Monday, May 26, 2014

The Danger of Just Being Female

The #yesallwomen hashtag has me thinking, which is exactly the point. I'm part of the fortunate minority of women who have never been the victim of sexual assault, but I certainly fear it every day (whenever I'm walking alone at night or in a darkened parking garage or anywhere quiet where I could be cornered and overpowered or even when I let a repairman into my house to fix something when I'm alone). And because I have a young daughter, I fear the possibility of someone attacking her every second of every day. That may sound dramatic or ridiculous, but it's true. I fear it every day, an almost physical pain that seizes me every time she leaves the house. Because it could be anyone. A coach. A teacher. A friend's parent, uncle, grandparent. And, sadly, even a family member. I protect myself by being hyper-vigilant (walking with keys sticking out between my fingers so I can aim for the eyes or throat if attacked, locking the car door the instant I get inside, avoiding men if I'm walking alone, identifying escape routes if confronted suddenly, etc.) but protecting my daughter is tricky. When she was very little, I simply didn't let her out of my sight. Easy peazy. But once school aged, what then? How does a mother educate a daughter to protect herself without tacitly placing the responsibility for future attacks on her and not her male attacker? I don't know that there's a way to do that, not really, not with society informing her that if she gets drunk at a party or shows up wearing a short enough skirt, she's fair game. Not with the 'bros before hos' mentality we have going in conjunction with slut-shaming and prude-bashing. It's a no-win situation, so I teach my daughter how to protect herself at parties, at school, and in life in general though it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.

And when I say I was never sexually assaulted, that doesn't mean I wasn't almost assaulted. Here's just one example: in high school, I had a cross country coach who started getting a little too handsy with a few girls on the team, me included. I went to my mother and, together with 1 other girl (her parents didn't show up and most of the other girls didn't want to speak out, one even went so far as to try to shame us into not talking, 'what about his family', 'he's not really hurting us', and other such bullshit), we went to talk to the vice principal, who was friends with the coach, it turned out. We told the VP that the coach would continue to hug and touch the girls after we asked him to stop. The VP's response? 'Oh, I hug students all the time.' My mom's response? 'You hug students even after they ask you to stop?' Well, of course he didn't do that, but he still didn't see the issue. My mom wasn't having it and she demanded the VP take action. His idea of action? To tell the girls we couldn't run in just sports bras and shorts anymore, as that was drawing the unwanted attention (not from the other teenage boys on the team, mind you, but from a coach in his 40s). Because it was clearly our fault that some perv coach was putting his hands on us. Well, we made a big enough stink that the coach was forced to leave the team, although he was still good to coach girls basketball in the winter despite those girls making similar accusations. Cut to a few years later, this guy was fired and convicted for raping a handicapped student. Class act. I wonder, was that girl wearing a sports bra when it happened? What exactly did she do to bring on that 'unwanted attention'? This is just one example of the kind of shit that happens every day...and that's in a country where women are treated 'equally'. And I'm supposed to let my kid go to college one day when I barely feel safe walking the streets myself?

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