May 18, 2012

Adam Sandler takes it too far

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:46 pm by sacetalks

A quiet, slow storm of outrage is brewing over the up-coming Adam Sandler flick, That’s My Boy, which is being released on Father’s Day this year. Take a look at the trailer here.

The main comedic theme of the movie is the immaturity of a father who ended up being a single dad at 14. That plot could have been developed in countless ways. Maybe a young pre-teen couple had abstinence only education, decided to try sex anyway believing “you can’t get pregnant the first time,” and ended up pregnant. Then, once the baby was born the young girl developed an addiction to computer dust remover, and finds herself in prison for stealing from a local electronics store. Full custody is given to the boy. The boy ends up raising the child on his own. Done. We can suspend our disbelief that full custody would be given to a 14 year old boy.

I’m comfortable enough with the motif that boys and men are immature, rule breakers until they hit 40 to be okay with most of the jokes this movie seems to rely on. My outrage and others’ stem from Adam Sandler’s decision to start the immature, single father plot not with a story of naïve consensual sex, but with a case of child sexual abuse. That’s right. This comedy’s main punch-line is the sexual abuse of a young boy.

When I talk to male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, one of the most common things they tell me is, “I tried to talk to friends and family about it, but when I did, they just laughed in my face.” This breaks my heart. In some ways I expect it, because of movies like That’s My Boy, which teach those friends and family to laugh at childhood sexual abuse, when the survivor is male.

Take, for example, the movie Your Highness, which was released in 2011. The movie is ridiculous. One scene in particular is troubling because it depicts a “wise old wizard” as a child sexual abuse offender. One of the knights, the protagonist of the film, has been manipulated his entire life into performing sexual acts for the wizard. You can see a clip of this here.

For the movie’s audience, this is a scene to evoke laugher, not discomfort. The sexual abuse, in and of itself, is what you’re supposed to be laughing at, and how naïve the knight was to allow such behaviour. Not only does it trivialize sexual abuse against male children by making it into a joke for the viewer, it is victim-blaming, suggesting that the knight was too stupid to realize what was going on.  This scene teaches viewers when young boys are sexually abused, it’s funny. In real life, this translates into how friends and family behave when boys and men disclose sexual abuse: they laugh. They silence the male survivor and tell him nobody cares about his story, his feelings, his nightmares.

Reality check: we should never blame a child for the manipulation and tricks of an adult offender. Adults are responsible for protecting children, not taking advantage of a child’s vulnerability as they learn about the world. In real life, it is never okay to laugh at an individual’s experience of sexual abuse.

Another thing we learn from the media about child sexual abuse against boys is that it’s not really that bad when the offender is a woman. We shouldn’t expect boys to be affected by the sexual abuse if the offender was female, because they should actually have enjoyed it (Following from these two assumptions: all children are straight, and should be straight; and boys want sex, from any girl/woman). Unlike girls who “lose” their virginity or have it “stolen” and whose sexual integrity is pure and something to be protected, we keep telling each other that the first sexual experience for a young boy is, no matter what the context, an achievement, a victory, a conquest. His sexuality is linked to his power, not his vulnerability. This is what we learn from That’s My Boy, when the young protagonist high-fives his friends for his achievement of having “sex” with an older women, getting her pregnant, and seeing her go to jail. The movie gives him all the power in the sexual encounter.

In reality, the REAL world, adults have the power when it comes to children and youth. And when an adult, even an attractive woman in her twenties, uses her position as a teacher to engage in sexual acts with a child, it is an abuse of power. Teachers should be protecting children and youth, not sexually exploiting them. When we buy into the message that young boys must have wanted it, that they’d technically be proud, young boys who disclose sexual abuse are told by their friends and family, “well, didn’t you like it? Why are you making a big fuss? You should be happy.” They are told they have no right to be impacted by the experience, and may live a life silencing emotions of betrayal, or projecting emotions of anger onto others, or engaging in any other way to cope with their emotions without being able to express them with supportive friends and/or family members.

Young boys deserve to have their feelings and responses to sexual abuse validated and taken as they are.

There’s also the issue of the pregnancy in the movie that I feel minimizes the affects of sexual abuse. Survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault often experience feelings of bitterness, hatred, numbness, etc towards a child that results from the violence. Yet, in the media, for some reason the message is that boys and men wouldn’t or shouldn’t experience any negative feelings about taking on the role of father to a child that resulted from their victimization. For example, the character Daniel in The Young and the Restless was recently drugged and sexually assaulted by a female. It resulted in a pregnancy. In the show’s storyline, at first he wanted nothing to do with the child. That makes sense to me. However, over time his family convinces him that he’s being selfish, that he should love the child, and in the end this is how he feels too. The message is, again, that sexual abuse and sexual assault do not or should not have the same impact on a boy or man as it would on a girl or woman. For men who have this experience in real life, of being drugged and sexually assaulted by women, they are told yet again that they shouldn’t be bothered by it, and if it results in a child, they are responsible for raising it, whether financially or otherwise.

The media is one of the largest means of reinforcing and creating social norms. When the media gives the message that childhood sexual abuse against boys is a joke, or an achievement, and therefore, male survivors in real life have no right to be bothered at all by their experiences of sexual victimization, it does violence to all male survivors of childhood sexual abuse. It severely affects the support they receive from their community, friends, and family, and the space we give them to tell their stories. Male survivors deserve the opportunity to voice their own experiences, regardless of the gender of the perpetrator, whether the sexual abuse didn’t really affect them too much, or whether it has been affecting them for their entire lives since. They have the right to let us know themselves what it is like to survive childhood sexual abuse as a boy. We have no right to tell them it’s a joke, or that they shouldn’t be negatively affected by it.

I am choosing not to see this movie, ever, and hope one day similar movies are never green-lighted for production.

Check out the links below for more opinions about That’s My Boy.

By Meagan Simon