Dear Future Son,
I hope this world finds you well. I fear it won’t. I cannot imagine the art, the technology, the horrors that now greet you. But today I wanted to talk about girls and women. From the minute your conception was announced, you were told you would be smart, strong, successful, handsome, and have a strong therapeutic belief in rock and roll. That last one is my fault and you can ignore it.
But when my friend was with child, they called her future daughter pretty, adorable, cute, and according to one pedantic old man, demure. So, see, son, it starts before your penis is even the size of an almond, before you even have eyes to see all the blue wrapping tissue.
I wanted to warn you son, about something in the air when you come into this world. It’s everywhere. It’s in your coaches. It’s in your family and in your friends. It’s in your sister’s boyfriend and her husband too. It’s in well-regarded film directors. It’s in struggling authors. It’s in professional football players. It’s in the president. It’s in me. And it’s in you, too.
It’s that look you let stick too long. It’s the arm around her waist as you guide her into the restaurant on a first date. It’s the sexual reference about her body. It’s trying to make a move, getting denied, and telling your friends she was just playing hard to get. It’s going in for a kiss and ignoring her signals. It’s your silence as your friends tell a story. It’s your inertia as someone is harassed on the bus, on the plane, on the street. It’s you not walking her home because you want to keep drinking. And, of course, it’s so much worse than this. It’s assault and rape and a bevy of ways men instill trauma into women in order to protect their own fragile sense of self.
And, really, is one of these worse than the other? When a piece of her is irrevocably taken from her, does it matter how big the piece? Does it matter how big the knife? A scar is a scar. And the scars add up until she is covered in scars. And then it’s her responsibility to show them, to prove they are real. She dissects herself not for relief or comfort, but to prove to you and me that she is not lying about the number of scars. She should not have to do that.
So here’s what you can do. First, you can talk to girls and women and get to know them as humans, not as daughters, sisters, girlfriends, or mothers. Listen to them. Believe them. Ask what you can do to help. Comfort them with acts of services, words of praise, and gifts, not touch. Realize they are not mad at you, but are mad at the worm that runs in your blood. Do not be offended by this. You are stronger than that. The worm is in all of us men, no matter how good of a boyfriend we are. Son, this one is important: this is not about you. Ask her what you can do to help, but don’t offer advice, she is strong and capable and will reach out if she wants advice.
The other thing you can do is tell your friends to think about what they just said. Even when it’s hard. Even when they make fun of you. Even if you might get kicked out of the group. Even if they tell the whole damn school. You are strong and capable and can handle it. I know it won’t seem like it at the time, but you don’t want those friends anyway.
The worm is ever present, slipping and sliding throughout our veins. It is daunting in scope, tenacity, menace. But we can stop this. You can stop this. I love you and believe in you, son. Make me proud. Make us all proud.