s message as: If those girls don’t watch out, the fault is on them. They were fairly warned, their parents were told to lock them up. Don’t keep them under lock and key, they become fair game.
On a physical level, it is making a joke of sexual assault with the “boys will be boys” attitude. That in and of itself, the excusing of rape based on caddish behavior assumed to be natural to boys, is vile. On an emotional level, it is saying your daughter will be manipulated and used, just before the boy moves on to the next girl. What an awful message for both boys and girls to get.
It also assumes my son will be heterosexual. He is four right now, and I have no idea where his sexuality will fall. (I’m not really concerned about it.) I am concerned about him growing up in a culture that treats women like objects, and makes the act of rape entertainment. Music and music videos, tv and movies, and especially video games all have shown boys and men callously involved in various degrees of sexual assault on women. What’s more, these men and boys are never held accountable. I don’t want that message anywhere near my son. When he begins dating in his teenage years, we’ll talk to him about respecting his significant other, both emotionally and physically. We’ll instill in him the notion of being a gentleman, and doing things like speaking up against street harassment, or walking a friend home at night so she doesn’t have to walk across campus alone.
I really have no idea how difficult it is going to be to raise my son as a feminist (humanist) and to respect women, but I will do it. His father, uncles, and grandfather will lead by example. The men our family calls friends will lead by example. And I will own up, and make sure I never make a mistake like that t-shirt again.
Maybe he needs a new shirt. One that says “I will respect your daughters.”