Preface: I want to begin this post by saying this is not a post about politics, rather how we educate our girls to be strong women. I did my best to keep my personal political viewpoints to myself and honor the freedom we have in this country to possess viewpoints of varying degrees in the political arena.
Last week news reports surfaced about a presidential candidate who declared that because he was in a place of ‘celebrity’ and power that he can do anything to a woman, even grab the most personal, private place of a woman’s anatomy. This clip played in a repeated loop through the news channels spanning local to national. Because my lovely husband is a newshound this story saturated our home and because the p-word carries such shock value it was used repeatedly in the various reports.
When my daughter’s favorite show Saturday Night Live, did a spoof on these reports (also using the p-bomb), I felt it was time to have a brief conversation with her. Brief because she’s 11 and she hasn’t yet become accustomed to this vernacular for the female anatomy. And as far as I know she hasn’t been approached by anyone using this, or any other type of derogatory language, or worse, actions against her. But after last weekend I was certain that some boy, in some household would hear these same reports and hear it downplayed by this presidential candidate that it was simply “locker-room banter” and then proceed to school Monday morning to begin laughing about it with friends and, without fully understanding its gravity, begin saying it to girls to get a reaction. And so I told my daughter if anyone approached her using such language to turn and walk away from them, not engage and even tell a teacher. And as I relayed this to her I saw a combined expression of confusion mixed with horror that someone would even think about doing such a thing.
I left the conversation there. At 11 years-old I didn’t want to short-circuit her brain about what was to come. At 11 years-old she is unwittingly standing at the precipice of what will become part of the fabric for the rest of her life. Because from here on out, she will collide with catcalls, inappropriate innuendos, indecent exposures and unwanted sexual advances, simply because she is female. It is what we’ve learned to tolerate as girls and women in the world. It’s why a full page ad was taken out in the Washington Post where 3,000 women, who have endured various forms of sexual assault, appealed to the GOP to stop enabling this type of behavior from their presidential candidate.
But this issue is not dependent on political part nor dependent on socio-economic backgrounds or location or race. The varying degrees of inappropriate behavior is an intensely nauseating staple of all our lives.
I have a slew of these stories, as do my friends, my mother, my mother in-law, my sisters in-law, my aunts, even my grandmother. And ladies I’m sure you have a few too. We talk to our young girls about molestation and steering clear of the boogey-man, but I can’t recall my mother ever talking to me about things that occur as we get older. About what happens on the subway, in the workplace, at parties or jogging in the park.
More alarmingly, was the statement distributed over again was that “it was locker-room banter” and “sorry if it offended anyone”. This type of downplay cements the tired precedent that ‘boys will be boys’ and as women we have to suck it up. We’re the ones who carry the shame, the confusion, the embarrassment. We’re the ones who have to check our hemlines and necklines. We’re the ones who become targets because we perhaps ‘look more mature than our age’ and therefore have to live our lives as if we are smaller than we truly are. All while boys continue to be boys.
The silver lining of last week’s report is that women have come forward, across party lines. Women from the liberal left and from the conservative right stood in solidarity to berate this behavior. They did so because this is not a political issue, it’s a women’s rights, a human rights issue. Additionally a number of men, journalists, celebrities, politicians, even professional athletes have come out to say this is highly disturbing and absolutely not ‘locker room banter’.
This has shed light on an issue we’ve kept quiet from our girls, from each other as women, even dismissed it from our own memory. I say ‘no more’ to confirm that this is not acceptable behavior and that we do not have to carry shame for an individual’s inappropriate behavior, whether it be a passerby, a classmate, a colleague, a boss, a customer, a friend, boyfriend or husband.
Gratefully, the consciousness around this topic has come a long way. Laws have been put in place. Boys are being raised with better values. Social norms are shifting. Personally I’m fortunate to say that I’m surrounded by men who are filled with love and respect for women and who are equally disgusted by these reports. But clearly there is still an unsavory precedent. There is an undercurrent that runs in the murky wiring of our world.
Rather than sitting in the deafening silence that has been considered the norm, we stand up as women, as mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters to teach the younger versions of ourselves that we have the power to teach people how to treat us. And so, it won’t be one conversation that I’ll have with my daughter, but a running dialogue throughout her years to guide her back to her strength when she feels disempowered. To remind her of her light when she has been dimmed and help her stand firmly in her god-given right as a beautiful citizen of this world.