No matter who you are, it’s impossible to parent without fear. We’re scared of everything, from the flu to broken bones to allergies. The moment you have a child, the world turns into a minefield, made all the more terrifying because we’re the ones who are supposed to shepherd our kids to the other side, step by precarious step, to adulthood, with their bodies and minds and hearts intact.
The #MeToo movement of the last six months has been a seminal, watershed moment in our culture. It has illuminated a dark place of abuse and misconduct toward women that has been brushed aside for far too long. But it’s also added yet another dimension to parent fears.
I have both a son and a daughter, just over 18 months apart. I look at them, and stacked now on top of fears about cancer or car accidents or drug addiction, are new, more complex ones. I fear that my daughter may one day utter the words “me too” when it comes to sexual harassment or assault. And I equally fear that my son could be on the other side of those words.
I have no way to control the rest of the world or the people in it. And before long, I will have very little control over my children as they move about the world. It will be up to them to navigate the minefield then. The only thing I can do is try every day I have them beside me to instill as much mom wisdom as I can. These are the lessons I hope to teach them.
For my daughter:
- There are situations that demand rudeness. I will teach you etiquette. I will teach you to be polite almost all the time. But I will also teach you that it can be okay to be rude too. I never want you to let a man talk to you a certain way or do something to you because you are worried about hurting his feelings. Women don’t always have to be well mannered. Certain moments demand the opposite.
- Don’t water any part of yourself down for a man. Whether that’s your intelligence, your physical beauty, or your ability to take control. The moment you alter a part of yourself for a man to make them feel more comfortable is the moment you let them take authorship of your narrative and, by extension, feel like they have a controlling stake in you as a human. If you’re smart, be smart. If you like to bake, bake. If you are the boss, be the boss. Don’t apologize or seek validation.
- Not speaking up immediately does not in any way diminish your right to speak. If something happens to you that feels wrong, even if it’s been months or years, you’re allowed to speak. There is no statute of limitations on your voice.
- Don’t fall for the myth that female friendships are inherently catty. Surround yourself with strong women who don’t take any disrespect. Collect a tribe of warriors. They will lift you up and protect you, and if someone hurts you they will be your guideposts to find your way home again.
Don’t compromise or second-guess your consent. You are the only one who gets to say “yes” or “no” when it comes to your body.
For my son:
- Even if you call misogyny “locker room talk,” it’s still misogyny. Saying it’s okay to talk this way behind closed doors is like saying it’s okay to be racist in private. If you talk about women like they’re objects or inferior, even just to impress your friends, that mentality will start to invade your worldview.
- Consent is more than just the word “yes.” If a girl seems scared or unsure or uncomfortable, STOP. It doesn’t matter if she was okay ten minutes ago, or ten seconds ago. She can change her mind at any point. Consent isn’t a one-time event. It’s an ongoing agreement that either party can void at any time.
- Say something. If you see harassment or assault or any kind of bad behavior towards a woman, speak up, because she may not be able to. Speak up even if the perpetrator is someone you otherwise respect. Speak up even if it may get you in trouble in the short term. Never justify someone’s bad behavior because it’s easier than confronting it.
- Don’t call a woman a bitch. Because it’s ugly and cheap and often used to describe any woman who isn’t basing her choices or behavior off of making a man feel good about himself. Words matter and have power. Use yours to make the world better instead of deepening its wounds.
- Surround yourself with men who understand the meaning of assault. If your friends like to say things like “bros before hoes” and think a woman is a collection of body parts for their enjoyment, you need new friends. There’s loyalty and then there’s complicity. Make sure you know the difference.