Rape culture

In a week where boys from a local college made online comments that publicly endorsed rape culture and where opportunities to offer moral leadership were largely missed by those in the best position to respond, I find my thoughts turning to my own boys, still only children, but who in time will grow into the hyper-sexualised world of adolescence. Perhaps they will be heterosexual, and as such their movement through the world of uncertain young men and women will become part of the solution, or part of the problem. My job as a father will surely be to offer advice and guidance, and so below a letter for the future, a letter to my sons.

Dear boys

Sex is wonderful. Ahead of you lie some of the most tender, beautiful, exciting and intimate moments of your life. To arrive at this point of your life healthy and happy, confident and safe from clear and present dangers makes you deliciously lucky. I am delighted for you. There are just a few things I would like you to keep in mind, things that will make your life ahead even better.

  1. Remember that women are human beings. I know that seems so obvious that it doesn’t need saying, but trust me it will be easy to forget this. Remember that they are frightened, like you are frightened. Remember they are not always certain of the deep beauty that lies within them. Remember that they live in a world that would judge them for the way they look, and that this corrodes them. Remember that they have been raised to please people, and bring peace at all costs, and that those who lose sight of their humanity will find it easy to exploit this. Remember that they, like all of us, crave a person who will pay them attention. Never pretend to pay them attention. Treat them as you yourself wish to be treated. They are human beings, just like you are.
  2. Never have sex with a women who doesn’t want to have sex with you. There is a word for this. It is rape. There are two very useful methods for discovering whether a women wants to have sex with you. First, wait for her to tell you she wants to have sex with you. Mostly this will mean that she does. Or second, ask her if she wants to have sex with you, and pay close attention to the answer. If she says she doesn’t, do not treat this as the opening stance in a negotiation. Stop asking. Having sex with somebody who wants to have sex with you is awesome, no matter how frightening it might seem at first. Other kinds of sex are illegal.
  3. Sometimes it will seem clear to you that a women wants to have sex with you, even though she doesn’t say it. Check. You may well think, ‘but talking about that right now will ruin the mood.’ Here’s the thing. If that’s all it takes to ruin the mood, she doesn’t really want to have sex with you.
  4. Women who are drunk or under the influence of drugs are unable to tell you what they want. So you can’t know they want to have sex with you. Refer to rule number 2.
  5. Never manipulate a woman into saying she wants to have sex with you. (See rule number 2.) Don’t lead her to believe that this is the only way she can win your approval. Don’t allow her to believe that her reluctance or uncertainty speaks to some flaw in her. Don’t lead her to believe that  her having sex with you is a condition of continuing the relationship.
  6. Remember that rules 2 through 5 don’t just apply to women you have not yet had sex with. They apply throughout your relationships. Being an arsehole is being an arsehole, no matter what the context.
  7. Speaking of being an arsehole, don’t brag about having had sex. Don’t use your own sexual experiences as a way of raising your status amongst your peers. If this is what impresses your friends, get yourself some new friends. Maybe make friends with some women. Women are awesome.
  8. Try having sex with people you really really like. It’s much scarier, but also much much better.
  9. Don’t judge women by the way they look. Don’t do it publicly, and don’t do it privately either. It seems like a little thing, I know, and it seems like everybody is doing it, not least of all the women themselves. But you can not even begin to imagine the damage this is doing, to all women, everywhere. It will be a long long time before you properly understand the misery you are inflicting upon the world with this casually dismissive reduction of their humanity, and it is tremendously easy to avoid.
  10. Never think of sex as a goal. Sometimes it will feel like it is, sometimes your body will allow you to believe that right now, in this instance, the only thing that matters is whether or not you have sex. We have masturbation for moments like these. You’ll be surprised how quickly your head will clear. Women are not masturbationary aids. They are human beings. Seriously, get a grip.
  11. And finally, on the topic, pornography seems to be everywhere now. But then so are smog, angry drivers and polluted water ways. Never mistake ubiquity for acceptability. Lay off the pornography. It will do nothing to enhance your sex life. In fact the opposite is true. Slavering over a small screen, equating stimulation with an abstracted, dehumanised form, is a dismal habit. Raise your sights. Aspire to actual intimacy with actual human beings. This distant viewing of strangers strips women not only of their clothing but also of their humanity. What you are doing is getting off on the image of a body without a life force. Basically, you have a thing for corpses. Maybe think about that.

All of this seems very negative, but in fact you will find these rules easy enough to follow, for I can already see in you the kindness and attentiveness to others that gives me hope for the future. So get out there. Meet women, attend to their humanity, draw close and breathe in time. Celebrate all that is good in them, and in you. The very best of life awaits you. Go well my boys. Give men something to be proud of.


