During the closing weeks of May, Elliot O. Rodger, 22, went on a killing rampage in Santa Barba, CA. The New York Times reports,
A college student who posted videos that documented his rage against women for rejecting him killed six people and wounded 13 others during a spasm of terror on Friday night, the police said. He stabbed three men to death in his apartment and shot the others as he methodically opened fire on bystanders on the crowded streets of this small town.
There’s a video he posted to YouTube, a kind of manifesto, to justify his crimes and sins. I won’t link to it here, but you can find it if you try. This story disturbs me strongly and frightens me--as a human and as a husband and father.
Despite having a mom who played an active role in my development growing up and an older sister, my functional view of women was low. Pornography use contributed to my sinful views, and also an unawareness of my own privilege as a man. The Lord has been graciously showing me how wrong I was. And how the gospel must change the way men view women.
I’m the kind of person that loves to be prepared. I want to have my GPS app locked and loaded for road trips with a list of awesome restaurants ready to eat at and a 1,000 song playlist. I want to know exact times for arrival and departure. I will also read a dozen books on a topic as I prepare to learn about it. I am a husband of the lovely and creative LeAnn and the father of three daughters. Living in a home with four women changes a man. You cannot have three little girls tugging at your pants before you wonder about the specific challenges that will face them in life.
This wondering has caused me to do some reading on issues that women face today, theological and cultural, abuse, education, to name a few. I’m starting to understand in our culture and many others how vulnerable young girls can be to sex trafficking, sexual abuse, misogyny, and commodization.
For the last four to five years, I regularly rehearse with my girls what they should do if someone attempts to touch them sexually, and how to respond if they then threaten their family, and so on. As they get older, I start addressing other issues as they come up. For instance, how should my oldest daughter who is six respond when the little boy in her class tries to convince her to kiss him and is being persistent about it. I have found that many things that I had never thought of, had to think about, or had been talked about are real life, every day issues for my girls.
You cannot raise girls without being absolutely intentional about these kinds of issues. As a Christian father, I understand these kinds of conversations within the matrix of my discipleship responsibilities for my daughters. I’m pleading with parents of young boys to be as intentional with their boys. Remember our daughters as you teach your sons.
However, I now understand that many parents of young boys don’t understand these concerns and are not intentional about teaching their boys many of the same things in reverse. I want to make an unequivocal call for parents of boys to consider this a critical part of discipling their boys.
1. You do not show girls you like them by being rough, demanding, or tenacious.
How many times have we all heard, “He’s just being rough with you because he likes you.” I never thought much about that until I had three daughters. My initial response to boys being rough with my daughters was quite sinful, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realized how wrong the sentiment of rough equals love is. You are not teaching your son to honor, love, respect women if you are not teaching them meekness (restrained strength). Your sons must understand when to use their strength and how to use it to love others. When you don’t correct this behavior, you’re teaching them, even if tacticly, physical strength and roughness equals affection. The gospel demonstrates the opposite. Strength serves others. It doesn’t rough them up.
Also, this doesn’t mean girls are not strong or cannot play rough games. For instance, my sisters' two twin sons love to play ninja—which can be rougher than my two oldest daughters are used to playing. Sometimes they will participate, but each player determines when the game is too rough for them and when they choose to quit. Boys must learn to understand and respect that for all people, but in our cultural context, especially with girls. Hannah Anderson, in personal correspondence, makes this point:
“Girls can rough house and need to understand the strength of their own bodies. One of the biggest shocks of motherhood is how absolutely demanding it is physically. If girls are not raised to develop their physicality, as different as this may be from a man's, the day-to-day realities of using your body to care for another person will come as a big surprise.”
This reminded me of my own wife who regularly carried our daughters in a sling. And, of course, my wife carried all of our children for nine months in the womb and then delivered them. That takes strength.
2. No really does mean no.
Related to my first point (it sounds simple) but how many parents allow their boys to constantly pester, bother, and harass girls when she’s clearly asked them to stop? No means no in all areas of life—play, sex, work. One way I’ve tried to model this with my own daughters is the way I interact with them when we play. We will have pillow fights, play horsey, goof off in the pool, or use nerf guns, but when they ask me to stop whatever the activity is I stop.
Boys must be taught from the time they are young that when someone asks you to stop you stop--that shows respect to fellow image bearers and love for neighbor. This is fundamentally an act of love for another person’s body and mind. When you play with your boys, teach them to listen, respect, and love.
3. Teach them girls are people too (imago dei)
We must root all of this back to the creation of Adam and Eve imago dei. They were created in God’s image. They are his creation and handiwork. They have intrinsic value as people. When correcting my girls for not being kind to others, I always start by asking them, “Who made so and so?” then “Who made you?” The answer to both is God. I might then say something like, “If God made so-and-so in his image, then we must treat them with love and respect. We must treat them like they are God’s.” Pound this theological truth into your boys heads.
Hannah Anderson touched on this topic in conversation as well. She and her husband intentionally teach their boys to care for girls as a way to use their privilege as males in our society. She notes this isn’t paternalism which diminishes the image of God. It’s a recognition of certain privileges and advantages which highlights a theme in Christianity. She describes it as, “The Christian paradigm of the strong serving the vulnerable is essential to understanding why men protect and care for women.” Also, in a recent conversation with pastor and writer Jeremy Writebol, he described the trend of “Biblical manhood” being equated with machoism—which turns into a functional Darwinism. “If there’s no place for weakness in men in the Christian faith then we have Darwinism, not Biblical manhood. And weak men are getting bowled under every single day” (see his article “What Wisdom Looks Like”).
