“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
–Martin Luther King, Jr.
I am really angry–furious actually. The recent dialogue we have been having about sexual assault, what should be considered assault, and who we should believe has me so angry I can’t see straight.
As a woman and a mom I am horrified by what society and leadership have been saying is ‘ok,’ over the last week, but really I’ve been upset about this since our current administration took office.
I am crushed by the messages these conversations are sending to our young girls and our young boys about behavior, consent, what is right and wrong and acceptable in our communities.
Because you know what we are telling them, right?
We are telling our sons that it is ok to force yourself on a woman. We are telling them that as long as they are teenagers, or as long as they don’t actually rape someone, society will dismiss your actions as ‘normal.’ Respecting women is unnecessary in this warped narrative, because girls don’t really matter anyway, right?
We are telling our daughters that they should expect to be violated. That their bodies aren’t really theirs to protect, and if they try, no one will care or listen. Especially if you are young, because in those cases, you probably don’t really remember what happened anyway. Boys can’t be expected to respect you, they have uncontrollable sexual urges, and that is way more important than the ownership of your body.
Make no mistake. This is what our children hear as we argue about who to believe. These are the messages we send when we discuss whether or not it is ok for someone who may have assaulted women to serve on our highest court. This is the message they receive when they see the man who talked about ‘grabbing women by the pussy’ on camera, be elected as our president. Teenagers know this, why can’t the adults?
I don’t believe that touching or kissing a woman without her consent is ok. I also think that all of the discussions about believing or not believing women and dismissing their experiences as ‘no big deal’ because of age or presumed severity of the assault is more about misogyny than anything.
For the record, it is NOT OK. I feel like we need to remember this. It is not ok to grab a woman and touch her without her consent. It is not okay for anyone to force themselves on anyone, even if it’s not actually rape. It is also not okay to give anyone drugs or alcohol in order to incapacitate them, so they can’t actually say no. It doesn’t really matter how old the perpetrator is. Most importantly, it is really not okay for anyone to label such actions as being ‘normal.’ Or ‘boys being boys.’
If we continue to allow the narrative of men having an inability to control their urges, or that ‘normal’ boy behavior is assaulting women, we are failing our children.
I was an ‘early bloomer.’ In 4th grade (when I was 9), I was taller than all of the other girls in my class, and I was ashamedly developing breast buds. I hated it and I wanted to hide. I would have done anything to halt all growth and wait until everyone else was growing too. Instead there I was, super awkward and uncomfortable and mostly denying to myself that puberty was even happening.
One day, sitting innocently in class, one of my male classmates groped me. He came from behind and put his hands on my new, small breasts. The ones I wanted to pretend weren’t there. I was paralyzed and speechless. I was also scared and incredibly upset, not old enough to understand or really process my feelings around it. I felt violated and uncomfortable, and I also wasn’t sure what to do. I told my sister that evening after we got home from school. She urged me to tell my parents. That day, my mom reported it to the school and he was suspended for three days. I remember other students getting mad at me for telling, they didn’t think I should have said anything and that it was ‘no big deal.’
I was lucky, this person only touched my breasts and he only did it once. In addition, I had the benefit of feeling comfortable enough to tell someone. When I did tell, he was punished. And no small punishment–he was suspended from school. For three days.
I remember his name and his face. I was only 9. I know exactly where I was sitting in class when it happened, and I even remember what I was wearing. The New York Times recently reported on why victims of trauma recall the event so vividly.
I remember my whole body trembling as I told my mom. I remember uncontrollably crying, confused and wounded.
I recognize that my experience is minor compared to the magnitude of pain, trauma, and hurt that other women in more severe circumstances have unfortunately had to endure. But what I do realize is how even a small event can be burned in one’s brain forever and have a profound effect on how we view ourselves and our worth, and I am even more angry.
It wasn’t ok for a 9 year-old to grope me. Fortunately he was punished.
It is also not okay for a teenager to take a woman to a back room, cover her mouth and attempt to have sex with her.
I can’t imagine the effect it would have had on me if my mom hadn’t listened. Or told me that it didn’t matter, or refused to be my spokesperson. I imagine what I would have then decided about myself. My conclusion would have been that I didn’t matter, that my safety and my fear didn’t matter, that not giving consent to have another person’s hands on my body didn’t matter.
I recently spent some time reading dozens of the hundreds of threads with the hashtag “WhyIDidntReport” on Twitter. I think about all these victims finally having the courage to come forward and I am saddened for each person when I think about the injustices they have endured. I grieve for the ones who felt like they couldn’t tell and the ones that weren’t believed.
I am astonished at the number of victims coming forward, and I wonder why our society has been covering for these perpetrators and ignoring our victims for so long.
Can’t we do better than this? Can’t we pledge as ‘good people’ to throw away partisanship when it comes to sexual assault? Can we try to set aside our biases and our anger and our misogyny and be compassionate? Maybe just pretend as though any of these women were your daughters, or your wife, or your mother. Maybe then we would want to protect them, and protect every other woman that came next. Maybe we would want to start really trying to decrease the number of victims, and believe them before their perpetrators.
I reject the notion that ‘good’ men physically intimidate, coerce, or are violent with women. Men with integrity don’t do that. I reject the notion that normal boys can’t control themselves, that their sexual urges are too strong. I reject the idea that respect for women can’t be taught, that we shouldn’t expect it from the men in our lives and in society.
I recently found out that the latest addition to our family is another boy. I am elated. I love the fact that my two babies will be brothers, I am excited for them to have each other as they grow up.
The first lesson I will be teaching my sons is that women are to be respected, to be loved, to be cared about and listened to. We will be talking about consent and what is acceptable behavior and how we treat other human beings. I will teach them about love and honesty and compassion. My husband will teach them about respect by modeling to them the love and respect he shows to me. We will not tolerate anything less. I will be the first to punish them if I see anything but this behavior.
The truth is, at the end of the day it matters more to me that they are good people who care deeply about others. It matters more that they know the difference between right and wrong, and always strive for justice, and stand up for those that can’t stand for themselves. All of these matter to me so much more than if they become the president or a justice on the supreme court.
How about you other moms out there? Ones with older kids? How are you managing the discussions in your house?