13 thoughts on “Rape culture

  1. Del Costello says:

    Cheers Bernard- a sound message to our boys. I think you’ve missed one thing thing. As the mother of a few girls (and a boy)- girls can be mean, they can be manipulative, they can make a game of messing around. Be friends first and build a trusting relationship. Boys have big and sensitive hearts too.

    • Sacha Jones says:

      Del. I find it regrettable that you have turned this into a boys versus girls thing by pointing out that ‘girls can be mean’ and ‘boys have big hearts’. The dominant narrative of excusing rape culture is all about sympathising with boys and blaming girls for sending mixed messages to our poor confused boys. I have sons and a daughter, all young adults now, and know that boys are, if anything, more sensitive than girls. But they are not more sensitive to the needs of others, least of all the needs of the female sex. Rather they are, all too often, overly sensitive to slights against their own pride and authority, especially from girls and women. Boys need to be less sensitive in this respect and taught that girls have as much right to assert themselves as they do. Instead, pornography teaches boys to dominate and objectify women as if we are indeed not even human. The men who make it don’t have big hearts and the hearts of those who use it are in question too. The last thing we need in the ongoing fight against rape culture is for women to be saying hold on, you missed something, girls are mean too.

      • Hi Sacha

        I think your point is a particularly good one. We do need to be awfully careful about how we frame this.

        I think there’s an interesting balance for a parent, working out when to protect our children from harm, and when to teach them how to process and recover from the inevitable slights the world will offer them. In the case of males, we do appear to be particularly bad at coping with ‘being wronged’, there’s a childlike petulance we have access to which, when filtered through a violent and vindictive culture, very quickly turns brutal. So yes, there’s an important issue here in terms of educating our young men to cope more gently and passively with those things they can not control (not to mention should not try to control). There’s a whole other thing to write on that.

        I also wanted to express my thanks for your forthright views on pornography. I’m currently working with a friend on a project for teenagers that tries to shine a light on pornography’s largely unchallenged place in our culture, and voices like yours add to my determination.



      • Sacha Jones says:

        Hi Bernard,

        It is I who must thank you for entering the fray of gender debate with such eloquence, insight and care. Few men have dared to dirty their hands in this particularly messy mire, while others have gone out of their way to discredit every effort feminists have made for many a decade and more to raise concern about the culture of rape and other forms of gender domination and abuse. And the detractors have won: rape, domestic violence, sexual harassment and abusive, objectifying pornography – all of which are connected – have continued to go, as you say, largely unchallenged in our culture as a result.

        I wish you the best of luck and support for your project on pornography and hope that you can find an effective way to frame the debate that does what feminists have been ultimately unable to do, make men (and boys) see that the dehumanisation of women is the dehumanisation of us all.


  2. Noeleen Shaw says:

    Dear Mr Beckett

    I have read your post and I am so happy there are men in the world like you. I am sure there are thousands of you out there, however you were clear enough to write publicly, openly and beautifully to your boys.

    Thank you. Do I have your permission to put your post on my FB page? I am 76 and I have a 4 year old great grandson. I hope I am around long enough to share your post with him. Regards Noeleen Shaw. noeleen.shaw@xtra.co.nz

    Sent from Noeleen’s iPhone


  3. Thanks Noeleen. And yes, you are welcome to post it.

  4. Andrew Buchanan says:

    Hello Bernard, long time.
    This was a topic of discussion in our house the other night after a TV program we have on this side of the ditch Called Q & A which was about women’s rights.
    I have two teenage daughters who are starting on the journey of finding there way in life and i will show them your your post as i think it is also good for to see all sides of the conversation. They also need to tread just as carefully when dealing with young men for a variety of reasons.
    Enjoy reading your posts.
    Long way from St Teresa’s .

  5. Tania Roxborogh says:

    Once again, e hoa, you say so well what needs to be said. Going to show this to my Y12 Writing class tomorrow. You and Mandy manage to keep my kete full of the best writing for my hungry writers. Ngā mihi.

  6. Thanks Tania. Lovely to hear from you. I’m hearing lots of good things about your Bastion Point novel.

  7. […] this comic because it oversimplified the issue. Or perhaps it didn’t. I really enjoyed this blog post by Bernard Beckett, which seemed quite a lot more nuanced, and something I’d like my son to […]

  8. Hilary Bray says:

    Oh, Bernard! Would that all children had such loving guidance! It is the most powerful antidote to the objectification of young people, that seems, sadly, to be occupying and contaminating the spirits of many young men as well. Thanks!

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