Friday, March 22, 2013

"It's a girl"

Men get laid, but women get screwed.  ~Quentin Crisp

It is no secret I am was terrified of having a daughter. Especially having an oldest daughter. There is no end to the dangers and injustices of being a female, and my greatest fears are of her being subjected to any one of them. I was the baby in my family. The younger child, the youngest of my girlfriends. I grew up always feeling like I had an added layer of protection. I remember my brother teaching me Akido when I was 14. I remember his guy friends - my “other” brothers - popping up at the most embarrassing times and chasing off anyone paying attention to me that was of the opposite sex. I think it somewhat made me more aware of my own personal safety. People stressing about me being vulnerable made me self conscious about putting myself in those situations (lest my brother and his friends show up). Moreso when I was older and attending night classes in college in the heart of a small city. An abandoned hotel that housed a community of vagrants sat directly across the street from my building where I attended class. And the last words my (female) professor would always say as we left after 9pm were, “Stay in pairs!”  But in those growing years, I always felt protected. It makes me wonder how I can make my daughter feel the same sense of security.
I know I can't hold onto her forever. Monkey might only be six years old, but the eye rolling and frustration with me being around her all the time is already making an appearance. But how do you let them fly without worrying about them getting ensnared in a trap once they leave your sight? How do you raise her with the lesson that her voice is important, and should be heeded, when all around us, everyday, the public, the politicians, the religious leaders, are all disregarding women’s rights and demeaning women's roles or trying to pass legislation on our bodies and what we're “allowed” to do with them? When women are ridiculed as being ugly and frumpy if they're spotted in an outfit consisting of anything loose and comfortable, and even young girls who haven’t hit double digits in age are being pressurized by retailers and the media to be “sexy” and “flirty.” Or when a photo of the private parts of a female celebrity are bigger news than the movie she is promoting. Whose voice is going to be louder in her life? The few encouraging her from the nest, or the drowning cacophony from outside? I go to bed at night after tucking her in, and all I see in my head is how many examples of how to be female is to live the life of a double standard.

And now the Steubenville case has me up at night, even more anxious than before. The case in itself is a nightmare, but I think what is making me so violently ill is the reaction to the verdict. News outlets and people from all walks of life remarking on how sad it is that these smart, promising, young men will now be forever haunted by what they have done. How their once bright futures will be forever tarnished. I want to know one good reason why they shouldn't be forever affected by what they did, like their victim will be. And it would also be extremely interesting to know how such “bright,” “smart,” “promising,” young men weren't bright enough or smart enough to know that drugging someone to victimize them is wrong. That someone in a vulnerable position doesn't equal a puppet to be played with and exploited, and then photographed so the images could then be uploaded to the internet and traded like virtual playing cards of their atrocities. What kind of world is this that we have created for our children where rape culture is the celebrated standard?
The realization is that as much attention I need to be giving to developing a strong, confident daughter, I need to double up on teaching my sons to be kind and respectful. Chivalrous, even. Boys who will respect when someone tells them “no.” Who will have empathy and helpfulness towards others, and be aware of another’s feelings and how they are effecting them. I need to instill their own confidence in themselves, so they are less likely to follow a crowd for validation, and hopefully more likely to stand up for someone else, even if they are standing alone. I learned all about the bystander effect in college taking classes for my psychology minor. How insecure and scared of their peers must these teens in Steubenville have been that after the THREE parties that this girl was dragged to, not ONE person stood up, or reported, or intervened on her behalf? Peer pressure can trump conscience very easily, but my hope is to raise children who would try to be a voice of reason and restraint.

Change always seems insurmountable until precipitated by some life altering event. I really wish this wasn't so. I wish we humans would lend more credit to foresight and preparation instead of crisis management and reaction strategies. But for every daughter that is raped, there is also a son who is a rapist. I’m hoping and praying that this house has neither. But in the meantime, I'm going to do my best to teach them how to manage the ugly truth of the world. Maybe when they grow up, they can change it.

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