I approached a male teacher to ask him a question about an assignment when I was ten years old. The window was open and the cold air blowing into the room caused me to shiver. “Come closer and I’ll warm you up,” he said. I immediately turned and walked away with my question unanswered, and I kept distance between us for the remainder of my time at that school.
When I was twelve, I was helping a 53-year-old man with his laundry. As I leaned down to put wet clothes into the dryer, he placed his hand between my legs and then slid it sensually up my backside. I reacted without hesitation. Turning to face him, I kicked him in the shin as hard as I could (I happened to be wearing steel-toed roller-skates). “Do your own fucking laundry!” I said, as I briskly left the room. I’d never even used that word before.
I had no further incidents with those two men. I had to question whether they belonged in a #MeToo post even though I wholly believe they were wholly inappropriate. But were these sexual assaults? Or were they misguided men testing things out—seeing what works and what doesn’t and with whom? Neither of them were aggressive or intimidating (definition of harassment). The first one didn’t even touch me, and I don’t recall my grades being affected. The second one falls under today’s definition of sexual assault because there was not explicit consent for the touch. But it was 1981, and I was told, “That’s just the way he is.” Although that man stayed in my life and obviously had some deep unresolved issues, he never touched me again.
These were men who didn’t know what to do about their sexual desires. Misguided by their parents or peers, they didn’t have the social skills, the tactful tools, the understanding. And they were just two of … many who must struggle with the same type of issues.
Changing the Social Paradigm
I am still perplexed as to how I knew what to do when I was confronted by inappropriate behaviour at such a young age—how did I know what to do? Television? Books? Today, we use the internet. I hope kids today are receiving the messages that teach them to set and defend their boundaries. But I also think we can do better to shape a healthy male culture in our society. Here is a link to a great article for teaching boys about healthy relationships rather than about sex.
What about girls? Do they know what to do? I read an excellent YA book, I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson. A so-subtle-it-is-almost-overlooked theme in this book is the idea of explicit consent. In an early scene, a young teen girl permits a sexual act that is thrust upon her by an older teen boy. Later, when she confronts him, he doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. She hadn’t said no. She hadn’t struggled or given any indication it wasn’t okay. But she hadn’t been ready either, and she didn’t know how to communicate that.
Communicating “no” is an important skill to be prepared to use. Ideally, both sexes will learn to engage with an active yes rather than a missing no.
Early Social Influences
I’m glad that at ten and twelve, I reacted the way I did. It appears that some combination of good judgment, good luck, freedom and privilege were on my side. But my teen years were a confusing time, for sure. The 80’s culture in my small town was a plethora of mixed signals.
The 60’s hippie free love movement was still very evident, yet my mother insisted I save sex for marriage. When I was twelve, I learned of a girl my age who’d had an abortion and was therefore labelled a slut—I knew nothing else about her or her circumstances. Within a couple of years, music videos (MuchMusic, MTV) highlighted women in skimpy clothes, posing, taunting, offering their bodies. My parents forbid me from watching some TV shows, but my friends easily located pornographic movies and Playboy magazines. I felt humiliated when I was implicated in a kiss-and-tell scenario in high school—my boyfriend had been goaded into revealing too many details of our sexual activities. Yet, when a popular boy turned around in English class and said, “Your mouth and lips are a great shape for giving blowjobs.”—I somehow felt flattered. It seemed I was damned if I did, and damned if I didn’t.
The 1988 movie, The Accused, had a profound effect on my thinking. As a young adult, I could totally relate to the “she-asked-for-it” defense, but I felt the movie transform my opinion. It offered a powerful step toward greater freedom of expression for women. It said to me, “It’s okay that you are a sexual being—and you don’t deserve to be abused no matter how you dress or how you flirt.”
There are so many ways to influence and be influenced—from movies to music, books, blogs, keynotes, or simple conversations.
One of the best #MeToo posts that I read was this one by Nicole Stamp. If you’re ready to participate in our human evolution, read it and practise some of her suggestions. If you’re not on Facebook, you can read the summarized version.
I also enjoyed this TED Talk by Justin Baldoni.
Recap and Summary
Here’s a recap of my Me Three #MeToo posts. Part 1: Sexual harassment and assault is a social problem and a cultural problem, not a gender equality problem. Part 2: People can and do change, and that’s a good thing called evolution—no shame in that. Part 3: Teach children how to stay safe, create and respect boundaries, and engage in healthy relationships.
The family TV show, Girl Meets World, has been a wonderful influence on my own young family. As a follow-up to the less-politically-correct 90’s show, Boy Meets World, it sets some good examples and promotes healthy discussion in our home. Its most potent message is that people change people. It offers a great reminder that our actions matter. We can and do influence others with what we say and what we do.
So, let’s teach each other how to clean up, take responsibility for our parts, and make this world a better place. And let’s do that with kindness in our hearts always.
Many thanks to Pixabay and its contributors for all the free images in this series.
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