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Not All Men Are Rapists

Yes. An inflammatory headline. Since the recent Steubenville rape case and excavating and writing about my own experience as a victim of attempted rape when I was in college, I’ve grown increasingly anxious about raising daughters.  Suddenly the world seems overrun by malevolent men keen on using and abusing women, then posting the results online, adding further degradation and humiliation to the female victims.

I attended a conference recently where one mother talked about Steubenville from the point of view of a woman raising sons, how it’s just as important for the parents of young men to discuss rape and assault as it is for those of us raising daughters to warn against it.

There’s an undeniable culture of misogyny running through our culture; in the ethos of certain rapper’s music, various male sports organizations and locker rooms, in corporate boardrooms and women betraying women in order to acquire the love of a man.

News headlines and social media would have us believe that misogyny is the rule, rather than the exception.

The other night, as aol.com informed me of yet another teenage female abduction, I spiralled into a very dark place so much so that I had to actively reprogram my mind to focus on the many times in my life, when I put myself in precarious situations, that an act of chivalry set me back on the right path.

I was a very naive college freshman at the University of Southern California in 1983. My dad and stepmom ran a tight ship during my childhood. My stepmom in particular had a bloodhound’s nose able to sniff out any would-be deflowerers lingering in the hedge outside our front door.

My dad, stepmom, my sister Gina and I at our parent's wedding.  I owe my dear stepmom many kisses for keeping me on the straight and narrow growing up.

My dad, stepmom, my sister Gina and I at our parent’s wedding. I owe my dear stepmom many kisses for keeping me on the straight and narrow growing up.

She managed to keep me chaste and safe all the way through high school graduation, so by the time I got to my college dorm room I was a hormonal nitrogen bomb just waiting to explode.

Thus began the campaign to lose my virginity.  I met a square-jawed, blue-eyed God during college orientation. We spent the weekend wearing out our lips. As soon as I arrived the first semester I sought this devilishly handsome young man out. Thus began an exhausting, exhilarating month of heavy petting until one night, after two beers, I asked him to take my virginity.

His response was to hold my face between his hands, look me in the eye and say, “I can’t do that when I know you’ve been drinking. What if you regret it in the morning? I couldn’t live with that.” I argued vehemently that I knew exactly what I was doing and it was time. He argued just as vehemently that it was a bad idea. What a chivalrous, well-raised sweet man.

Soon I was distracted by a Bad Boy living in my dorm in the hallway named The Swamp. He was the guy who went through girls like a hot knife through butter. A shameless heartbreaker. Soon I came into his line of vision and he invited me to one of his fraternity parties. I was intoxicated by his rascally nature, the way he gamely did beer funnels and tequila shooters. The way all the girls wanted his attention, but he was focused like a laser on me. We ended up back at his dorm room, some poor girl trying to intercept us on our way in. He brushed her off and locked the door behind us.

Once inside we fell in a passionate heap onto his bed and things progressed, right up to the moment when I told him I was a virgin. It was as if my body had suddenly become a live wire, electrocuting him so thoroughly that he flew off of me practically leaving a body-shaped hole in the opposing wall of his dorm room.

His bad-boy veneer dropped, he was sober as a nun when he came back to me half-dressed and confused on his bed. He kneeled before me and took my hands in his. “I’m not the right guy to take your virginity. I’m an asshole. That girl in the hallway, the one who tried to stop us? She’s my girlfriend. You need a good guy. You deserve a good guy.”

And just like that I found myself being gently expelled from his dorm room and the door closing, ever so firmly, in my face.

There were two more men who turned me away when they discovered I was a virgin. I was beginning to feel very sorry for myself. As though I might be forever burdened by this toxic virginity. Until I met my college sweetheart. I was sitting in the Commons restaurant with my mom when a young man and his friend approached our table. He was holding a flower he’d taken from his table and handed it to me. “I just wanted to tell you that you’re the most beautiful girl in the room.” Then he walked away. And my mother swooned.

My college sweetheart was a USC football player. He had women lined up willing to be his sexual partners. When I told him I was a virgin I thought he might just turn around and walk into the waiting arms of a more seasoned lover. Instead we dated and he waited. Not forever, but until we were both in love. We were together five years. It wasn’t a perfect relationship, but he was the right man to take my virginity. I’m grateful it was him and no other, my first love.

As I remembered these experiences I remembered that rapists are exception, not the rule.  Most men are chivalrous and even vulnerable to women in ways we don’t fully appreciate.  Women have a great deal of emotional power over men and can harm them deeply if we’re not careful.

