I often wonder if I would be any different, feel any different, if I were a mother to a son, rather than a daughter. Yes, parents ought to love all children in the same way and treat them the same, but recently I have begun to think that the responsibilities of being a parent to a son at this day and age far outweighs that of a parent to a daughter. And I arrive at this conclusion based on conversations I have had with many other parents of my generation. And what they say (and I agree with) is that while our generation of women have stepped out of the roles and boxes designed for them, the men of our generation have still not evolved. So, they still expect their wives/partners to carry out the same tasks that they saw their mothers perform, BUT also contribute to household expenditures at the same time. There has been much said and written by experts and activists working in the area. Today, I write and express myself only as a mother.
And that makes me wonder, how are we raising our sons, what is the environment we are moulding them in, that gives rise to such perpetrators, abusers and rapists we read of everyday? Let's face it, they are part of this very society that we live in and helped create. They are our fathers, uncles and most importantly our sons. And so, the onus of creating a "better" family, a "better" community that cuts the very root of rape culture, lies now more than ever on parents of today's children—the ones raising future generations. And by parents I do not mean mothers. For far too long women have been carrying the flag of equality, fighting the good fight, seeking justice. The responsibility does not lie with her alone, just like it is not upto a mother alone to raise her son, to give him good lessons, to teach him to respect his wife, partner or girlfriend.
The majority of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. And so, while survivors are always women and children, the ones inflicting violence are almost always men. As a woman, I have grown up watching over my shoulder, when I am walking on the streets, even at 6 o' clock in the evening, even if the street is not completely deserted; even if the street is where I grew up all my life. Throughout my life, I have been extra vigilant, extra cautious, almost as if it is MY responsibility to not get abused/harassed/raped.
But, I don't want the same things for my daughter, and I will not accept it. I want it to be okay and safe for her to walk the streets, use public transport, feel no less than her male counterparts. To my daughter, like most mothers I have said that she can be anything, do anything: a doctor, an astronaut, or an artist. But what's most important is to be a good person, to be empathetic and kind; to respect one and all, for who they are—not because they have a particular tone of skin, or because of where they come from, or because what genitalia (yes, it is a word one can utter in front of kids!) they have. I hope that's the kind of conversations parents of young boys are also having with their sons. But this is not the end; parents of boys also need to encourage their sons to play with dolls or kitchen sets, not with guns; they need to stop saying that it's okay to be naughty, and to hit others. Parents of young boys growing up need to set forth the same house rules for their sons as they do for their daughters. It can't be okay for the son to be out till midnight, when the daughter has to come back home during sunset. But most importantly, parents of young boys need to set forth good examples as parents, and act out what they are teaching their sons. They will pick up what they see, so if they see parents sharing household responsibility, if they see their fathers being more involved at home, with the children, that is what they will practice.
As a mother to a daughter, I request you, no I beg you, to hold your uncles, your fathers your brothers accountable for their behaviour, for making sexist jokes, for thinking it's okay to harass and abuse their power and positions of authority. As a mother, I beg you to have open conversations with your sons so that they can learn about their sexuality from their parents, rather than from porn or peers. Teach them about consent, and about respect. I don't want your son to protect my daughter, I want him to check his own behaviour. I owe it to my daughter to end rape culture, and so do you.
Syeda Samara Mortada is the Regional Movement Builder at SheDecides, Asia and a core member of the RageAgainstRape Movement in Bangladesh.