At the heels of Ariel Castro’s conviction of life in prison, I was reminded of the Steubenville rape case. Daily, I’ve read the stories of the three young women who were kidnapped, imprisoned and abused, much like I read about the young girl who was drugged and raped by young boys. I was rattled by the Steubenville rape case, and the atrocious acts that high school boys (or the “Rape Crew,” as they call themselves) participated in when sexually assaulting a high school. And I wonder about the bigger picture.
How boys as young as 16 believe it’s fun to sexually assault a young woman and ridicule her on social media. How a boy who’s dumped decides to get vindication by plotting a rape, instead of healing and dealing with his pain. I wonder: what can we do as Latina women and parents so this doesn’t occur in our homes?
It begins with good parenting. Children don’t wake up and decide to treat others badly. When we’re young, we’re innocent. I remember how innocent I was as a little girl. The first time that I was ‘hit on’ by a boy, I cried. At 7 years old, a classmate approached me during school recess and handed me a brand new doll. Intimidated, I yanked the doll from his hands and ran away, sobbing uncontrollably as if chased by Kujo himself. I hurt his feelings unintentionally. His declaration of like scared me unintentionally.
The boys from Steubenville hurt that girl intentionally.
So, why does it shift? Why do some boys go from gifting dolls to humiliating and assaulting women?
It’s about how males are taught to view females, and what their role is in sexual relationships. This is when we come in as Latina parents, particularly since machismo is prevalent in our culture. Instead of teaching boys that women are weak, we must teach them that women are as powerful and savvy as they are nurturing. How else do we bring life into this world (and sometimes without epidural), maintain a household, and work a full time job? Instead of celebrating macho behavior, like the piropos (catcalls) that women are subjected to, grab your kid by the ear and show him how to compliment a woman respectfully. Then there are our young girls, who often equate sex with love. Some of our hijas, nieces, and amigas don’t know their worth. Much like our great grandmothers, they are taught to suffer in silence, that men have the final say, and that we’re only good for marriage and bearing children.
“Why do you need to work so hard?” Tia would often say. “Casate and have children!” She’d holler. Even my own mother once said, “You study too much,” when I told her I was returning to school for a Masters in Writing.
Therein lies the problem. Young women still receive a message of inferiority and worthlessness, while young men are raised to be macho, aggressive, and superior. Boys shouldn’t cry. If they do, they are weak. Women cannot be tough. If they are, they’re bitches, or mujeres malas deserving of what’s coming to them.
And that’s when boys stop gifting dolls and begin giving piropos and hungry glances. That’s when a young girl is raped because a boy she dumped wanted vindication.
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