Last week, when I heard the news regarding the sexual misconduct of a prominent movie executive I was not shocked. I was disgusted, incensed and hopeless but, not shocked. As a 45 year old woman, I have witnessed and experienced enough sexual harassment that shock, unfortunately, will never be my first reaction.
I feel disgusted because I know that sexual harassment occurs every single day to woman, teenage girls, pre-teen girls and, sadly, even little girls.
I feel incensed because it is 2017 and women STILL suffer in silence because they are scared to speak up about it.
I feel hopeless because sometimes I think it will never get any better and I worry about what kind of world my daughter will have to face as a pre-teen, teenager and grown woman.
Last night, I was browsing through social media and came across a post that said the following:
Because our silence will not protect us. ME TOO. If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote ME TOO, as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.
I immediately copied the post and shared it on Facebook. Slowly, over the next 24 hours I noticed more and more women sharing and posting ME TOO. The familiar pangs of disgust, incense and hopelessness surfaced but, I still was not shocked.
All too often, young girls have their first experience with unwanted advances when they are much too young to comprehend what is happening and too innocent to realize it was not their fault. As young teenagers, our bodies reach their sexual maturity far sooner than our brains are ready to comprehend what is happening. Just as teenage girls are getting used to their new curves, they become intensely aware of how others begin to judge the shape and size of their new bodies. As older women, it’s important that we remind our up and coming young women that their bodies are amazing! A woman’s body brings life into the world, it feeds children, it nurtures, it runs, it sleeps, it is strong, and it is resilient.
This past June our family enjoyed the first few weeks of summer with almost daily visits to our neighborhood pool. One particularly hot afternoon my six year old daughter asked me if I would buy her a bikini. My first thought was Hell no, you are way too young to be wearing a sexy bikini! Of course, I chose to keep that thought to myself and simply said, No honey.
She put her hands on her hips and said, “Why not?” she went on to explain to me that it had been really hot and her one piece made her tummy feel sweaty. She also explained to me, quite eloquently, that when she had to use the bathroom it was really hard to take off and put back on a wet one piece. She rationalized that a two piece would keep her cooler and she would not have to spend so much time in the bathroom. That is when I had an epiphany. I realized that sometimes we start to shame girls about their body at a very young age. For God’s sake Nickie, I thought to myself. She is just hot and wants to be able to get in and out of the bathroom without having to squeeze her body into a wet bathing suit like a wiggling sausage. It was that simple. So we went to Kohl’s and she picked out a sporty bikini that was sure to stay put when jumping off the diving board and surfing at the beach. Some days, I struggle with how to explain the school’s dress code when Leah chooses to wear a spaghetti strap sundress when it is still 90 degrees in September. For now, I’m just grateful that I can blame the air conditioning on why she has to wear a t-shirt under that spaghetti strap sundress. I know that these experiences are only the beginning for her and that scares the crap out of me.
As a mother of a tween boy who is quickly approaching puberty, I have a moral obligation to teach him to not only respect women but to stand up when he sees other boys being disrespectful to girls. This past spring, I received a call from his school about an incident he had with another boy. Apparently, another male student called a girl a whore and a slut. Thomas saw the girl’s reaction and he immediately confronted the other boy. As you would expect, the situation quickly escalated resulting in some pushing and shoving. I realize that school has a no tolerance policy for physical aggression and as responsible parents we talked with our son about his actions. At the same time, I was secretly super proud of him for defending the girl in front of the entire class even if it meant getting in trouble. It know that he is not perfect and one day he may very well find himself in a situation where a girl is uncomfortable with something he has said. I just hope and pray that he will own up to his mistakes and make it right. He has a great role model in his father, who is one of the most respectful men I have ever met. I love that the other moms in the neighborhood and his female students can talk to Mark without feeling uncomfortable, without feeling judged and without feeling disgusted, incensed or hopeless. I watch the way my husband respectfully interacts with women and I know that Thomas is watching as well.
It is so easy to place blame on women. It was the way she was dressed, she was drinking alcohol, she went willingly to his hotel room. That is total crap! I have been standing in the middle of the produce section at the grocery store, in sweats with my greasy hair pulled into a sweaty bun on the top of my head, no makeup, no shower while picking out bananas to bring home to my family and some jerk has felt the need to comment on my ass and remind me that the bananas I just picked up are smaller than his manhood. I can remember being cornered, at 22 years of age, by a 50 year old male co-worker who felt the need to comment on my looks and tell me how sexy I was, just before we entered a board room for a team meeting. I can remember the time I was at a bar with a group of friends and someone grabbed my bottom from behind. I turned around and faced a group of at least 10 men and every single one of them pretended as though they did not see what had just happened. They were just as guilty as the jerk who grabbed me. It is because of these countless incidents that I am no longer shocked when I read the headlines about another man who has gotten away with sexual harassment or sexual assault. It is also because of these countless incidents, 45 years of experience and the benefit of middle aged wisdom and confidence that I can spot these jerks from miles away. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen to me anymore because it does, way too much to count. It’s just that I can handle it better than I could when I was in my 20s and that, my friends, is the sad truth behind why it no longer shocks me to hear about sexual harassment.
To all the brave men who confront the behavior when they see it, thank you for having our backs! To all the brave mothers and fathers raising boys and girls, please continue to teach our children about respect for one another. To all the brave women who are speaking up and telling their stories, power on you amazing Wonder Women and by the way….ME TOO!