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Dad Next Door: Monsters among Us

When we accept and excuse immorality in men and boys, we endanger our daughters and debase our sons. They deserve better than that.



A little encouragement from across the fence

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

This was not the Halloween column I intended to write. I was ready to tell you all about my misadventures in homemade costumes, including my daughter’s infamous “Zombie series.” But then a different kind of monster appeared. A video surfaced that showed a candidate for the most powerful office in the world, talking — or more precisely, bragging — about grabbing women by their genitals.

As expected, the world reacted with outrage and condemnation. But in the carnival atmosphere and media frenzy that followed, something important was lost. It was frightening and horrific; this man was a monster. But no one was asking what created him. No one was looking for Dr. Frankenstein.

Even as they denounced his words, some continued to support and defend him. That was 11 years ago, they said. It was a private moment, not meant for public consumption. And the candidate himself showed no remorse. He merely apologized “if anyone was offended,” and said his words were just “locker-room talk.”  Eventually, I came to the sickening realization that his transgressions, as disturbing as they may be, are remarkable only for their public airing and the prominence of their perpetrator. In every other respect, they are horrifyingly commonplace.

Consider some data: approximately 20 percent of women have been raped at some point in their lives. Another 44 percent have endured some other kind of sexual violence. And that’s only those who are willing to report it. The evening after the video was released, one writer invited other women on Twitter to share the first time they were ever groped, fondled, grabbed, humped, tongued or worse against their will.  By the next morning she was getting 50 responses a minute. After three days, she was up to 27 million. Parents, we should note that most first incidents took place around age 11 or 12, and that the victims told no one — until now.  

Many men will react to these numbers with astonishment. That’s because we’re clueless; privilege is a blindfold. In the wake of the groping video, the hashtag #NotAllMen began to trend on Twitter, proudly declaring that the majority of men “aren’t like that.”  How is this a salient point?  If 44 percent of men had had guns pointed at their heads by women, we wouldn’t be saying: “Sure, but not all women. And most never pull the trigger.”

When we hear about a billionaire who assaults a woman in his daughter’s bedroom, or a Stanford swimming star who rapes an unconscious woman behind a dumpster, we recognize them as monsters. But rape culture isn’t about a few sick predators stalking college campuses and lavish mansions. Men who inflict violence upon women are emboldened and legitimized by men who degrade or debase women in other ways, both large and small. They, in turn, are enabled by the rest of us who ignore their behavior or excuse it as “locker-room talk.”  Rape is the tip of the iceberg, buoyed and thrust to the surface by the culture of misogyny that supports it from below, in insidious and unconscious ways.

Recently, a fascinating study demonstrated the effect of children on their parents’ moral decision-making. Parents were told to play a game of chance and self-report the results. Winners were awarded prizes, and there were many more prize-winners than expected. In other words, parents cheated. When they played the game in the presence of their children, however, the frequency of cheating went way down. Here’s the catch: cheating only decreased in the presence of daughters. It continued unabated in the presence of sons. The authors concluded that parents model and enforce a lower moral standard for boys than for girls.

Sound familiar? If the other presidential candidate were caught on tape bragging about sexual assault, would anyone defend her words as harmless “locker-room talk”? If the victim of the Stanford swimmer had instead found him unconscious outside a fraternity, and was discovered shoving objects into his orifices, would she have been released after just three months?

There are reasons women don’t talk about the degradation and humiliation they endure. They fear retaliation, they feel shame, or blame themselves. Sometimes they just dismiss the violation as “business as usual.”  These are the inevitable byproducts of a rape culture. Women know that they are held to a higher moral standard than men. Men know it too — and act accordingly.

When we accept and excuse immorality in men and boys, we endanger our daughters and debase our sons. They deserve better than that. Our outrage shouldn’t end at the voting booth, or when we put down the morning paper. We need to see every assault on women, large and small, for what it is: an abomination. Our abomination.

I’m the father of two daughters, but this is about more than them. Our culture of rape is not just a “women’s issue.” It’s a collective disgrace, and we must all own our piece of it. To paraphrase the words of the cartoon character Pogo: 

“We have met the monster, and he is us.”  

Jeff Lee lives, works and writes in Seattle.

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