My friend Karin is a 21-year-old college student and brought to light the below article on her Facebook page. I told her she should do a guest blog about it and here it is. I’ll be very interested to here everybody’s opinions about this.
10-14, Part 1: A Basic Fact of Life
A while ago, I posted a joke on Facebook about wanting to throw glitter, eggs, and water balloons full of pink paint at people (up to this point in my life, men) who yell sexual things at me in public. Three of my male friends were shocked that this happens, and two of them are fathers of young girls.
I was amazed that there are people out there who made it to their 30s and 40s without knowing about something that I and many other women consider a basic fact of life.
I don’t know if my own father knows how often I and my sister and other women are harassed, because nobody would dare yell “nice tits” at a girl who is walking with her father, brother, or male SO. I guess that if a man has never catcalled a woman himself or spent time with other men who do then it’s something that he has probably never seen in real life.
So, this is for my father and all the fathers out there with girls. If you have a little girl between ages 10 and 14, it’s likely that she has already been harassed in public or will be very soon. There is nothing you can do to stop it (except locking her away in a tower) because this kind of objectification is directed at every female bodied person in public regardless of how they look or dress or carry themselves. It’s likely that your daughter won’t tell you when this happens to her. What’s the point? There’s no way to punish the guys who do that because they are strangers she’ll probably never see again. What’s more, she will probably be too embarrassed to tell you. Girls are raised to believe that they need to hide their bodies and talents to avoid “tempting” men to harass them. The entire object of catcalling and sexual harassment is to claim control of the person being harassed and to make them feel ashamed to show themselves in public.
When a 13-year-old girl gets honked at walking to the corner store, she’ll probably put her head down, pull her shirt over her rear, and walk a little faster.
10-14, Part 2: My friends.
I’ve had this conversation about harassment with a few people. Some of them are fathers of young girls, some of them are women in their 20s, and some of them are women in their 40s or even older. Here are some of the things that we’ve said in this:
First, the fathers: (Mostly from Facebook posts and conversations)
“Yeah same question, people yell sexual things at you?”
“I’m gonna also weigh in as incredulous that people do that.”
“Well, I have never done that (I was raised to think it inappropriate and disrespectful, and thought my entire generation was as well), I have never witnessed it (that I can remember, even spending considerable time out on construction projects), and don’t spend time with anyone who would even consider doing something like that. Maybe it I just have such a terrifying visage that men just assume that any women in my general vicinity are off-limits, but it has never been a part of my world.” (I agree with this man’s assessment that he looks intimidating, and therefore potential harassers see women near him as “off limits”.)
Now, the women:
“Women I guess don’t pose the fear factor as well as they seem by societies standards more innocent. But would you feel the same way if a guy yelled out something sexually explicit to you or even something that sounded threatening? It’s a difference between being degraded vs not feeling you can respond. Because there’s fear that if you do react people like that may try to assault you, harm you or rape you especially if you are alone and there is a group of them.” (A woman in her 20s, talking about the difference between women approaching men in public and vice-versa.)
“I used to pass a club in New Orleans on my way down Magazine St. from the grocery or convenience store to my home. The shouts got worse and worse and sometimes the guys would cross the street to my side and follow me and harass me. It was getting so bad, I was seriously debating adding a few blocks to my normal route to avoid it. Then one day a tall handsome black man was on my side of the street and saw what was going on. He grabbed me and gave me a nice quick hug and said “Hey baby, can you make me a tall glass of orange juice with ice. I’ll be right home.” I was so in shock, I didn’t realize what he was doing until later. From then on, when I would walk past, those guys at the club never said a word to me. I guess I was under his protection even though I had never seen him before and never saw him again. I thanked him daily in my mind each day after that because I could walk to and from the store unharassed. It shouldn’t be necessary for some strange man to hug me and protect me like that, but it was.
I did manage to embarrass the heck out of some young guy once who yelled at me from a car when I was jogging. He was carrying on and his friends were hooting. I yelled at him and said “Hey, I’m older than your mother.” He stopped right away terribly embarrassed. I’m hoping he never did that again for fear he’d harass someone older than his mother again by accident.
It started when I was about 12. There is less of it these days now that I’m overweight. I expect it will start again once the weight comes down a bit, but I won’t let that stop me from losing the weight. I’m planning to start carrying pepper spray because of the stray dogs and it will help me feel safer with the violent guys out there too.
I know as the father of a daughter, it’s not what you wanted to know about, but it is fairly frequent unfortunately.” (A woman who is probably older than my mother.)
“Yeah I was like, 8 or 9.” (A woman in her 20s, in response to me talking about most women being harassed for the first time between 12 and 14.)
10-14, Part 3: Will Smith’s Family
The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women,girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self-determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain. Willow cut her hair because her beauty, her value, her worth is not measured by the length of her hair. It’s also a statement that claims that even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother’s deepest insecurities, hopes and desires. Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be. More to come. Another day. -Jada Pinkett Smith ”
We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body?” said the actor. “If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world.”
He added, “She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that is hers.” -Will Smith
I think that this is perfect. Parents should give their kids advice about what might happen if they do a certain thing, but in most cases I don’t think that they should make the decision for them. Especially when it comes to how the kids want to look.
Since this series is about harassment, I want to talk about how I think the subject of harassment and how your kids look should be discussed with them. If you have a little girl or an effeminate boy, they probably already know that they will be harassed by strangers for how they look. How you react to it determines whether they try to stop it by changing themselves, or brush it off and go on with their lives.
10-14, Part 4: What I wish would happen.
Here are some things people should say to their kids more often:
“I don’t want you to wear that, so if you want it buy it with your money, not mine.” (As opposed to “I forbid you from wearing that”.)
“I think you are a great kid, whether I like how you dress or not.”
“I don’t think you should go out in that, and if you want my advice on what I think you should wear I’m happy to help.”
“What you do with your body is your decision in the end, but I think that _____ is a good idea.”
Your kids are probably not oblivious to the fact that they will get made fun of or suffer other negative consequences for how they look. If they have somehow made it to this point in life without being bullied or seeing others bullied for appearance, you should have a conversation with them about it so they’re not caught by surprise. (They will probably only be surprised by this if they’re home-schooled and quite isolated as well.)
The real issue though is that with a daughter, they will be harassed (often by adult men) regardless of whether they are wearing short shorts or a floor-length skirt. Men will shout at them about their bodies no matter how well covered they are (unless your daughter is convincingly dressed as a boy). Once a girl hits puberty, she is treated as a display piece by strangers and classmates alike. I know several women who were called “slut” and “whore” in middle school simply because they developed breasts before other girls. They boiled in oversized hoodies in May, attempting to hang on to their prepubescent appearance.
The way that parents react to their daughters’ bodies will have a huge impact on how they react to harassment. Most girls nowadays grow up being taught that it is their responsibility to hide their body, because it will “tempt” older men to grope them on the bus, “distract” their male classmates from school, and “encourage” random strangers to shout at them about their sexuality.