Whenever Bobby Angel encounters any issue dealing with how boys view or treat women, the campus minister and theology teacher at Servite High School brings it back to the Mother of God.
“At Servite, we try to instill that every young man approach every woman as another Mary,” says Angel, who for the last four years has counseled many of the more than 900 students at the boys’ school in Anaheim. “It’s codified in the fabric of our formation that you will honor women as the Blessed Mother and treat them with respect.”
It’s one of the ways Angel tries to punctuate the importance of respecting women to Servite students while combating a popular culture that can say otherwise.
Parents are often blindsided by popular culture, never anticipating that their children would have misogynistic or violent attitudes toward women, says Katie Dawson, Director of Parish Faith Formation for the Diocese of Orange.
“Things do not go over children’s heads,” says Dawson, a mother of five. “They become embedded in the psyche. When a child observes women being abused as entertainment, that gets filed away for future reference. Parents are naive if they don’t think children absorb what they observe.”
Young people’s access to explicit materials is more prevalent now that such influences can be found a smartphone click away, Angel says.
“So much of it is violent and degrading to women,” he says. “This is affecting how [boys] view women and how they talk about women. This is what they’re being introduced to and they think it’s healthy.”
Communication is key, Angel says.
“It’s not always the most comfortable conversation to have, but having mentors, coaches and teachers willing to approach the subject of ‘How do we treat women?’ is valuable,” he says. “They need to understand that it’s going to affect their relationships, their marriage.”
The best first step is to propose a Christian worldview and engage children at an early age, Dawson says.
“Our Christian understanding of the dignity of the human person is that people, male or female, do not exist for our use,” she says. “They have value and inherent dignity as creations of a loving God and that has implications in the way we view each other.”
Dawson says she knows parents who don’t allow their children to be sarcastic or to say mean things to each other. Others don’t allow any cable television in their house or permit children to have a cell phone until they are much older.
Dawson herself did not allow her sons to play “Grand Theft Auto,” the popular video game that encourages players to shoot people and steal cars.
“It’s taking a proactive approach, teaching virtue at an early age and holding the child’s character accountable so they’ll be less inclined to entertain abusive or misogynistic attitudes,” Dawson says.
Parents need to offer positive alternatives such as family dinners, family game nights and sports, and join with other like-minded families, Dawson says.
“It’s the family bond that anchors the child into the Catholic identity,” she says. “That’s the biggest insurance policy against children getting sucked into the culture.”
It’s also important that parents approach the issue in a supportive way, Dawson says.
“Sometimes, parents will double down on controlling their children and be harsh; that’s counterproductive,” she says. “Yes, you need boundaries and you need to be firm, but at the same time you need to be warm and affectionate and positive and give the child something else in place of the negative culture.”