I’ve been saddened over the past few weeks to read the #MeToo stories of women abused by Harvey Weinstein and others. And that sadness has deepened into grief as women I know personally have added their names to the #MeToo list. My heart hurts to think of the pain they’ve had to carry because of what they’ve experienced.
A few years ago, I listened to the audio version of Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants. It’s filled with humor and great stories, but it also leans into the darkness at times. And one of those dark parts has stuck with me ever since. Fey writes that the rite of passage from being a girl to being a woman has nothing to do with birthdays or family in most cases. It is often the result of sexualized comments by men. And this is pretty much across the board in America.
Almost everyone first realized they were becoming a grown woman when some dude did something nasty to them. “I was walking home from ballet and a guy in a car yelled, ‘Lick me!'” “I was babysitting my younger cousins when a guy drove by and yelled, ‘Nice ass’.” There were pretty much zero examples like “I first knew I was a woman when my mother and father took me out to dinner to celebrate my success on the debate team.” It was mostly men yelling shit from cars. Are they a patrol sent out to let girls know they’ve crossed into puberty? (Bossypants, 2011)
My daughter was going through puberty at the time the book came out and the above quote kept bouncing around in my head. I knew I couldn’t keep her from hearing the sexualized comments of nasty dudes. But I could help her be strong and confident in other potentially dangerous situations.
She told me of a boy who kept asking her for a hug, which made her feel uncomfortable. So, we talked about ways to let him know this was a nonnegotiable topic. The next time he asked, she said loudly so others could hear, “That’s not our kind of relationship.” She then hit him hard enough in the shoulder so it would hurt but added with a laugh and a smile so his friends would think it was friendly punch, “That’s more like it.”
Her message: I’m strong. I’m loud. I will hurt and embarrass you if you do that again.
Boys have fragile egos, I told her. Don’t embarrass them unnecessarily. But if they know you will embarrass them if necessary, they’ll leave you alone. Refusing to be meek and silent is essential to dealing with those who start to cross the line.
How girls and women communicate with boys and men is important. And my daughter has had little trouble over the past six years because of the strength and confidence she radiates. Predators always prefer what they believe is easy prey.
But it’s with males that the root of the problem lies. If men behaved properly with women, there would be no #MeToo movement.
So, I haven’t just talked with my daughter. I’ve talked with my sons as well.
First of all, I confessed some bad behavior when I was in junior high. At the end of one year, I told them, my friends and I thought it was funny to pinch girls’ butts. It wasn’t funny. It was stupid and wrong. And even though I only did it a few times, I’m ashamed I did it at all. I wish I could apologize to those girls for my terrible behavior, but I’m glad it didn’t continue after that.
If you find yourself crossing a line like that, I told my boys, stop yourself as quickly as possible, apologize immediately, do whatever you can to make amends, tell me or someone else about it, and don’t do it again.
Silence is deadly here. It not only isolates women who have experienced abuse by men, it isolates the men as well. Confession is essential to behavior change. And the sooner boys and young men can stop and confess what they’ve done, the more likely they are to make a change.
I told my boys that treating women with respect starts at home. How can they expect to treat their future wives and other women with respect if they don’t treat their mother (and sister) with respect?
We talked about porn and how looking at sexualized images of women on the internet turns women into sexual objects for things to be done to rather than complex and wonderful people to be in relationship with.
We talked about not letting their friends get away with bad behavior toward girls, that seeing something wrong being done requires them to do something right, even if it’s uncomfortable.
These conversations with my daughter and my sons are on-going. I want them to be a part of a #NotMe generation of boys who grow up into men who don’t abuse women; a #NotMe generation of girls who grow up into women who don’t have to carry the weight of having been abused.
I know that it starts in the home. In my home. With me. I’m the Dad. I’m the man who shows my sons how to treat women by the way I treat my wife and my daughter. I’m the man who shows my daughter how she ought to be treated.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance.”
How men and women interact in the small things — at home, at school, at work, at church, in the grocery store — will determine if we continue creating new #MeToo stories or if we can become a #NotMe kind of people.