When I headed off to college, my parents bought me a canister of pepper spray. They attached it to my backpack and told me to use it if necessary.
When I walk to my car in an unfamiliar place, my keys are sticking out in between my fingers and I make an added point to be aware of my surroundings.
And, yet, I have been a victim of sexual assault. And it was with someone I knew. And I never reported it. I didn’t say a word about it for years.
For almost ten years, I was a “boy mom.” And, honestly, I taught them all of the same things about vigilance that I had been taught. We talk about scenarios when strangers approach you or when you’re walking or riding bikes away from home. Our oldest takes martial arts and our younger son is a wrestler. We talk about how these can be used to defend and protect (but never to attack). I’m sure, when the time comes for them to head off to college, I’ll talk with them about how to watch and listen to your surroundings.
Having boys doesn’t make me immune to the dangers in the world. I want to teach them as much as I can about keeping themselves safe because I know that, no matter how hard I try as a parent and as an educator, I cannot rid the world of people who want to harm others. I cannot change of all of the people whose hearts are so filled with hate that it spills into their words and actions. I wish I could “fix” the people who feel and act this way, but I know that – unfortunately – is impossible. When the suggestion is made that no one should have to carry pepper spray or learn self-defense, I agree! And yet I know that the sad reality is there will always be someone out there with malicious intent.
But, I’m also a “girl mom” now. And, to be honest, the biggest thing I worry about teaching her is to stand up for herself – even when no one believes her or when they downplay what has happened to her. Sadly, that’s what I see for our girls today. When they get the courage to speak up, too many times it is seen as “not a big deal” or an exaggeration. Sadly, it only takes a handful of people who make something up or stretch the truth, and the general public seems to want to assume everyone else is doing the same.
Parents – We have to do better. We have to do better for our boys because I’m afraid that being a boy is teetering on the verge of becoming synonymous with being an abuser, or at least being disrespectful. Because there are too many men who don’t seem to respect women, even the good ones are taking the fall. It should go without question that we teach all of our children that other people’s bodies are not their playground, nor are other’s physical features a place to target comments and conversation. Further, we have to start teaching our boys to stand up for victims. Not to automatically minimize. But to listen and truly hear. To understand and to take the side of right…even when it is difficult or unpopular.
We have to do better. We have to do better for our girls so they can recognize behavior that crosses the line and they can have the strength to report it. Because it’s hard. Because, no matter how hard we try, victims generally do feel shame or embarrassment. Because if it isn’t reported, it keeps spreading and sometimes, others truly don’t know what is happening without a report. And, of course, we can never, ever forget that our girls need the same lessons about respecting others and their bodies that we give to our boys. Girls are not inherently innocent in this and, as parents, I don’t want to see us shift this issue so far toward the boys that girls think they are above it.
We have to do better. Make a difference in your small corner of the world. You never know the impact it might have.