#Yesallwomen, So what do I tell my girls?

This post is in response to the yes all women hashtag. It has taken me awhile to process all of it and I would love your thoughts. 

I was 13 the first time a man grabbed my ass. I didn’t use the word back then. And really that is a good way to explain the situation. A man grabbed what he saw was an ass, but really it was a butt. Because the girl he had his hands on didn’t use that word. I was at a high school football game. We were walking down the bleachers to go to the concession stand. My parents were working the concession stand for the band boosters so I got to wander around with my friends and check in every once in a while where my dad would ask me if I wanted anything from the stand. It was my first taste of freedom, and I didn’t even have to buy my own popcorn.

I remember being embarrassed and angry. I felt a little shame, but mostly I was mad that I didn’t have the sense to turn around and smack whoever it was in the moment. By the time it occurred to me to do it, he was already gone. So I yelled and promised my friends that if that happened again I would smack that man.

Funny, it hasn’t happened again. I hadn’t really even thought about it until my husband asked me about #yesallwomen. I told him about how every woman has a “first time” story. The first time I was hollered at, the first time someone touched me when I didn’t want them to, the first time I realized I was unsafe. We all have one. This was mine.

The transition from mysogyny to parent hood happens pretty quick when you have left your two and four year old daughters with the babysitter and are on your way to the movies. Because if Yes ALL women face mysogyny, then when do we need to start talking to our girls about how to handle it?

I was seventeen and had just gotten my license when my dad handed me my own set of keys. I was the last of three girls so I already knew there would be a silver whistle attached. We got a whistle with our keys because we would now be going places on our own, and dad wanted us to be able to call for help. So he got each of us a rape whistle. Call it what you want, it was good parenting.

I was fifteen (maybe thirteen) when I went to a Girl Scout thing. I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was mostly for adults, leaders and such. There was a woman invited to talk to these Girl Scout leaders about self defense. We learned the best ways to fight an attacker. I remember her speaking very frankly, and I remember being grateful I had the information. I already knew I needed it.

I was eighteen and headed to college. My mom decided to have a chat with me about date rape. I don’t remember exactly where we were, but it was probably in the car. My mom taught me the fine art of bringing up potentially awkward conversations in the car so your kid doesn’t have to make eye contact. She told me that most women who were raped in college were raped by someone they knew. She encouraged me to keep my door open when a man was in my room. Even if I trusted him. Even if he seemed like a nice guy. Just leave the door open if you can.

I site all of these as examples of being raised well, of giving me tools and information that I needed to navigate our world. It just makes me sad that they had to.

I started ranting about penises the other day in class. As a high school teacher I have to occasionally erase a crudely drawn penis somewhere in the room. On the board, on a desk, nowhere where the perpetrator can be identified, but everyone once in a while I have to erase it. Some boys in my class (who I truly adore) were giggling quite loudly and uncontrollably. It seems someone had drawn a penis on their math homework and turned it in like that. They thought it was hilarious.

I, on the other hand, was less than impressed. How in the world could these boys think this was funny? Didn’t they know that drawing a penis on some math homework is mean and violent? Didn’t they know that penises popping up where we least expect or want them is actually quite often a woman’s worst fear? To my credit, I managed to explain all this without yelling. To their credit, they listened. No, Ms. Norman, we didn’t know that lots of women fear rape. No, we didn’t understand why this isn’t funny. I know that I am their teacher, and perhaps they told me what they knew I wanted to hear. But I asked the girls in my class whether or not they have ever worried they would be raped. I asked them to agree, or disagree about whether it was creepy to just randomly see a crudely drawn penis in their text book randomly. They agreed. Creepy.

My fifteen year old girls expressed that they are already afraid. They already know they have to be afraid. I don’t think very many of them had their parents teach them anything about misogyny. They just know that there is danger. That dudes are creepy sometimes. That people touch or look or say what they shouldn’t and this is the reality of living in a very good suburb of in America and being a girl.

So really, what do I tell my girls? And when? I know for a fact fifteen is too late.

Right now I’ve got a two-year-old and a four-year-old who like to talk about how everyone is in charge of their own bodies. It is a good start, but would you believe there is already push back. Sometimes strangers think little girls should hug and kiss them just because they are little girls.

#Yesallwomen so. What do I tell my girls?


8 thoughts on “#Yesallwomen, So what do I tell my girls?

  1. I pushback when people are insisting their kids hug or kiss me. I think its important that kids know they can say no and it will be respected. I try explaining to the parents. Unfortunately most think I’m being absurd. I was abused starting at age 3 and no one believed me. Had my mother believed that children owned their bodies and had a right to say no she might have believed me. I’ll never know because she didn’t give me those rights and has never supported me when I’ve been abused or fully since.

    It’s never too early to teach both boys and girls about body rights and consent. As they get older the talks move into bullying, harassment of any kind, abuse, rape, when to bring what up depends on the child and the people the child is exposed to as well as the culture around them. What themes are they reading/watching/hearing in books/TV/movies/music.

    You have to be ahead of the curve – bring up topics before they are dating or getting misinformation (or just as they get it) which is really hard. If your lucky and have done a good job your kids will bring the topics up, which as a stepparent I will say was a blessing and a curse, and at those times you have to be respectful, truthful, and also discuss the misinformation.

  2. This has been on my mind lately too. I fear letting Anne go play at the house across the street because I know nothing about the dad or any extended family. They could be great people. Or they could be bad. When I was teaching Head Start, we had a good touch/bad touch curriculum. The words we hammered into the kids were these: the only people who can touch privates are parents who are keeping them clean or doctors who check them out to keep them healthy. I talk about Anne being in charge or her own body and we use real words for body parts, not cutesy names. There is power in talking, power in giving kids words to express themselves. One of my teacher friends told her daughters there were no secrets to keep from her, no matter what anyone said. It is a scary th ing to raise girls in a culture of rape.

  3. I think I like this post even better than your account of your class that ended up talking about consent (and I REALLY liked that post)–because this is the real start of that conversation, the root of it all. It is sad that your parents, any parents, had to have that conversation with you, but kudos to them for doing so. Maybe what we need to hear next is the perspective from parents of boys–what are they teaching them? What are their topics of conversations in the car?

  4. In my first year of law school I took the required Criminal Law class, and no it did not teach “how to get away with murder” (that came later in legal ethics lol). What it did teach was (unless privileged) unconsented touching is a crime and even threatening unconsented touching is a crime. Think of that when you are tempted to grab a bottom that does not belong to you to be funny. If it is a 13 year old bottom the crime is worse and the punishment more severe. Also that 13 year old might have a Dad who is working at a nearby concession stand who if he found out would show you some consented touching. (You may have guested I am Abby’s Dad and I am hearing this for the first time). It is becoming clear to me that I should have given my girls whistles earlier.

  5. Pingback: A Week’s Worth of Other People’s Stories | unraveledmelody

  6. My daughter is 3 years old, and I already teach her that strangers are not allowed to touch her or hold her. Where we live, we hardly have any family, so it doesn’t make any difference telling her that it’s okay if a cousin, uncle or grandparent wants to hug her. As she grows older, hopefully she’ll understand the difference between a friendly hug and an insulting touch.

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