I am not sure what men sensed about me that made it okay for them to violate my space–especially as a child. I could say that it was a spiritual issue, but that would be blaming the victim. No child can be held responsible for what a grown man does to them. I could say it was because I was a step-child, but my dad raised me pretty good and never harmed me intentionally. Most people thought he was my real dad–we are the same shade of brown, and he married my mom when I was 3. I could say that it was because of my father leaving me and never being a part of my life, but I had plenty of other good men step into that place starting with my dad, my uncle, my pastor, and others in the community who never encroached on my being.
The truth is that we have allowed ourselves to become inured to men assaulting young girls (I won’t speak on young boys because I am not one. I am only speaking through the lens of my experience.) We expect men to act this way, creating a plethora of sayings that give boys and men an excuse to assault us. Boys will be boys. Sowing his wild oats. A man gone be a man. We take things that makes us uncomfortable–the catcalling, the unwanted touching, the sexual innuendos–and turn them into badges of honor. We should want this attention, right? It validates us, huh?
But we do not naturally want this kind of attention. It lacks intimacy. It strips us of our true value. It conditions us to accept abuse as love. And not speaking out against it cosigns the behavior until it feels natural. It demonstrates to young boys that hurting us is okay; it emboldens grown men to act carelessly towards young girls.
Rather than allowing harrassment to be the norm, it is our job as women to stand up to the sexual bullying and for everyone to raise our children right: raise our girls to speak up and speak out and raise our boys to respect and protect.
I have become the person I needed in my own life as a child. I am the voice for girls everywhere, stepping into the void and speaking loudly for the rights and worth of women everywhere. I have made it my business to teach my girls to speak up and speak out for themselves and other little girls. I check in with them, making sure that we norm the interactions they have that I don’t see–what is harrassing behavior to them? What is it to me? What is the median in our household? We talk about it, and things that hit that scale of definitely harrassment I address and teach them how to address. Things that hit the gray zone means that the conversation turns into them using their best judgment. My goal is always teaching them above all else to value themselves highly and to protect that value. Dad Spencer adds to the mix by standing up for them now. He openly checks boys and men who do disrespectful, inappropriate things in public spaces. He teaches them, from a male perspective, what girls should and should not accept. I spend my days at work explaining, calling out, and correcting behaviors that perpetuate the wrong that I (and many other children) experienced growing up.