You are days away from your 18th birthday, old enough to vote and old enough to know better. My parenting job is winding down as you inch closer to being a responsible adult but, given recent events, I cannot resist passing along a few final pieces of advice.
The challenge ahead, as I see it, is that you have a penis. And, yes, it makes me just as uncomfortable to say it as it might make you to hear it but, son, these are not the times to mince words. Because unlike the men of previous generations, you will no longer be allowed to let that body part do your thinking for you.
The #MeToo movement is rewriting the Holy Code of Manhood, and your generation will be the first to enter adulthood without a Get Out of Jail Free card as it relates to how you treat women. You and your peers are coming of age at a time when what is considered excusable behavior will no longer include pushing women beyond their comfort zone, taking advantage, or disrespecting them.
You are literally on the frontlines of a new sexual revolution where, hopefully, all partners will have not just their needs met, but their bodies and wishes respected as well.
You will be living and having sexual encounters in a world where #MeToo and #BelieveSurvivors should trump “boys will be boys” and “she shouldn’t have dressed that way.” The burden for your behavior toward women—and men—has been cataclysmically changed as a result of all that’s happened over the past year.
Here are nine rules you would do well to live by in these new times.
When in doubt, err on the side of caution
Some things that were once accepted behavior, or at least often written off by women as behavior that you just had to put up with sometimes, now aren’t.
This is more nuanced than “no means no.” Although for the record, “no” absolutely always and forever means “no.”
If you are uncertain about what a partner wants to have happen, ask. You will never go wrong by pulling up your pants and going home. All participants need to be comfortable for a tussle in the sack to be good, something that real men have always known.
The rule here, actually, is simple: When in doubt, don’t.
Don’t look the other way
The role of uninvolved bystander has been eliminated and you will need to adjust accordingly.
You can no longer just stand by and watch if you notice a guy at a party, bar, or frat slipping a roofie into some girl’s drink, or otherwise trying to trick or drug a woman into doing something she will later regret once she remembers it. And yes, she will remember.
This catchphrase applies to sexual terrorists as well as the other kind: If you see something, say something.
Abide by the Golden Rule
This one’s pretty simple too: Treat others as you want to be treated. That’s true pretty much across the board in life, but especially when it comes to relations between men and women.
Nobody appreciates being treated disrespectfully or like a disposable toy. Cat-calls, sneer whistles, and boob-grabs, whether in the college dining hall, a frat party, the workplace, or on the street or subway, will not win you friends or charm women.
These days, however, they may get you an assault charge. Women are mad and want this behavior to end. Believe them.
Have no expectations
A woman can parade around in the skimpiest, most suggestive clothing sold and it still doesn’t mean she wants to have sex with you. Keep your eyes open and be aware.
Sex is neither a manifestation of power, nor is it a bartering tool for favored treatment. Run from those who use it in these ways.
Be a patient date
Don’t get angry or annoyed if a potential partner is cautious. As one of your college friends recently said to us, going on a first date now feels more like having an interview and, as he put it, “Starbucks is the only winner.”
A recent survey of 3,000 members of the matchmaking/dating service Three Day Rule found that more single men nowadays are worried—as you are—about crossing a boundary or having their actions misinterpreted. The way I see it, that’s not a bad thing.
Be cautious on your own behalf as well
From your recent dabblings into the dating scene, it seems that you’ve upped your own game to ensure your own safety as well.
I like that you are less trusting of Instagram as a dating ground and vet your prospective new friends before arranging a meeting. No harm in slowing things down.
I’m also glad to see it because quite honestly, being accused of sexual assault is no laughing matter. While it may not have stopped a Supreme Court appointment, as we’ve seen in countless other examples in the year since the #MeToo movement started, it can end a career, end a marriage, and not unlike the Scarlet Letter, can mark you as a deviant for life.
Don’t play the stupid card
Youthful stupidity is no longer an acceptable defense for misbehavior. Young men can no longer point to the previous generations of men who did the same stuff with impunity.
Those men got away with it because the women they harmed were too afraid to speak up. Those women felt shamed, frequently thought they contributed to or didn’t do enough to stop what happened to them, and they kept things a secret for fear that nobody would believe them.
That stuff is all over except for maybe that last part which we are still working on, okay?
Remember, the internet is not your friend
What happened at Georgetown Prep—or any other high school party anywhere else on the planet—sure as hell doesn’t stay there.
It’s for that same reason that I cautioned you about never Snapchatting or Instagramming a photo of yourself anywhere near a beer can. I don’t want your chances of getting into college derailed by a stupid picture and, yes, that happens.
Recognize the moment
Societal mores are fluid. We can look back in time and wonder how we ever tolerated slavery or denied the vote to half the population.
So now we basically just made it not okay to force yourself on a woman, or refuse to promote someone who won’t have sex with you. Of course, it was never actually okay, and yet it happened, again and again and again, because there were typically no serious consequences for that kind of behavior.
Now there are.
The objectification of women, the judging them on their looks, the idea that men can do whatever they want to women because the women will be too scared to tell anyone—those days are hopefully over, thanks to the courage of women who spoke out. The Holy Code of Manhood has been adjusted to be gender-inclusive, that’s all.
Please don’t get me wrong. You have been raised to be fair, kind and respectful, and that’s the kind of human being you are. I am proud of the young man you’ve grown into and don’t think you’d ever behave badly toward women.
But, hey, I’m your mom. It’s my job to make sure.