“Strong women – may we be them, may we know them, may we raise them.” ~ Unknown
“I think back to my complicated relationship with my father and not fitting into the paradigm of his idea of what a girl should be and how, in his disappointment of me, it had so deeply affected me in regards to how I valued myself. In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t rely on anybody else telling me I was worthwhile. And it was in that split second that I made the decision that I was worth saving.“~ Annie Bradley
Donald Trump is repulsive. Still, I thank him. His confounding presence as the Republican nominee is forcing us to face the ugly truth about just how deeply-rooted toxic, masculine entitlement and misogyny is in America, and the serious ways it affects girls and women.
In the aftermath of the public exposure of Trump’s unguarded words with Billy Bush about how he views and treats women, writer Kelly Oxford created #notokay on Twitter and invited women to share stories of their first sexual assault. Within days, 27 million tweets were associated with that hashtag. So, thank you Trump, for unwittingly kick-starting this conversation by bragging about pussy grabbing. It’s overdue.
I have a few stories of my own. I can think of at least four times I was groped by men who were strangers or relative strangers to me. More seriously, I also had one experience of date rape. If you are a woman, I’m guessing you have similar stories.
I wish I could tell you I responded boldly to those men – loudly calling them out, not letting them get away with having just trampled the bounds of common decency with me. Instead, I wondered with embarrassment if I’d done something to bring the situation on myself. Because, make no mistake, that’s what results when girls steep in a culture infused so strongly with male entitlement. How could it be otherwise in an atmosphere where, no matter how clear-cut the facts of a criminal rape or sexual assault case may be, the victim is almost always slut-shamed or treated in a way that implies she deserved what she got?
I wish I’d had the guts to punch those guys in the face. I would’ve been within my rights to do so. But I didn’t because A. I was shocked those situations were happening at all, and B. the self-preservation part of my brain was afraid something worse might happen to me if I physically lashed out, even with a justified response to someone touching me intimately without my consent. Size matters, and I don’t have it on my side. As Margaret Atwood has said: “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
If you have daughters (or women in your life who you love) you should listen to Annie Bradley’s powerful and sobering story from the episode of the Strangers podcast called Worth Saving. It’s amazing because despite having been told her whole life by her father that she shouldn’t have the audacity to consider herself or the space she took up in the world as anything more than ancillary to men, she somehow managed to reject his message that she had no agency.
“I always had an opinion. I was never afraid of voicing it but there comes a time when that becomes perceived as wilfulness. Both my parents are very deeply religious and conservative. So, when I got into high school, I started to have sort of a disconnect between myself and [my father’s] version of what women are supposed to do and what women are supposed to be. I remember when I was a teenager and we were having one of our frequent arguments and he said: ‘You know, some day some man is going to have to save you like I saved your mother, from, you know, having an opinion and being willful.’
Here I was…a good kid. I told the truth. I was ethical. I was like an excellent student. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t party. But no matter how hard I tried at being what I thought would make my family happy, it never really seemed to make my father satisfied because, even though I did all of those things, I still had an opinion. And really at that time in my life I was struggling with that a lot. Am I lovable…if I choose not to be the person that you would like me to be?”
Unfortunately, that probably makes her an outlier because I think most women do the opposite, internalizing that kind of message and moving into a self-imposed cage and pulling the door shut behind them for the rest of their lives.
In a pivotal moment, Annie fought for herself while traveling in Europe, as she was pinned down and about to be gang-raped after accidentally walking through a train car full of drunken soldiers while on her way to find a bathroom.
“And I couldn’t really get my arm out but I could move it down the side of my body and I could feel the knife. And I grabbed the knife. I pulled it out and flipped the [switch] blade. His face was so close to my face and [he had] this look of glee, like it was a game. And his body was probably 6 inches over top of mine and I realized that the only that thing I could do was to drive the knife upwards and pull it toward me. So that’s what I did. I drove the knife upwards and just like when you cut a piece of fruit or anything else, you can feel the resistance. You can feel that it is doing something that cannot be reversed, and yet, there was no hesitation. I wanted to make them stop. I felt warmth all across my hips and the guy on top of me slumped over me…I have a feeling he died… I’m not a person that believes in violence, but I believe the capacity for violence and darkness exists in all of us. And I made a choice that I would make again.”
I’m not espousing violence, but there are times and situations that call for protecting oneself without flinching. In those cases, in this case, it meant meeting their violating energy with a decisive energy of her own. Had it been my own daughter in that circumstance, I hope she would have had the wherewithal to stand for herself in such a strong-willed way.
Of course, if you have boys, you should listen to that podcast episode too, and then maybe watch this TED talk by Jackson Katz called”Violence Against Women – It’s a Men’s Issue. Then ask yourself what you are teaching your sons about consent and the respectful treatment of women. Are you slapping them on the back and rolling your eyes because you think women just need to lighten up and boys will be boys and this is just “locker room talk”? Because I’ll tell you what, if you haven’t bothered to teach your son the meaning of the word “no”, I don’t want him ANYWHERE near my daughters.
Back to this crazy election, Donald Trump, and the vitriol oozing out of it…when I see male hysteria in response to a powerful woman, this quote comes to mind:
“[W]hen a woman becomes an authoritative figure it scares the world. She is no longer giving in to traditional patriarchal notions of submissiveness, she does not require validation, and subsequently she becomes one of the most feared individuals on the planet. I want all women of the world to throw out notions of validation and act whichever way they want regardless of how they are perceived.” ~ Mohadesa Najumi