This post came across my Twitter feed yesterday. (Warning: this piece is triggery in the extreme) It took me three tries to get through it, I was that mad. I wanted to hit someone, to start a campaign against the people who would perpetrate something so degrading without the explicit and informed consent of everyone involved. If I knew who they were, I’d never buy another book that they’d written, worked on, or recommended again.
But it made me think. I have a daughter, thirteen years old. Lucky girl, she got a lot of her father’s genes. She’s taller than me, prettier than me, more outgoing than me. She’s the kind of girl I would have liked to have been when I was her age. She has lots of friends, both girls and boys. It’s been a loads of fun, watching her explore her new relationships with boys and girls. Her excitement about starting Sex Ed made my week.
We’ve had the talks about cyberbullying. We’ve had the talk about older men masquerading online as teenagers. She’s appropriately paranoid, I hope, without being paralyzed by fear. It’s a fine line we have to walk when educating our daughters.
But seeing this post yesterday, watching the news reports of the killings in the US–it’s reminded me that I have one more serious talk to have with her.
I have to educate her about rape culture.
I have to explain to her that all these boys she chats and jokes with, the ones she texts constantly, the ones she giggles about with her friends–they live in a very different world from hers. It’s made more complex because her father was a man to whom the idea of perpetrating force against a woman was so foreign that she’s never experienced that sense of inequality and fear. The idea that a man might look nice but mean her harm is so alien that convincing her of it’s possibility is like convincing a four-year-old that there really is no room in the back yard for a pony. But it’s what I need to do.
I need to teach her that if she goes out with a boy, he may mistake ‘no’ for ‘maybe’ and uncertainty or politeness for ‘yes’. And he may subsequently become deaf to anything after.
I need to teach her that she is absolutely allowed to say no and make it stick. And that no one has the right to tell her she has to do something if she feels uncomfortable or unsafe.
I need to teach her that she has to choose her clothes carefully, because the first question that will be asked if she is assaulted is not “Who did this to you?” but “What were you wearing?” or “Did you lead him on?”
I need to teach her that she can never leave her drink unattended, or accept an already opened one, especially if there are a large number of people around.
I need to teach her that if she does make a mistake and gets roofied, or experiments with alcohol and gets drunk, that she can’t count on friends being there to save her from any more serious consequences.
I need to teach her that at least some of her female friends will turn on her, because something like sexual assault is frightening and they need to convince themselves that they have the power to prevent it. Regardless of the sad truth that these assaults have everything to do with the man and nothing to do with the woman.
I need to teach her that even if everything goes well and her assailant is convicted, it will likely be her that has to change schools, leaving behind all her supports and everything she knows, because his friends and some of those who once were her friends will make her life miserable. And the stigma and the questions and the innuendos will follow her.
I need to teach her that none of this is her fault if it happens. That there are steps she can take to reduce her risk, but that she can never entirely eliminate it.
I need to teach her that she should not stop living her life because of all this, nor should she mistrust all men, though that would be the easiest and safest route to take.
I hope she already knows that I will love her with all my heart, no matter any of this.
I hate this. I hate this with a passion that curdles my stomach and brings my Irish/French temper boiling to the top. I hate looking at my boys and knowing they are automatically suspect. I hate that all men have to be painted with this brush because there is no sign or signal or test for this, short of being assaulted. It’s not like we can pin a special licence plate to their forehead to warm potential dates. Or dip them in
What do we have to do to teach our boys to be trustworthy, so we don’t have to teach our girls not to trust?