For moms of boys, mixed emotions over sexual misconduct saga
Of the many American women dismayed by the wave of sexual misconduct scandals, there's a subgroup with distinctive hopes and fears: mothers of boys.
Among them are women who have sought to raise their sons, sometimes from infancy, to shun sexist mindsets and be respectful of girls. Yet even some of these mothers worry about countervailing peer pressure their sons might face. And there's uncertainty as to whether their sons' generation, as adult men, will be less likely to perpetrate or condone sexual misconduct.
Danielle Campoamor, a New York-based writer and editor, has been wrestling with these questions even though her son, Matthias, is only 3. She says she feels extra pressure because she was sexually assaulted five years ago by a co-worker.
"I worry what kind of man I'm raising and how he'll treat women and girls in his life," said Campoamor, 30, who already takes Matthias to events where sexual misconduct is discussed.
"Does he understand? No," she said. "But it won't be a taboo topic later on. I hope he'll have the courage to stand up for what's right."
In a recent article for the website Romper, Campoamor wrote that the scandals provide a "teachable moment" for her and Matthias.
"It is my responsibility to provide him with concrete examples of what to do, and what not to do, when he witnesses, hears about, or is a victim of sexual assault," she wrote.
Neena Chaudry, education director for the National Women's Law Center, has taken her son, now 10, to pro and college women's basketball games in greater Washington since babyhood. Chaudry says he's now a devoted fan who extols the virtues of women's sports to other boys.
"It helps him see women as strong and formidable," Chaudry wrote for the law center's blog.
A Denver mom, Cynthia Boune, said she and her husband set out early in parenthood to raise their two sons to resist sexist attitudes.
"With all the sexual harassment news, we've had a lot of family discussions and thank goodness our parenting style was validated," Boune wrote by email. "My boys were disgusted by the attitudes of predatory men."
She recalled an incident when her oldest son, now 18, was a high school freshman, and walked away when some soccer teammates laughed about a cellphone video showing a drunken girl kissing numerous boys.
"I hope now that he is older he feels secure enough to not just walk away, but to call them out on it," Boune wrote. "This is where the real work is."
Long before the latest scandals, programs emerged aimed at reducing boy-girl gender friction and curtailing sexual harassment.
Among them is Coaching Boys Into Men, developed by the nonprofit Futures Without Violence. Thousands of high school and middle school coaches have been trained to convey to their players the importance of treating young women with respect and avoiding abusive behavior.
Brian O'Connor, who runs the program, says the recent scandals have boosted interest among parents who'd like it implemented at their sons' schools.
A Seattle couple, Esther Warkov and Joel Levin, are among a growing number of activists who believe the fight against sexual harassment should start in elementary school, with boys getting an early message that girls should be treated respectfully.
"Some people seem to think sexual assault starts in college — but it took them (the perpetrators) 12 years to practice," said Warkov.