what were telling them

Oh, hi. I’m glad you’re here.

Can we chat?

It’s about something that might get a little uncomfortable, but we can handle that, right?

It’s kind of important.

The other day, I posted a photo of Katie on her way to a Halloween party. She loved her costume (the love child of Wonder Woman and Captain America* – what’s not to love?) and was feeling, in her words, “pretty badass.”

This was the photo.


Badass indeed.

You guys left some really sweet comments on the picture, cause you’re awesome like that. You described her as beautiful and strong and creative and brave. Obviously, I wholeheartedly agreed and was grateful that you saw my girl as I do every day, superhero cape not withstanding.

But, well, there was a recurring theme in some of the comments that, try as I might, I just couldn’t shake. I don’t want to call anyone out or make anyone feel badly about saying something meant to be nice. I know – truly – that all of the comments I’m about to discuss were meant as compliments, and I genuinely appreciate the sentiment behind them.

But, that said, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t ask you to join me in thinking about the way in which we so often express compliments about each other’s kids, what our framing represents, and, most saliently, what it helps to feed.

What I’m referring to are the myriad iterations of these:

Wow, your daughter is beautiful; better lock her up and throw away the key.

She’ll be fighting off the boys with a baseball bat.

Luau better get a shotgun.

Now I know that the words are not meant to be taken literally. I also know that while that may be true, they are reflective of a really sinister undercurrent in our reflexive thinking that is absolutely, positively impacting our kids.

Inadvertently or not, we are telling our girls that the only way that they can be safe is locked away. We are telling them that they will have to fight off the boys. And we’re telling our boys that they are animals to be fended off by bats and daddies with shotguns.

No matter how well-meaning, when we characterize our boys as predators and our girls as victims in need of protection from them, we are perpetuating a culture in which rape and violence is normalized.

Four years ago, a national study showed that:

Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report.

New York Times, Dec, 2011

One in five.

One in four.

One in six.

Those numbers are unfathomable.

I am the one in five.

It took me twenty-three years to say it out loud.

Because I thought it was my fault.

Because I’d been drinking and I walked outside with him and when he kissed me I kissed him back.

Because in a world where we’re taught that ‘boys will be boys’ and girls need to fight them off, it’s our fault when we don’t fight hard enough.

That is rape culture – an environment in which I believed that being raped was just as much my fault as his.

And that is just not okay.

So while I really do appreciate the sentiments behind the sweet and lovingly intended comments, I ask you to join me in thinking about what we’re really telling our kids.

 * Yes, Katie knows this would mean a Marvel/ DC crossover. She’s not much for barriers on imagination. 

Amended to add:

It’s important to acknowledge that these issues span both the gender and sexuality spectra. Not only can anyone of any gender identity or sexual orientation fall prey to sexual violence, but those outside the cis / heterosexual boxes are exponentially more likely to be victims thereof.

30 thoughts on “what were telling them

  1. I am always uncomfortable when others point out my daughter beauty and make these comments. I always feel the need to follow up with statements about her intelligence, her strength, and the fact that I have taught her how to swing a solid punch if it became necessary. She can defend herself and she isn’t going to be locked up because she has a pretty face/body.

    I am the one in five – and I hope she never is.

  2. Thanks, this needs to be said. I have a daughter too, and I feel the same way. I don’t want her to ever feel like anything like this is her fault. We need to enlighten people and try to change the way people think to make that happen and to realize it’s not okay!

  3. Jess- I have been the one if four, the one in five and the one in six. I do not want my daughter to ever be – nor my son to participate in those statistics either. As uncomfortable as it makes all of us to look at this every time it comes up (because dear God doesn’t it come up all the time!!!) Thank you for reminding us that we need to.

  4. I am the unlucky one that is one in five, one in four, AND one in six. A long time has passed, and as a result, I am a much stronger person than I used to be. My hope for the future is that no one else has to be added to those numbers.

  5. I am one in 5. Yes, Katie is beautiful. All daughters should be told that. And this, this post disturbs me. I have seen friends post on facebook about their children – saying things such as “I will have to lock her up”, or “He will be a heart breaker.” Why? Why should she have to be watched to be kept from harm? Should she not feel safe and be respected by the boys around her? Why? Why is he being a heart breaker a good thing? Shouldnt he rather instead of hurting a woman, whether it be physical, emotional, or both – shouldnt he strive to be the best man, father, husband she could ask for?
    I have sons. My house, on purpose, does not use terms such as “lady killer, heart breaker, or ladies man”… My sons will be raised to respect a woman and her boundaries. No MEANS no, its true – but why should the situation even get to the point of saying no? What happened to asking if something was ok first? Chivalry. “It is ok if I kiss you?” And if she says no, she means it. It shouldn’t get to the point that she feels the argument within herself – “Will he be mad if I say ‘stop’?” Im trying to teach my young sons that respect for our societys women is very important in todays world. Make her happy. Respect her.
    I’m trying my best to raise my sons to be gentlemen. To be respectful. To be kind. And sweet. And sincere. So that their peers may not be a one in five.
    #oneinfive #thisisnotok #daughtersdontneedcages #daddyshouldntneedagun

  6. So true… Two daughters and a son… Nerves and occasionally panic of the teen years. Having been in a rape situation, though not violent by any means, still … I am better at empowering them, showing them they are human not a trophy, barbie doll or other idealized object. Respect and no means no as well are things I try to teach all three equally. I worry more anout the grown men who are not healthy, functional and trustable more than I fear the boys they will encounter. Teaching them to be aware of their surroundings, trust must be earned, threats are to be reported not feared… So much harder to be a parent than I ever anticipated. Just try to tell them to make smart decisions and teach them love, respect and Independence.

