Trigger Warning: Sexual Advances towards Children, Internalized Misogyny.
A parent posed a question in a crunchy parenting Facebook group about her nine year old daughter wearing “sexy” clothes; short shorts and crop tops. She wanted to know how to tell her daughter it was not okay to wear those clothes. I immediately thought about how I would try to say something similar to Wee One (WO), and I looked ahead at to see what other parents suggested. You know, tips for the future. That’s when I realize my internalized misogyny.
Instead of giving suggestions of what to say, people were like, ‘Sounds like my typical summer attire as a kid at the pool!’ ‘A nine-year-old shouldn’t be sexualized.’ ‘How men look at her is not her responsibility.’
These are all things I agree with. I want these for WO. So why weren’t they my first thoughts? I’m angry they weren’t.
Then I thought about how it felt when men make unwanted sexual advances. It’s always uncomfortable, and they do it way before we’re ready. I asked the group’s advice on how to prepare WO for such eventualities. I don’t mean defend herself physically; Cohiba and I are already grappling with her and calling punches for fun, but I mean mentally. Even when men don’t physically get into your space, it still gets into your head and robs you of safety and confidence.
A friend of mine commented in response. She taught her daughters appropriate terms for their parts and about loving their bodies despite social beauty standards. Wonderful, right? She said it wasn’t enough, and it’s one of her biggest regrets that she didn’t teach her daughters more, like how to handle this. I thought that was enough, too, and I was grateful she shared this regret with me. Because it doesn’t matter what we wear. Creepy men are creepy. (I know. Not all men… Sometimes women… I know. For my purposes, I’m thinking of the creepy experiences I’ve had and my daughter.)
Have any of you had talks with your daughters about times this happens? Did your moms talk to you? What do you think would help? This is what I’m thinking so far:
Baby girl, there may be times when men say things to you that are inappropriate, that are sexually forward. I pray not, but I don’t know a single woman to whom this has not happened. Baby, you need to know you did not do anything wrong. It is not your fault. You are allow to have a body, for Christ’s sake. It’s okay to wear clothes that make you feel good about yourself. It’s okay to want to look nice. You don’t need to justify that.
If and when that happens, you are allowed to defend yourself by any means necessary. You are allowed to set boundaries, to tell someone to leave you alone, to not say certain things to you, to not talk to you at all. You are allowed to say simply, ‘Stop. You are making me uncomfortable.’ You do not owe anyone an explanation. You do not owe anyone niceness or courtesy, particularly when they are violating your boundaries. I know I’ve stressed being kind to people, but kindness doesn’t mean trying to please others. Being kind does not mean being quiet when your rights or person are being violated.
The men who have done this might try to gaslight you after you do this. Convince you you misunderstood something. No. You heard what you heard. You can trust what you see, hear, and feel. If you feel uncomfortable with something, that is enough to call it out. You don’t need to justify or explain. Your discomfort is there for a reason and should be honored.
After something like this, it is normal to feel bad. Maybe shame, maybe embarrassment, maybe guilt, maybe rage. Maybe something else I don’t know. You may want to hide for awhile. You may want to leave the place you’re in. You may want to change your clothes. These are all normal and reasonable and you are allowed to ask for anything you need to help. Talking to someone about it may help, or punching something, painting or writing may help. You are allowed to do what you need to do to feel better. I love you and will always love you and be on your side.