4. Talk to your boys about sex.
There’s grace for our failures as parents, but I want to strongly admonition and urge you to talk to your boys about sex—not to is cowardly. These conversations can be uncomfortable. They can be tricky. They can be complicated. My family recently joined Downtown Presbyterian Church and partook in a new members lunch. A lady sitting at our table was pregnant and my middle daughter Maddy asks her, “Who put the baby in your tummy?” This woman sat there for two or three seconds dumbstruck before I quickly stepped in, “God put the baby in her tummy.” Answering these kinds of questions can be awkward—especially when explaining sexual concepts to a three year old. But children are curious and we must be prepared.
There are a ton of resources online so find something that walks you through the sexual development of children and be prepared to answer some of the questions that will inevitably come up. This will help you feel more comfortable and be prepared to answer questions as they come up.
Part of this conversation must include something about porn. It’s an epidemic with young boys and what they see in these sexual videos will impact the way they view women. We must teach our sons that women are not a commodity to be had, traded, or purchased through a monthly subscription. They are not on earth to fulfill boys sexual desires. That doesn’t mean downlplay the enjoyment and delight found in sex, but it does mean placing that within the context of the larger story found in Scripture.
Tim Challies has written an extremely helpful article, “The Porn-Free Family Plan.” This plan isn’t a substitute for having meaningful conversations with your boys about sex, and it isn’t the silver bullet to beat lust. But it sure will make accessing porn difficult.
5. Teach them to appreciate girls as complete people
Much of what we see advertised as it relates to women focus on outward beauty. Don’t get me wrong women are beautiful. God has designed them that way, but that is not all they are. They are complete people. We should value their wisdom, work, knowledge, spirituality, and gifting.
We should listen to their stories. We should hear their hurts and pain. We should seek to understand the women in our lives. None of this rubbish that women are from Venus. Or women can’t be understood. They can be understood as far as any human made in the image of God can be.
Teach your boys from the time they are little that girls are people and they should be valued for the myriad of contributions they make, not just the traditional ways our culture thinks about women. Teach them to see the beauty of women, not only physically, but mentally, spiritually, athletically, etc. Teach them how to appreciate a beautiful, courageous, smart, or athletic girl without making the appreciation sexual. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if you taught them how to give a compliment that’s not aggressive and creepy.
6. Teach them to be thoughtful
My wife and oldest were out shopping last winter (when it gets dark much earlier) and a man approached them in the parking lot asking them for directions to something. I’m all for helping someone in need, but approaching a woman with a child in a dark parking lot just sets off spidey senses in most women I know.
That’s one example, but we could multiply this times a thousand. One of the reasons God gave families moms and dads is so there could be multiple point of views, with multiple experiences to share. Moms share your experiences with your sons. Let them know what makes you uncomfortable. I heard another story of a friend’s wife who received a call from one of her friends who wanted to know if she was just being weird or was she right in feeling uncomfortable with a pastor inviting her to the church office at night with no one else there. Even if there was good intentions and no foul play intended, sometimes the situation just feels off. Trust your gut and common sense.
I spend and will spend a lot of time teaching my girls how to prevent themselves from being in bad situations, but please, please, please teach your boys the same thing. Teach them to how not to make girls feel uncomfortable. Teach them how not to put girls in situations where they feel vulnerable. Teach them how to treat them like people who deserve courtesy, respect, and love.
7. Talk to your boys about the gospel
The gospel is of first importance, according to Paul. But the gospel not only saves, but provides ethical force for Christian living. The Spirit didn’t leave Jesus dead in his grace. He gave him new life. Likewise, the Spirit doesn’t leave us dead to sin, but raises us up to new life in Christ. Over and over again in the Old Testament, the Lord will say something like, “I have delivered you out of Egypt so do this.” This same kind of force is seen in the New Testament, “Jesus Christ accomplished this for you so now act this way.” The gospel always propels our ethical actions.
So as we teach our sons, we must connect everything back to what has already been done. It removes condemnation for their failures. It provides freedom to act and obey--not for acceptance by you or God, but out of gratitude. And it provides the only motivation for staying pure in a morally and sexually bankrupt world. We must not only teach them the right things to do or say, but we must aim for their hearts, their affections.
The devils in hell are catechized and orthodox, but they still do not see the beauty of Jesus in the gospel. We must demonstrate by the way we live, by what we say, by the stories we tell, by how we teach them—there’s nothing better than Jesus. There’s nothing freer than new life in Christ. And that that allows them to love the women in their lives—as people made imago dei. And to stop accepting excuses for the abuse of women. And to follow in the steps in the steps of Jesus and the Apostle Paul—who held women in high regard. Remember our daughters as you teach your sons.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and writes for CBMW Manual, Gospel-Centered Discipleship, Borrowed Light, and other publications. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and offers freelance editing and book formatting services. He blogs at Grace for Sinners and Marginalia: On the Margins of the Writing Life. He is a covenant member at Downtown Presbyterian Church.