In case you didn’t know, a boy’s life is different growing up with a sister, and I’d wager that most any man with sisters will tell you the same.
There’s hair everywhere. Weird appliances sitting around the bathroom sink (that apparently you can’t get wet) and all these excessive bottles in the shower. And then there’s this weird thing where dudes are interested in them—like, romantically. Even your own buddies. And no, I’m not sure you ever get over that.
The perspective of having intimate yet permanently platonic relationships with women has proven to be of great benefit when it comes to knowing how to treat women with respect. I’m reminded of this especially in recent days, as men point to their daughters and other women in their lives to help explain why sexist comments and the objectification of women offend them so much. I think this logic can be especially foreign to women, but from a male perspective it makes a lot of sense.
I’m thinking most particularly of the outcry against President-Elect Donald Trump’s “locker room” talk, but I can think of a thousand other examples of men offending me by their objectification of women. The question raised by many people is, why should having a daughter—or a sister for that matter—make men most especially offended by the objectification of women? Shouldn’t the fact that women are human beings be enough to make disrespectful behavior toward women abhorrent to every man?
Simply put, the answer to that question is yes, the objectification of women should disgust all men. But, as a man who has sisters, it occurs to me that men without these relationships may be lacking something very important when it comes to their ability to relate to women, especially those women to whom they find themselves attracted.
I learned the power of verbal respect.
My seventh grade self was talking to Nate in the boys’ bathroom when he mentioned how my older sister was romantically desirable (“she’s hot”). He wasn’t over the top about it by any means, which made it a little easier for me to follow that up with, “How would you feel if I said that about your little sister?” He paused, and you could practically see the wheels turning in his head.
Of course, boys didn’t always talk about women as being hot when they were in first grade. And it’s not like at some point (aka puberty) middle school dudes suddenly decide, “I will now think about and talk about and treat women like pieces of meat.” But it definitely happens.
Luckily for me, having sisters helped me recognize and avoid that behavior. As I matured and my hormones balanced out a bit, I was able to more intentionally come to grips with the fact that the way you speak about women matters, whether it’s in the boys bathroom, the locker room, on Twitter, or wherever.
I learned to pursue women.
My younger sister and I share a lot in common, not the least of which is our love of dancing. Chances are if we’re together and there’s a good song being played nearby (you know, like something by the Biebs), my head starts bobbing and her shoulders start shimmying and before you know it we’ve started an impromptu dance party. The jury is still out on who likes to dance more, even if the case is totally closed when it comes to who’s the better dancer (it’s me, clearly).
So yeah, we’ve been out and about together and ended up on the dance floor, and then I’m reminded I’m there with my sister. Guys are hitting on her and wanting to dance with her (and not just dance with her like I, her brother, would).
There’s something about having an invested (and protective) interest in a woman that makes me view the whole club scene differently. It makes me more aware of how I’m presenting myself, from how much I drink to how I’m dancing and what sort of vibe I’m giving off and everything in between.
I don't just go after women for a thrill; I pursue women I'm genuinely interested in. I make a point to be straightforward with women I date or even flirt with, so as to avoid leading them on and causing avoidable hurt. I haven’t been perfect in this category, and I’m haunted by those times I’ve failed, in large part because I’ve seen how my sisters have been hurt by men without good intentions.
My relationship with my sisters keeps me from getting confused.
By far the most important thing about my relationships with my sisters is that I value my relationships with them. I admire them, I cherish them, and I love them, no strings attached.
Think, however, about when a man sees a woman as nothing more than an object of his gratification. Our culture gives men (and women) really mixed messages about how women are to be valued. From the images we see of women in advertisements and the way women are portrayed in TV in movies alone, it's easy to be sucked into a way of thinking about women as objects of pleasure. In fact, the very fact that a woman might have wants, needs, and desires of her own, even emotions, might very well be seen as a negative, at least if it means getting in the way of what a man wants from her.
I can’t say I’m above the temptation to objectify women in such a way, but I will say this: Because I have women in my life whom I value for nothing more than who they are and the relationship I have with them, I think I’m better able to see all women in the same light. I’m better able to see them as human beings first. With all of the damaging narratives out there about women, it's also helpful when women are assertive about setting men straight when it seems like they have been drinking the objectification Kool-Aid.
Is it possible for a man to properly value women and treat them how they deserve without having sisters or daughters? Of course. Would I have been able to do the same without my sisters? I’m not so sure. Some of us (me included) need a little bit of help in this category, and I’m happy to have sisters who have helped make me a better man.
Photo Credit: Annie Spratt