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Preventing the next generation of Weinsteins

Mar. 15, 2018
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At the Golden Globes, they wore black. At the Grammys, they wore white. If there’s anything celebrities are good at, besides awarding themselves, it’s using their clothing to send a message. Now, that’s not to say the message wasn’t impactful—if people didn’t already know about the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements pre-awards season, they certainly do now. And the criticality of such a spectacle cannot be understated.

There’s a reason why every woman in the ‘90s got the ‘Rachel’ haircut. There’s a reason why more women started wearing less makeup after Alicia Keys debuted her face in all its makeup-less glory. And there’s a reason why a trickle of famous women accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault turned into a wave of women across the country coming forward with their experiences. Celebrities influence behaviors, actions, and personal values in our culture. This may not always be a good thing, but for #MeToo and Time’s Up, it was key in turning a hashtag into a global movement.

So now that the groundwork has been laid and the need for a cultural shift made clear, it is up to all of us to actually make that shift. And unfortunately, dismantling our rape culture won’t be nearly as easy as it was to raise awareness about it, no matter how color-coordinated our outfits are. It is going to take time and a lot of conscious effort, because it requires unlearning oppressive, sexist, and patriarchal values that have been ingrained in our society for centuries. As daunting as this task may seem, it is not impossible. If human beings can learn how to create a phone that recognizes us by our faces, they can learn that when a woman says no, it means no.

Our beliefs about concepts like consent and gender start forming from a very young age and are strongly influenced by the teachings of our parents and the environment in which we grow up. If we hope to create a long-term cultural shift, we need to start by changing how we raise and teach our children. As we enter March, which is Women's History Month, the timing couldn’t be more potent to start a conversation on the best practices to raise a feminist child, a feminist teenager, and ultimately a feminist adult. With the help of several experts, we put together the best 4 practices to prevent the next generation of Harvey Weinsteins. 

#1. Don't Separate Anything Based on Gender

Children begin to understand and differentiate between genders as early as 18 months, and they start to develop stereotypes as early as two years. This being the case, it is crucial for parents to provide a non-binarized view of gender early on to prevent children from thinking they need to fill specific roles or live up to specific expectations solely because of their gender. This can be accomplished by not making anything 'for boys' or 'for girls.' That includes color, clothing, toys, chores, activities, sports, professions, etc. “The more obvious it is that gender is being used to categorize groups or activities, the more likely it is that gender stereotypes and bias are reinforced,” says Richard Fabes, director of the university’s Sanford School, which studies gender and education. Remove that risk by talking to and treating kids like people, rather than like boys or girls.

#2. Stop Forcing Them to Hug or Kiss People (Relatives Included) If They Don’t Want to

A child's understanding of consent is more important than being polite to Grandma and Grandpa, which is why parents should stop forcing their kids to hug or kiss them if they don't want to. Both children and adults need to understand that consent is a concept that applies to people of all ages and should not be breached for any circumstances. Allowing children to practice their autonomy and understand their limits and boundaries at a young age is what creates a healthy relationship with consent throughout the rest of their life. Additionally, it is crucial that the relative they might refuse to hug does not reprimand them for doing so. Young children’s understanding of acceptable behaviors is based on punishment and reward. So if they get punished for not submitting to someone, regardless of whether they want to to not, that is the behavior that gets learned.

#3. No ALWAYS Means No

Teaching someone to respect another person when they say 'no' is lacking in contemporary sexual education. It is exactly that lack of teaching that is the foundation upon which the Weinstein effect is built. However, the creation of more Harvey's and Larry's can be prevented if parents (and people in general) emphasize the necessity of consent for ALL physical interactions, as early and as often as possible. For example, if a parent is tickling their child and the child says 'No, stop,' they should immediately halt their actions. Parents can take that opportunity to tell their child that they stopped because they said 'no' and further elaborate on why they must always listen and respect another person's wishes. This time can also be used to inform them that if they are unsure of the other person's wishes, they need to always ask before touching them or physically interacting with them. 

#4. Talk Openly About Sex, Early and Often

The amount of research that highlights the benefits of frequent discussions about sex with your kids is insurmountable. Planned Parenthood notes, "kids and teens who have regular conversations with their parents and caregivers about sex and relationships are less likely to take risks with their sexual health, and more likely to be healthy and safe." That's because when children feel as though they have a safe environment to talk about sex without feeling shamed, they won't resort to other sources that might not be correct, safe, or positive. The relationship that people form with sex at a young age is the relationship they will have with sex when they are an adult, so it's important that the relationship is a positive and healthy one.