I don’t want to infect my daughters with my fear that men will do them harm. I want to teach them how to stay safe, but also to respect men for their strengths and fragility. To remember to be smart — and hopefully not as naive as I once was — but to also to have an open heart and appreciation for the opposite sex.

I’d love to hear the stories of how you talk to your daughters and sons about what it means to respect the opposite sex. And also what they can do to keep safe without stigmatizing either sex??


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12 comments

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  1. Beverly Diehl
    Beverly Diehl 19 August, 2013, 15:31

    I don’t know if I ever talked to my son about rape, specifically. We had many conversations about the idea of respect for other people, about bullying, about peer pressure, and about the complications that arise even when people “only” make out, the way a physical relationship can make you feel confused about how you feel about someone. We also had many conversations about drugs and alcohol, aka, “stupid juice” and the bad things that can happen to good people when they drink too much. (His older cousin had a freak accident that almost killed him, that had a big impact.)

    A good read for you, and perhaps for your daughters when they are older, is The Gift of Fear. There’s several great chapters in there on subtle boundary violations and how, if we allow them, they send a signal to predators that we can be “got around.” Clearly, YOU had strong emotional boundaries, even if you were eager to rid yourself of your “toxic virginity” in one sense, it wasn’t happening with a boy or man who didn’t respect you.

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 19 August, 2013, 19:42

      Beverly – I really need to pull The Gift of Fear off the bookshelf again. I read it when they were tiny babies trying to inoculate them from life. Now I might actually find it more useful. Love the phrase “stupid juice.” Will be using that one.

      Reply this comment
  2. Ellen Dolgen
    Ellen Dolgen 19 August, 2013, 16:12

    This is so beautifully written………..I have a daughter and a son. I used to tell my daughter if there were two boobs on a wall – teenage boys would be making out with the wall. I wanted her first experience to be special and loving! I tried to insill in her that she was in charge of her body…not me…not her Dad and not anyone else. She gets to decide who and when she loses her virginity. She soon became the go to friend for all of her friends that were used and abused by young boys. My husband, David, and I tried to teach out son to respect women. The best learning tool for our son was watching how David treats me. It worked for us! Our kids are now 33 and 31! I have a tremendous amount of respect for how they love themselves and others.

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    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 19 August, 2013, 19:43

      I love the privacy you gave your daughter regarding her sexuality. Obviously at a certain point that’s just not within a parent’s control. Nor should it be. Having met your daughter I see the fruits of your labor. xo

      Reply this comment
  3. AlexandraFunFit
    AlexandraFunFit 19 August, 2013, 16:22

    This is a good reminder to have a brush-up talk with my sons. They have been raised to understand that sex is an expression of love in addition to everything else, and that it brings an expectation of responsibility. I hope my boys are as gallant as the boys who you met in college.

    Reply this comment
    • Shannon
      Shannon Author 19 August, 2013, 19:44

      Hi Alexandra — I suspect most boys are exactly that gallant. So many good men go unnoticed and uncredited for their lack of bad behavior.

      Reply this comment
  4. Kristin Moore
    Kristin Moore 20 August, 2013, 10:01

    I just sent this TedTalks to my brother, the father of two sons. Pretty inspiring.

    http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Joe-Ehrmann-at-TEDxBaltimore-20

    If all boys (and even girls) could get this message from their parents…

    Regards
    Kristin

    Reply this comment
  5. Doug Smith
    Doug Smith 18 September, 2013, 21:55

    That was one thing my parents did instill in me, ages ago, to respect women and it is something that has stuck with me. Sex was not something that was easily discussed but they did make their point specifically and in a broader sense.

    I really enjoyed your story because you were trying so hard and kept running into these very honorable guys, even the sleazy ones.

    Thanks for sharing

    Doug

    Reply this comment
  6. Kimberley Sayers
    Kimberley Sayers 1 June, 2014, 02:47

    Out of interest, were any of these men virgins? Was it ever discussed? Was it ever asked if you were the right girl to ‘take’ their virginity? Was it just that yours was held up as being precious?

    Reply this comment
  7. Shannon
    Shannon Author 1 June, 2014, 12:17

    Hi Kimberly — This story is obviously written about girls and women needing to protect themselves and the men who helped me make better choices. It’s rare someone brings up the topic of young men and their virginity. And the fact that they too are vulnerable (emotionally) and I thank you for bringing that up. As the mother of daughters I don’t think about sons. And of course their virginity is as important. That simply wasn’t the focus of this post.

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