Teaching Boys to Respect Women

Photo by B.S. Wise via Flickr
Photo by B.S. Wise via Flickr

Oh, Miley.

Ever since your “performance” at the 2013 VMAs, tongues have been a-wagging. (I swear — I did not mean that as a pun when I wrote it!)

Like it or not, this is the culture in which we are raising and educating our sons: a culture in which grown man stands, fully clothed, feet firmly rooted on the stage, while a much younger woman bends over and gyrates against him — and the moment is broadcast on TV and replayed over and over and over again on the Internet.

How do you help the boys in your life make sense of such images and behavior?

There are no easy answers. I’ve talked to my boys, time and time again, about respect and gender stereotypes and double standards, and still, I ended up with a 6-year-old who tells me he wants 1000 sexy girls. I treat others with respect, act modestly, surround my sons with good people of both sexes, and still wonder if I’m doing enough to combat all of the cultural messages that seem to imply that girls are for the taking, and that boys and men should take what they want.

Other parents go even further. The parents who wrote What We Taught Our Boys about Girls Like Miley Cyrus restricted many TV shows when their boys were younger. They taught their boys to avert their eyes at the sight of a scantily clad woman.

Will their approach work better than mine? I don’t know. Can both approaches work? I think so.

What won’t work: teaching our sons that only some people are worthy of respect. 

In response to the “What We Taught Our Boys…” article, Bilgeman II wrote:

Congratulations and best wishes on your son’s engagement.

” But it was important to us that our boys understood the incredible worth and dignity of women and that they grew up to be men who treated women with the respect they deserve.”

There’s nothing wrong with that, but this seems to presume that all women are equally deserving of equal respect…and this is as patently absurd and unfair as insisting that a scoundrel be treated with the same consideration as a gentleman of substance and proven character.

The fact is that some women are deserving of no more commitment and respect than a urinal at a truck stop.


That attitude scares me, both as a woman and as a member of society.

ALL people — scoundrels, twerkers, gentlemen of substance and proven character and even Bilgeman II — are worthy of respect. They are worthy of respect because they are human beings. It is not our role, as fellow humans, to judge our contemporaries and to decide who is or is not worthy of respect. Isn’t that a slippery slope anyway? Isn’t that exactly the kind of thinking that led the football players in Steubenville to decide that it was OK to rape a drunk, passed out girl?

I recently sat down to dinner with a felon. His life changed after his 6th DUI arrest. While in jail, he met people who treated him “like a human being,” he said. Unlike so many others, they didn’t treat him like the animal many people — including himself, by that point — assumed him to be. They treated him like a human. And that, eventually, was what turned his life around.

I firmly believe that RESPECT is the key to teaching our boys to respect women. What do you think?

Want some more concrete steps to teach your boys respect? I outlined 4 action steps in “Boys & Rape” — and my readers added more. 

The Building Boys Bulletin

The Building Boys Bulletin Newsletter gives you the facts, encouragement, and inspiration you need to help boys thrive. Written by Jennifer L.W. Fink, mom of four sons and author of Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males, Building Boys Bulletin includes:

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“I learned a lot about helping boys thrive over the past 20+ years — most of it the hard way! I’m eager to share what I’ve learned to make your path a little easier.”   – Jennifer

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3 Responses

  1. “ALL people — scoundrels, twerkers, gentlemen of substance and proven character and even Bilgeman II — are worthy of respect.”


    Saying that some women are worthy of the same respect as a urinal is truly frightening. That’s the same mentality that has bred gang rapes among high school and college kids. Rather than taking care of intoxicated classmates, they hurt them under the guise that they deserved it.

    We have no idea what made someone the way they are, what they’ve endured, or even what they are capable of changing if given the chance. Treat humans with humanity.

  2. I think what scares you is the truth of what I say.
    But that is YOUR problem…not mine.

    If you treat the dope peddling rapist the same as you do the philanthropist, you unjustly denigrate the latter while unfairly rewarding the former.

    If you persist in this misguided behavior, you will eventually end up surrounded by beasts, and not a kind soul in sight to come to your succor.

    Life is not “values neutral”. Living morally should be rewarded while living immorally should be discouraged.

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