  7. I am the 1 in 5.
    I am the 1 in 4.
    I am the 1 in 6.

    I only have sons. My boys will be raised to know about boundaries. That a kiss is not a yes. That you cannot force her to have sex with you just because she’s asleep in your bed. That if she doesn’t show interest, you need to back off. The thing that terrifies me, however, is that my boys have Autism. Boundaries are a big issue for them. They don’t understand the concept of personal space, and my oldest will just stand and stare at people. I know how that will be viewed, especially by girls and their parents. I hope that the people in their lives will understand their intentions and that their differences can make communication much more difficult than most. I will never stop advocating on their behalf, but I will also make sure that they understand what is right and what is wrong. Thank you so much for posting this. The older I get, the more open I am becoming about my experiences.

  8. Thank you so much for this! When I read those comments I felt the same way. I absolutely loved this picture for so many reasons. The power that it exudes is amazing and I felt those comments took it all away. I also understand they were compliments and well intentioned but I felt so uncomfortable. I have three daughters so I get these comments too. I’m so happy you addressed this issue.

  9. Thank you. I saw an octogenarian client today who is non-verbal and hemiplegic after a severe stroke. Before she came to our facility she was raped by either a relative or a friend of the family and she literally couldn´t tell us who it was if her life depended on it. And yet: there are people who try to tell me that it probably wasn´t all the rapist´s fault. That men can´t be expected to look after/be around helpless women and not do monstrous things. Fuck that noise. Men are human and we do them a grave injustice by pretending they are no more that mindless, sex-obsessed automatons. Rape is nobody´s fault but the rapist´s.

  10. I thought the same thing reading the comments. But also as a doting Aunt to my nephew, it offends me a little. Give our boys some credit. Many of them are being raised to be true gentlemen and would never subject a girl to abuse. So while we teach our girls to be strong and confident, we need to teach our boys the same way. Also we hear the same kinds of comments about him. “Better lock up our daughters “. It’s a difficult road we travel to bring up these little people to become the awesome adults we know they can.

    • i’m not sure if i’m misreading your comment, but that was precisely my point. boys are not animals – we have to stop characterizing them as if they are:

      “Inadvertently or not, we are telling our girls that the only way that they can be safe is locked away. We are telling them that they will have to fight off the boys. And we’re telling our boys that they are animals to be fended off by bats and daddies with shotguns.

      No matter how well-meaning, when we characterize our boys as predators and our girls as victims in need of protection from them, we are perpetuating a culture in which rape and violence is normalized.”

  11. I am the one in five. In my case, it was my father and not a partner.

    I hate the “rules for dating my daughter” stuff. You want the rules for dating my hypothetical daughter? Don’t treat her like crap and respect yourselves. All the “rawr macho macho man” stuff makes my stomach turn.

  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for writing this post. I was bothered by some well meaning compliments because of personal experiences. I know they were all said as complements. Please don’t think I’m bashing anyone, because I’m not. As a step-mother of 3 very beautiful daughters, I want them to never have to worry about their beauty giving anyone an excuse to harm them in any way. ❤️

  13. Very accurate. I notice these very innocent and well-intended niceties daily living in the Deep South. It’s so common that people stopped listening to themselves. Mentioning it means I’m being too PC and overly sensitive. The fact is that I’m actually not offended at all. I’m flattered that so many want to compliment my girls (or me). But with every innocent phrase that we send out into society, we are supporting a mentality that I find to be detrimental. And in the worst way. Because it lies in the guise of a kind truth. My son hears it at school, from teachers, from principals, from politicians, from television. I explain. I try to educate. But my voice is small compared to that of his peers and teachers. I truly believe that we are slipping into another Age of Enlightenment where these perspectives won’t need to be explained. I truly believe that as long as we each plug away at our little social circles (or in Jess’s case, a very large social circle) we -will- evolve.

    Thank you for not singling anyone out.

    • I’m from the South, too, and sometimes we do speak our own language. Honestly, it’s not one you will fully understand unless you’re from here. I learned this being a military wife. We meet people from all over and it takes some getting used to. I spent half an hour one day trying to explain to my neighbor from New Jersey what grits were and why all of our tea is pre-sweetened and iced. Lol! I forget that sometimes and need to be reminded now and then. ❤️ Your style!

  14. This is so true. I never thought of those comments that way but it’s true! Thank you for sharing your bravery and strength.

  15. I am the 1 in 5.
    It was my father and I helped lock him up.
    Jess- Thank you for starting a dialogue about something that is far to prevalent in society.
    Your post has already done a world of good for so many people.

  16. I read and re-read your blog. I am 1 in 4, 1 in 5, and 1 in 6. I was raped when i was 18, and later married an abusive man. He was also my stalker after we seperated. I have never really talked openly about my experiences, but one thing I can think back and say is…I got out. (I was able to safely get out. I fully understand there are so many who cannot safely leave their abuser. It took me several years to get the courage up, and have my plans made. Please know its not easy, but your safety is so important!)
    I built myself back up, and I have refused to live as a victim. I have a wonderful husband (I “dated” him for 14 years before we married!). I also work hard now to try and build the teens and their families up that I work with.

    We have to all work together to build a society based on mutual respect for each other. We need to build a society based on love, admiration, and honesty. We need to tear down our sexuaized, and violence driven society. We must stop making excuses for each other, and take responsibility.

  17. I am the 1 in 5 a couple of times over (attempts only) and the 1 in 6. Looking at all of these posts, I’m starting to wonder how accurate the 1 is in these statistics. Thank you for your post and your courage.

  18. I get remarks of this sort all of the time, and worse, by well meaning folks that are simply not going to change in coming up with those trite phrases. There are many who welcome the remarks as well. So much to change in the world; I don’t put that on my list as often , not only the intentions but the actions of those who so speak are good and beneficial.

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