I’ve started and stalled on this post so many times, shoving it into the drafts folder because it just wasn’t working. I tried so many ways to make it light and funny and as it turns out, the problem is that it’s just NOT FUCKING FUNNY.
In the wake of our nation’s most recent mass shooting (though who knows. I haven’t been on the internet in 15 minutes and at the rate tragedies occur these days, it could be the second most recent by now) by an individual who believed women owed him something, I have to get words down about it. For me, for my daughter, and every woman who wakes up to face a world that views her as less than-and for my son who deserves to live in a society that expects more of him.
I was 15 the first time I remember it happening. Walking with my 13 year old sister in front of my parents down the boardwalk at the Jersey shore, I missed the actual cat call but heard my mother growl, “they’re TEENAGERS. Get a life.” You’d think being called out for being a perv by the parent of underage girls you harassed right in front of them should be enough to make you take a good hard look at yourself. Though it stands to reason Pierced Nipples McGee didn’t specialize in self-reflection.
It’s been fifteen years since then, and I’ve lost count of the “hey baby”‘s, the wolf whistles, the hanging out car window leers, and too close dancers who can’t take a hint. I do know the grand total of times a polite goodbye to a man I met on the dance floor resulted in his putting my extended hand onto his junk is a staggering ONE time, which is 100% more times than I’m ok with. While I wish I could report that I recoiled and punched him right where he thought I’d be interested, I just sort of drew my arm back with a horrified gasp before quickly turning around to leave. Be it the low light, the loud music, the drink that I had, I tried to rationalize that it was an accident. A hand shake gone awry. Yet, all factors considered, the amount of times someone has gone in to shake my hand and I’ve *oops!* shoved it in my crotch stands at ZERO.
It’s a sad fact that my girlfriends and I could sit around and swap stories of sexual harassment and run out of drinks before we run out of incidents to recount. Sadder still that those mentioned above are just the mild, every day versions-the ones that happen on a walk around the block (while pushing a toddler), on the beach surrounded by families, or sitting at a crowded restaurant on a Tuesday night. I’ve never been drugged, raped or assaulted, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 16% of women in our country have.
My daughter is two. She is generally even tempered, gentle, and kind. There have been a few occasions where she swiped something from a friend’s hand, smacked me in the face while having a fit, or pinched the shit out of her brother for not heeding her requests. While I’ve obviously dealt with it swiftly and made it clear that it was unacceptable, I’ve secretly relished it deep down, almost every time. Thinking, perhaps in some sort of reverse gender bias, that eventually that sort of spunk will serve her well. She doesn’t take any shit, and mercy on anyone who is dull enough to think she would.
That said, it’s one of my greatest regrets of motherhood that I did not allow myself that clarity when my son was a toddler. He too was generally even tempered, gentle, and kind. But I viewed his rare outbursts of aggression as just that. Aggressive. Disrespectful. Mean. I saddled him with this notion that this must be some sort of male baseline and left ignored, would fester into a grown man who bossed around his wife and shouted things like, “I’D TAP THAT!” to female passers by. While I can see now that it’s a great leap from biting me in the ass because I wouldn’t buy him a cookie to domestic violence, it terrified me then. I allowed what society taught me about males in general to overshadow what I knew about the men that mattered.
I’m smarter than that now. I see the way my son cares for his sister, putting her well being ahead of his own (well, like 89% of the time) and it’s clear the only baseline we have is love. Anything less is learned by example and molded by tolerance.
The clock has run out on tolerance.