Peggy Orenstein: Convincing Boys They’re One-Dimensional Brutes

April 20, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

New York Times blogger K. J. Dell’Antonia decided to broach the topic of parental sex education of boys on her Well page (New York Times, 4/1/16). So naturally she asked Peggy Orenstein, author of the book “Girls and Sex: Navigating the New Landscape.” After all, boys and girls are identical and there’s no difference between what girls need to know and what boys need to know, right? Such, apparently, is the premise of the linked-to piece.

Are there authors with a special interest in and understanding of boys? Why, yes there are. If Dell’Antonia had asked me, I’d have recommended Warren Farrell off the top of my head and probably Michael Gurian or Tom Golden. But, as with so much related to the masculine half of humanity, it’s currently de rigueur to assume that, if you’ve dealt with the distaff side of things, then that’s the end of it.

To Dell’Antonia’s obvious surprise, when she asked readers to submit their questions to Orenstein, she received “a flurry of questions about our sons.” Imagine that. Interestingly, of that “flurry,” she chose just three to pass on to readers of the blog. Few will be surprised to learn that neither the questions relayed by Dell’Antonia nor Orenstein’s answers were in any way different for boys than they would have been for girls.

That of course means that the issues facing boys are the same as those facing girls and that the primary such issue is “consent.”

Q. Will this book help me talk to my son about sex?

A. So much of it is the same — boys need to know about consent and alcohol and how it affects your judgment…

And just as predictably, Orenstein assumes that masculine consent is a given while feminine consent is not. (Does that mean the sexes aren’t identical after all? Or is it just unconscious hypocrisy on Orenstein’s part?)

Q. How can I talk to my son about consent, and what do you think we’re missing in that conversation?

A. Boys need to learn about the differences between consent and coercion and assault and particularly, I think, about these issues with respect to oral sex. So much of what kids are doing is not intercourse, it’s oral sex, and when we ignore that, we set up a situation in which they think that’s not sex and since it’s not sex it’s not subject to the same rules about consent and reciprocity and respect. Boys need to know that it’s not O.K. to push in oral sex either.

So, of the three questions about boys Dell’Antonia decided to repeat for her blog readers, two were about consent. Seriously, those were the only topics? I can think of many, many others that would be far more helpful to both boys and their parents than standard-issue questions about consent.

But the point is that both women, Orenstein and Dell’Antonia, assume that, in sexual situations, boys are the aggressors and girls are passive recipients of their advances. For them, the issue of consent goes only one way; masculine consent to sex is assumed.

That’s factually wrong. The last two surveys done for the Centers for Disease Control that gathered the information found identical numbers of men and women having not consented to some form of penetrative sexual behavior in the last year. About 1.6 million men and 1.6 million women said they’d experienced coerced, penetrative sex. And since well over 90% of sexual intercourse is between men and women, that means women are every bit as likely to ignore a man’s “no” as vice versa.

Orenstein and Dell’Antonia either don’t know basic facts or they elected not to tell their readers.

And their assumptions about boys and masculinity don’t stop there. Orenstein mentions “how falling for our culture’s idea of “manly” can lead boys toward disrespect and violence.” There’s that old chestnut again: our culture has but one idea of masculinity and it’s synonymous with violence and disrespect for women.

I don’t know where I was, but I missed that memo. Come to think of it, so did every boy I knew growing up and every man I know as an adult. I read newspapers, magazines, books of fiction and non-fiction, I watch television, listen to music, talk to people, listen to others talk. And the number of messages out there telling men that it’s OK to disrespect women or to ignore their wishes in sex is vanishingly small. Plus, whenever those messages do appear, they’re all but invariably placed in the mouth of a scoundrel, making it clear that his words and deeds aren’t acceptable.

Admittedly, I know little about hip-hop music or the culture of which it’s such a big part, but I do know that it tends to normalize the idea of treating women like dirt. But please. Generally speaking the notion of masculinity that this culture propagates has almost nothing to do with “manliness” whose sole attribute is violence. Indeed, even a casual look at men, now and over the millennia, tells us that the Warrior is but one aspect of what masculinity means.

Men are now and, for all practical purposes, always have been spiritual leaders, doctors, inventors, discoverers, scientists, artists, musicians, philosophers, etc., etc. There’s a vast array of personae suitable to men that have nothing to do with aggression or violence and would in fact be confounded by them. But the radical feminist mantra is that men are inherently violent and, for the most part, that’s all they are. Certain segments of the population have accepted that as true despite the obvious facts that contradict it.

Orenstein and Dell’Antonia fall into that group, and in so doing not only perpetuate the misandry of pop culture, but do battle against the very boys they pretend to be concerned about. After all, in their telling, boys are implacable sex machines whom we must reprogram to correct the defective software that tells them to abuse and disrespect anyone without a penis. I pity any boy who makes the mistake of listening to them.

Better information is rife. For example, as long as Orenstein and Dell’Antonia are so fixated on consent, they might have told the boys’ parents that, currently, “consent” to sex by a woman is – with apologies to The Bard – a never fixéd mark. Before he starts to college and preferably before he begins high school, a boy should be taught that consent to sex by a girl or woman is essentially impossible to establish with any certainty. As things stand now, no level of enthusiasm for sex will be sufficient if she, at any point in the future, decides she didn’t consent.

According to campus rules, the male is entitled to no notice of her intentions that would allow him to conform his behavior to appropriate and understood conventions. Examples are too numerous to mention, but suffice it to say that college-age women have decided months or even years after the fact that a sexual experience was not consensual even when her every word and deed at the time told her partner that it was.

Moving on from consent – which Orenstein and Dell’Antonia never do – sex education for boys (and men) would surely include the consequences of conception. It’s never too early to begin explaining to boys that protecting themselves from pregnancy is Job One in any sexual encounter. Failure to do so has the direst of consequences, including paying child support for a period of time longer than he’s currently lived.

That in turn may mean bypassing college in favor of a blue-collar job. It may mean being denied a relationship with his child regardless of how much he may desire one. It may mean going to jail if he fails to come up with the requisite money at the requisite time.

And of course he must come to understand that essentially none of this is up to him. Is he not ready to be a father? Too bad; it’s not his call. Does he passionately desire to be a dad? No one wants to hear it. Does he want a full and meaningful relationship with his child as little Andy or Jenny grows up? There’s every chance that he won’t get one. Does his paramour carry the child to term and then decide to place it for adoption? Dad may not have anything to say about that either.

In short, there’s a lot for boys to learn about which Orenstein and Dell’Antonia don’t breathe a word. No, their ever-so-brief glance in the direction of boys has essentially nothing to do with the world boys actually face and everything to do with demonizing them as one-dimensional brutes.

The New York Times – All the News that’s Fit to Print.


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