We have a teachable moment in America, and we have Donald Trump to thank.
The impetus? His Access Hollywood videotape, in which he appears to brag about having sexually assaulted women. Set aside the election for a millisecond. This all presents a tremendous and overdue opportunity to agree to teach our sons to respect women. Clearly, we haven't done a good enough job.
It's more than "locker room talk," by the way. I've been in a lot of locker rooms--athletic teams, the Army, the local gym--and I've never heard guys brag about sexually assaulting women. But in the aftermath of Trump's tape, the sheer number of women who've shared stories of sexual assault spurs action.
With that in mind, here are some things to do to raise sons so they'll be more likely to respect women--and never get caught on tape talking about popping a TicTac in case they decide to force themselves on someone.
1. Show them strong women.
We'll start with some advice from U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kate Germano, who retired after being one of the top officers at the Marine Recruit Depot at Parris Island.
"The easiest way to make sure that boys grow up into men who understand women bring something to the table," she told Fatherly earlier this year, "is to help them become familiar with the fact that women have leadership - and brains - to offer from the onset of their developmental years."
We won't stop boys from noticing and talking about attractive girls. I don't even think we should try to do that; there's a whole thing about how that's related to the survival of humans as a species, for one thing. However, we can certainly teach boys that women are more just their looks.
Personally, some of the women leaders who made an impact on me include my best swim coach growing up, along with some of the best officers I knew in the military, and the best lawyers I knew when I was practicing law--to say nothing of some of the smartest and most effective editors here at Inc.com. Be sure your sons have similar women they look up to.
2. Tell them.
Simply having direct discussions with boys about the history of women's equality (and lack thereof) in America can help as well. Writing on MindBodyGreen, Emma Dixon suggests taking them through the history of women in the United States (no voting rights until 1920, no right to credit in their own name until 50 years ago).
"Or point out that most world leaders are male. When I did this with my son, it opened a space for discussion about who goes into politics and why," Dixon says. "This then allowed me to talk about things like barriers to entry, harassment and workplace cultures. ... Teenagers could benefit from discussions of rape culture, as well as being aware of 'slut shaming' and the over-sexualization of women in the media."
3. Model behavior for them.
As a role model--whether you're a parent, an uncle, or another grownup in a child's life--one of the most important things you can do is to show them that you'd never behave in a sexist or predatory manner. Kids look up to you.
Another area of behavior to model? Expressing emotions.
"Generations of boys have been raised to 'do' rather than to feel. Too often, boys are praised for their accomplishments and not for how they treat their friends -- whereas girls are complimented on their looks and empathy rather than their achievements. To bring this back into balance, it's important to nurture your son's ability to express and introspect," says Dixon.
4. Model calling out for them.
This means correcting other men who don't show respect for women--and especially those whose conduct seems to be creeping up to the border of unwanted sexual contact. Heck, even in prison, sexual assaulters are the lowest of the low.
In other words, if you ever hear another man, even in a locker room, talking about how he makes unwanted sexual advances, call him out.
Use the prison nickname if possible: chomo. Put them in their place, and be prepared to throw punches if necessary. This is one time it's allowed.
5. Be careful of your language (and theirs).
I'm a little bit ashamed now for having found this old SNL skit funny back in the day. Humor doesn't make it right, and as Colonel Germano puts it:
"Listen to the words your sons say about girls. Do they disparage girls' athletic ability or behavior? Do they make fun of a girl for dressing differently or for wearing her hair a certain way? Most likely they're parroting things they hear from their peers during or after school. It's your job to talk to teachers, coaches, and any other adults who have a day-to-day influence on your sons' ideas about girls."
6. Overreact, proactively.
One issue with calling people out for this kind of behavior is that there is so much ambiguity. Was the guy just joking around, or did he really cross the line? Especially with friends (or guys who might be a lot bigger than we are), we want to give others the benefit of the doubt.
However, think of turning things the other way. Don't give others the benefit of the doubt; instead, proactively overreact. If you're on the fence about someone's behavior, call them out for it--make them defend and explain their conduct.
Even if you're wrong, your reaction will make them think twice the next time.
7. What else?
I have to be honest: I think there are other things that should be on this list. But I hope we can use this as a conversation. So, please share with us in the comments below.
What other things should serious parents do to ensure their sons grow up to respect women--and certainly, never to wind up having to explain away an awkward videotape.