If you grew up in a strict Latino household, chances are you weren’t allowed to sleep over anyone’s house and that included even relatives. It was something I never really understood until I got older, which is why Jada Pinkett Smith‘s latest episode on her Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk really resonated with me.
In the episode, Jada addressed the taboo, the shame and the discomfort women still experience when it comes to talking about sex and shared some of her thoughts with her mom Adrienne Banfield-Jones, her 17-year-old daughter Willow Smith, and Willow’s 21-year-old best friend Telana Lynum. Things took an interesting turn when Adrienne and Jada tried to explain to Willow how men can experience sexual dangers and violation just as much as women.
“Do you know how many men I know that have been raped as young boys? That’s why I was as protective of Jaden as I was of you,” Jada said. “He was not … nope listen to me,” she told Willow who looked doubtful. “He was not allowed to spend the night at anyone’s house because I never underestimated that a boy child could be violated in the same way as a girl child.”
The truth of the matter is, young boys can be just as vulnerable to sexual abuse as young girls. The difference is, we don’t talk about it which makes it harder for boys to share their trauma.
In my home we couldn’t sleep over anyone’s house that wasn’t my grandparents or one particular aunt and uncle who had three girls around my age. I grew up with two strict Latino parents and they were especially strict when it came to sleepovers. Mind you, this wasn’t just with my sister and I. My parents were also very careful with my younger brother too. For years I thought they were just paranoid but as I grew older I learned about extended relatives and family friends (of both genders) who had experienced sexual assault, molestation, and in some cases even rape at a very young age and often times by a family member. My parents had heard multiple stories like this before any of my siblings and I were even born and made it a point to protect us.
The truth is, we don’t talk enough about how young boys are often sexually violated. Instead we stay silent and we pretend like it’s not something that happens, making it that much harder for male victims to come out and seek help.
When Dominican-American writer, Junot Diaz shared his experience with being raped by a close male family friend at the age of 8 in a recent personal essay in The New Yorker, the internet freaked out. No one in a million years would have suspected that the successful author would have experienced something so utterly traumatic. Sexist misconduct allegations soon followed but the reality is that Diaz’s trauma probably played a big role in why he engaged in sexist, machista, and misogynistic behavior as an adult. These are the kinds of experiences—aside from social conditioning of course—that can later lead to the toxic masculinity that has consumed our culture.
Do we need to protect women from dangerous male behavior? Yes. Do we need to push men to transform their behavior? Absolutely. But part of that conversation is also talking about some of the sexual violation that men also experience especially during their adolescence. How can we expect change if we don’t create a safe space for them to share their own traumas?
Jada may not have really dove deep into the subject but just touching on it was important and probably an eye-opener for a lot of folks—women included. We need to protect both our girls and boys and we need to have open, honest, and safe dialogue around sexual issues that impact both genders.