Recently, two separate heinous crimes took place, one in Cyprus in the picturesque holiday destination of Ayia Napa and one in Israel. The crimes in and of themselves would be shocking enough without the fact that the crimes were alleged to have been perpetrated by a bunch of young teenagers, between the ages of 13 – 20 and that in both cases, they were shamelessly videoing it. This is the stuff real life nightmares are made of. It’s your very worst type of R-rated movie. And we, as parents of Israeli teenagers, are reeling.
It’s not easy to be an Israeli teenage boy in 2019. But puberty and raging testosterone levels are nothing new. What is relatively new though is a different type of peer pressure, a pressure so insidious, which, coupled with the menacing internet, warped Hollywood messages so vividly depicted in TV and movies, and advertorial media campaigns, is starting to rupture the fabric of Israeli society.
A few days ago, while mindlessly scrolling my never-ending Facebook feed, I came upon an incisive and searing expose by Ori Fried, a clinical social worker who specializes in treating male victims of sexual assault. Mr. Fried is also an external lecturer at the Hebrew University’s School of Social Work.
It seems that over the past two decades, alongside the fierce feminist battle taking place, a different sort of battle was raging. Mr Fried posits that this battle is of men trying to find their place in a boys’ club where coveted entry depends on the extent to which you are a man, a Neanderthal man. Not only satisfied to conquer everything and everyone who finds themselves in his path, this conquistador goes out, actively pursuing additional conquests and dominating them. And woe to the teen who does not conquer: an eternal outcast, he is doomed to sit alone on the sidelines while the real men laugh and bond over a few beers.
Our sons are not born in a vacuum. They are very much the products of the society in which they are raised, a society to which we too have the dubious honor of belonging. A society which constantly and consistently teaches them that to be a real Israeli man, a gever (literal translation: a man; figurative/ideomatic translation: a strong, macho Israeli man), is to be victorious in every sphere, that life is essentially a war and they are a warrior, who can and must never stop conquering across every sphere, economic, social and political.
This article is not about telling men how to be. Just ask Gillette. Their recent Toxic Masculinity ad campaign backfired so very spectacularly. Toxic Masculinity was essentially a supercilious male-hating campaign. Unsurprisingly, what followed was a gargantuan backlash to the tune of over 1.5 million dislikes on YouTube, with some users saying that Gillette froze the amount of dislikes and even deleted many of them. Many men said that they would also boycott the brand as a result. Because that’s what happens when you tell people what to do, when you attack them purely based on the gender with which they happened to be born. They don’t generally respond well.
As a woman, I wouldn’t want men telling me how to be, how to exist and how to function in the world as a female. In fact, I would find such advice to be an unwelcomed, unwanted, unwarranted offense. And I would never presume to tell any man how to behave. I want no part of that smug, superior, self-righteous priggish moralizing. Bleurgh.
On the other hand, I believe that the time has come for us, as parents, to step up in both the areas of education and dialogue.
If you are going to give your kids access to all things Internet and all things social media without any sort of filters, don’t. Just don’t. But, if you are rolling your eyes as you read this, and you have a 12 year old son, you need to sit down with him and have an honest conversation about Consent. About mutual respect and affection which should pre-date an intimate relationship. But most of all, about mutual consent. Do it today, so that he never has to feel guilt and wracking shame and regret for actions he cannot take back, for actions which will ruin or at the very least, disfigure the course of a young girl’s life.
Dialogue means that you open up a line of honest conversation with your sons. In the same way that you choose to address issues of peer pressure in the areas of drugs and alcohol and the indescribably disturbing cyber games out there (think Momo), address this peer pressure, too. But not as sanctimonious preaching. Teenagers hate that type of discourse. We all do.
The stakes are way too high for us to hide our heads in the sand. The constant media messaging, both insidious and blatant, combined with the deep and desperate desire to be ‘one of the guys’ – it’s proving too much of a struggle for our boys. If we don’t want to see a replay of these hideous atrocities, it’s high time that we step up. I have no doubt such stepping up will be uncomfortable, or even awkward. It’s going to require guts and bravery. But we don’t really have a choice. Although they may not know it, our children are counting on us. Miniature versions of ourselves are soon going to join the next generations as husbands and fathers. Our boys’ and girls’ futures are in our hands. The consequences of staying silent, of hoping that everything will somehow be alright in the current climate, the consequences are just too high.