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?