I was listening to a CBC story about how the Girl Guides have come out with a recommendation this holiday season to not force your girls to give hugs to friends or family when they don’t want to. Which naturally, I’m ALL OVER. But the story itself, of course, had its critics. Claiming that an assertion like this one is an over-reaction to the recent assault stories coming out one after the other. Here’s why that makes my spine hurt thinking that there are people who would disagree with this.
Being a little girl is hard. And I don’t mean ‘hard’ in any sexual or physical sense. I mean hard as in the deeply ingrained understanding of how we, as girls, are to operate in society is an exhaustive one to understand let alone change. It’s a hard world for girls. And I KNOW, I’m sure being a little boy has its trials and tribulations what with the fact that you’re not allowed to cry and if you have an interest in flowers or interior decorating you’re flat-out a homosexual and everyone will wonder if your wife secretly has a penis. But I’m not a boy, I’m a girl. So let me tell you about being a little girl, and why it’s so important how we choose to talk to, raise and move our own little girls through the world.
Let’s go back a ways. I’m 12 years old and my piano teacher is putting his hand on the piano bench, palm up, every time I go to sit down. Forcing my genitals to sit on his open palm.
I’m 14 years old, and I’m playing ball with my friends at my girlfriends house. The ball gets kicked out into the alley and I run to go get it and a man is walking down the alley, with his penis fully out, making eye contact with me as he moves closer toward me.
I’m 19 years old, I’m having fun at the bar and I get backed into a corner physically by a man three times my size suggesting firmly, that we should go home together.
I’m 21 years old and I’ve found myself in a very psychologically abusive relationship. After half a bottle of tequila, I don’t turn down sex – despite my overwhelming desire to say no – with my boyfriend at the time because I fear the repercussions of his anger.
As every woman, or nearly every woman, I’m sure has experienced in her life some kind of abuse of power, or suggestive comment, or way-too-long of a linger. An unwanted touch, an uncalled for comment. All of us ladies have been there. It’s hard to be a girl. It’s hard to be (generally) physically smaller and fear for our physical safety.
If I stand up for myself, will he hurt me?
It’s hard to absorb the litany of painful words that have been hurled at us throughout our lifetime – some for exercising our basic right of saying ‘no’.
Prude. Slut. Bitch. Whore.
It’s hard to toe the line of wanting to assert yourself but not asserting yourself too much, lest your coworkers/boss think you’re a bitch, or pushy. It’s hard to find the right words so that your statement, opinion or feelings be denigrated to ‘PMS’, ‘That time of the month’, or ‘too emotional’. It can be hard, which inevitably equals exhaustion.
Lucky for me, I have a pretty kick ass mom. One who from an early age taught me that I am the only person that has a right to my body. One who told me that I was to come to her if any person ever made me uncomfortable. Which translates to a confidence I had as a little girl to understand when something wasn’t right, and to tell her about it. The best part though, when I told her about my creepy fucking piano teacher, was she believed me.
So here’s why it’s your job to not force your child to engage in physical contact that he/she doesn’t want to engage in. You’re reinforcing the notion that it’s OK for other people to touch you when you’re uncomfortable. You’re suggesting that because they’re a family member, or because they’re older, they therefore have a RIGHT to your body. The main, most important message here is missed: you as an individual have complete bodily autonomy. More importantly, if something – god forbid – sordid and awful happens to your child and they have the courage to tell you about it, you believe them. It’s your duty as a parent to provide a safe haven for your children to land every time. When you question if they’re telling the truth, you’re subtly suggesting that they can’t come to you, or there is something shameful and not OK about what happened to them. In a little person’s brain this can sometimes translate to, ‘this must be my fault.’
Because as an adult, even though my mom was kick ass, there are still millions of subtle messages being constantly translated to my adult brain, and translated to my young brain. Messages of unworthiness and unattainable standards of beauty to name a few. These concepts of femininity, beauty and behaviour subtly and quietly appear in my day-to-day behaviour. Like how I’m hesitant to cut my hair because maybe my spouse won’t find me feminine enough. Or how I can’t get into X job field because it would be better suited to a man. Or how I don’t stand up for myself in the presence of more than one, physically large man. Or how when I’m walking down a street alone and in the dark I hold a key between each of my fingers.
It’s hard. And some days are less hard than others. Some days I forget entirely that my gender informs how people perceive me. Some days I forget that I harbour a hesitation and general mistrust of older men. But, some days I do remember. And those days are hard. So do your girls and your boys a favour and teach them: My body. My rules.