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.
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.