Tuesday, October 11, 2016

For Every Girl Around the World



The first thing I saw on Facebook this morning was an invitation to add this frame to my profile picture today for International Day of the Girl. You know, “to show [my] support for girls everywhere.” Oh the irony. It’s just days after tapes were released of Donald Trump, a presidential candidate, talking about women in the most foul ways possible, and now we’re being encouraged to show our support for girls having their “basic needs” met (like not being sexually assaulted?).

So rather than simply adding a frame to my Facebook profile picture, I feel compelled to share my thoughts on an issue that plagues women around the world but is often dismissed as women being hysterical or overly sensitive, or swept under the rug so that a president can stay in office, or compared to the equally-disgusting behavior of others in an effort to get your candidate elected.

I’m pouring my heart and soul out here, so I encourage you to read the entire (long) post before commenting.

. . .

I have been sexually assaulted.

And it’s happened more times than I can count or even remember.

In elementary school, boys pulled my hair and pushed me on the playground. Teachers said that meant they “liked me,” that they were “flirting.” No, ma’am. These little boys were learning that it’s acceptable to assault little girls.

In middle school, boys popped my bra in PE. I remember clearly the sting of embarrassment. But “boys will be boys.” No, coach. These teenage boys sexually assaulted me.

In 9th grade, a guy I had a crush on told the entire varsity basketball team that we slept together, that he took my virginity, that he “nailed me.” Rumors spread. My dad stepped in. I was embarrassed. The coach stepped in. I was even more embarrassed. The guy was reprimanded for “spreading rumors.” Nope. My crush sexually assaulted me.

In college, I asked a guy to go to a sorority party with me. A bunch of people went back to his apartment to watch a movie after the party was over. We kissed. He groped me. I pushed his hands away. He asked if I wanted to go back to his room. I asked a friend to take me home instead. He called the next day and said, “We can take things slow.” I said, “I don’t think so.” I didn’t want to go slow. I didn’t want to have sex with him at all. My date sexually assaulted me.

When I was 21, I was in a subway car in New York City with 20+ other people. A guy pinned me to my seat, touched himself, and graphically told me all the things he wanted to do to me. I made eye contact with the mother sitting across from me. She did nothing. I screamed for help. Everyone looked away. When we came to the next stop, I kneed the guy in the crotch and ran for the door. This stranger sexually assaulted me.

Guys have slapped my butt, popped the front of my jeans, stared at my breasts, spoken suggestively to me. It’s happened more times than I can count. It’s happened in school hallways, on college campuses, at stadiums filled with people, in shopping malls, on busy city sidewalks, in elevators, at amusement parks. Every one of those guys sexually assaulted me.

And for the most part, I’ve remained silent. I haven’t told anyone.

Perhaps it’s because when I was young, these behaviors were excused by people I trusted. “That’s how boys flirt.” No. Hitting and pushing and pulling hair is not flirting. “Boys will be boys.” If you mean, “boys will be boys” so we have to put up with their wrestling, rough housing, burping, farting, poor table manners, general smelliness, dirty fingernails, forgetting your birthday, and lack of fashion sense, okay. If you mean “boys will be boys” so we have to put up with rude jokes, sexual remarks, grabbing, groping, unwanted touches and sexual advances, absolutely not.

Perhaps it’s because when people I trusted did get involved (my dad is my hero, by the way), the boy involved got a slap on the wrist.

I have amazing parents. They love me, and I have always known that. But somewhere along the way, I believed the lie that what happened to me wasn’t that bad. And that there wasn’t anything anyone could do about it anyway.

So I stopped speaking out. I remained silent. I didn’t tell anyone. And, as a result, I contributed to the notion that “rape culture” is acceptable, that “boys will be boys,” that good girls stay silent, look the other way, and don’t make a fuss.

Not today. Not ever again.

Perhaps you think the things that happened to me aren’t “that big a deal.” Ask your sisters, your daughters, your mothers, your friends. Ask them if this kind of stuff—or worse—has happened to them. Ask them how it made them feel. And then listen.

Do you hear the tremor in their voice? Hear the anger in their words? See the tears in their eyes? See a blush of embarrassment creep up their face? Perhaps they shrug casually as if to say it doesn’t happen *that* often. Or it doesn’t make them feel *too* embarrassed. But dig deeper. Lean in closer. And listen to how sexual assault affects them.

“No means no” isn’t enough. Because that implies that at some point I said “yes.” When do you think that was? At what point when I was getting ready this morning do you think I said, “Yes, men I’m going to encounter today, it’s okay for you to sexually assault me?” Was it when I put on my bra? Was it when I picked out my clothes for the day? Was it when I fixed my hair and applied my makeup? Was it when I sprayed perfume on my wrists so I would smell nice? Which of these things makes it okay for you to assault me? To slap my butt, to stare at my breasts, to ogle me, to make sexual comments to me?

This is not about Donald Trump. Or Bill Clinton. Or any president or candidate past, present, or future. I’m just tired of hearing people—Christian people—say that sexual assault doesn’t matter. I’m tired of listening to people justify behavior and rationalize someone’s actions “in the past.” I’m tired of perpetrators—criminals!!!—excusing their behavior as “locker room talk.”

NO!

Sexual assault is not okay.

Sexual assault is never okay.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s not okay for you to assault a woman in the backseat of your car, in a hotel room you’ve rented for just this purpose, in the bed you share every night, under the bleachers of the high school stadium, or in the Oval Office.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s not okay for you to assault a woman if you’re a little boy in kindergarten testing the boundaries of a first crush or a grown man on a date with a beautiful woman. It’s not okay to assault a woman if you’re a teenager, a dad, a pastor, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, an 80-year old man, a college student, a police office, an actor, a musician, a celebrity, an author, a journalist, a presidential candidate, or the President of the United States of America.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It’s not okay to assault a woman if you’re rich or famous or think you’re above the law. It’s not okay to assault a woman simply because you have a penis and she has a vagina, and as we all know by now, “boys will be boys” and girls will stay silent.

Sexual assault is not okay.

Sexual assault is never okay.

Moms, Dads, Brothers, Sisters, Aunts, Uncles, Grandmothers, Grandfathers, Cousins, Friends, Teachers, Pastors, All People Everywhere: WE MUST DO BETTER. We must teach our sons what it means to truly respect women—starting when they are young. We must teach our daughters what it looks like and feels like to truly be respected. We must teach them to stand up for themselves when they are assaulted and then take their embarrassed confessions seriously. We must teach our children to speak out and step in for others who are being assaulted and mistreated. And, most importantly, we must lead by example.

I’m fortunate enough to have amazing men (and women, for that matter) in my life who lead by example, day in and day out. My husband, dad, mom, brother, grandparents, other relatives, bosses, co-workers, pastors, and friends from every stage of life ARE teaching their sons to respect women. They ARE teaching their daughters what being respected looks like. They ARE teaching them to stand up for themselves when they’re not being respected. They ARE teaching their children to speak out and step in for others. And, most importantly, they ARE leading by example.

But all little girls and grown women aren’t as fortunate as me. They don’t have good men in their lives to show them what respect looks like and to step in when they’re being mistreated. Many of them don’t even have other women in their lives who will support them and believe them and stand up for them.

Will YOU stand up for them? Will YOU join the men in my life and lead by example? Will YOU join me in speaking out for those who have no voice? Will YOU step in for those who are being mistreated? And will YOU start calling it what it is—sexual assault—instead of hiding behind politically correct phrases like “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk”?

Because sexual assault is not okay.

It never will be.

And I will not remain silent any longer.

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