Raising Boys Not To Be Total Jerks

At some level, I’ve known since before my oldest son was born that this moment would come.  But when it did, it took me utterly and completely off guard.  I was driving a car full of boys home from a soccer tournament last week when my 9-year-old son piped up from the back,

“Hey mom! I’ve got a funny joke.  I’ll ask you a question and you say, ‘Ketchup and rubber buns'”.  “I’ve heard this one,” chuckled my 12-year-old son.  Snickers all around from the soccer players.  

Apparently, I was the only one who didn’t know what was coming next.

“What did you have for breakfast?”  “Oatmeal and ketchup and rubber buns.”

“No! Mom!  Just say ketchup and rubber buns.”

“What did  you have for breakfast?” “Ketchup and rubber buns.”

“What did you have for lunch?”  “What did you have for dinner?”  Etc. etc.  And then we get to the punchline:

“What do you do when you see a hot chick? You catch up and rub her buns!”     Peals of laughter from the boys.

To my very great credit, I did not run the station wagon off the road and into the ditch.  I kept driving – silent, hands gripping the wheel, looking straight ahead.  It was a perfect autumn day.  The sky was brilliant blue and the afternoon sun was catching the full color of the orange and yellow leaves on the trees along the highway.   It was a beautiful, perfect day but inside I was angry. I was mortified. I was disappointed.  I was desperately struggling to think of what I should say.

Every once in a while, though, it is helpful to have gone to law school.  “I don’t think that joke is funny.  You know, if you actually ran after a woman and touched her in an offensive way like that, it would be called “assault and battery”. It is a crime.  You could be arrested.”

“You could be arrested for THAT?”  “Yes.  Plus, the woman could also sue you.”

Silence descends.

“Also, I’ve actually had that happen to me. How do you think it feels to have a stranger grab your butt?”

“WHAT? That actually happened to YOU?”

“Sure. More than once. Usually at parties.”

“That’s kind of  making me feel sick,” said the 12-year-old.

More silence.

From the 9-year-old:  “I remember you saying that you didn’t like running past construction sites because the construction workers whistled and yelled things at you.”

I didn’t remember telling them that, but it’s true.  When I was a teenager, I used to go way off my normal running routes just to avoid running past a construction site.  Good, they were listening.

“So what are you going to say the next time you hear someone tell a joke like that?”        “Stop, Mom! We get it, ok?”

Teachable moment: ended.  I decided just to leave it there  – for now.  These are intelligent boys, good kids who love and respect their mom and their sister, their grandmothers, their female friends and teachers.   But they, like other young Americans, are deeply impacted by the culture that they live in. Children are exposed to an estimated 16,000 images every day.  They are powerfully influenced by their peers (I know they didn’t hear THAT joke at home).   How can that not impact the way that they view girls and women?  And isn’t it only going to get worse as they move through middle and high school?

The Ketchup Joke was a call to action for me.  I need to do more to raise these boys to recognize the problem and, hopefully one day, to speak up when they hear someone tell a sexist joke.    Thankfully, there are a lot of resources out there – research, organizations, websites.   The Advocates for Human Rights has developed a Challenge the Media workshop and resource list.   And I know that other parents have successfully managed to raise their sons not to be total jerks, but to be men who respect and treat women as equals.

I’ll report back periodically on what I have found.  In the meantime, I would welcome hearing about what others have learned.    But first, I’ve got a date with my sons.  We are going to see Miss Representation.

We've still got a long way to go, but we've taken the first step.
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8 thoughts on “Raising Boys Not To Be Total Jerks

  1. Tove

    A lesson we all learn pretty quickly as we step into our roles as moms and dads is that a whole lot of parenting is way easier said than done. In this case, though, Jenni… well done!

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  2. aviva breen

    I just came home from seeing the film. It was pretty sad to see some of the things I saw 30 years ago and realize we are still working on the same issues only the graphic reminders were far worse and far more numerous and pervasive. I guess the work is never done.

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  3. Thank you all! I think I just got lucky in being able to get something out of my mouth in a semi-calm and reasonable way. The little bit of research I’ve done so far shows that the most important thing is just to respond immediately, even if it is just to say “I don’t think that joke is funny.” Silence equals affirmation.

    Aviva, even if the media isn’t better, I think that in general people are more aware than when I was a kid. We are better at recognizing and challenging discrimination (racism, bullying, etc.) when it comes up, which is part of the reason why I was so surprised. Still a long way to go, though!

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  4. Thanks, Leah! This post actually went viral – more than 27,000 views and nearly 300 shares on Open Salon- and got a prodigious amount of shocking, nasty comments. But this just showed me that there is a battle still to be fought. I love these boys (and their sister) and I’m up for that fight.

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  5. Pingback: Assault In The Second Degree Grade « The Human Rights Warrior

Everyone has the right to an opinion and I'd love to hear yours! While comments are very welcome, they will be moderated. My kids read this blog, too!

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