Oh boy. I’m going to get in trouble for this one, I just know it. But I have had this knocking around in my head for a while now and I think it needs to be said.
Women play a role in supporting and continuing rape culture and a culture that emphasizes a woman’s worth is connected to her appearance. A big role, I think. And I think it’s not entirely our fault that we’re here. But here we are and if we want things to change we have to change ourselves, our fiction, our actions, everything.
First of all, when was the last time you crossed paths with a girl under the age of 5 years? I have a 4 year old daughter, a 3 year old niece, a 1 year old niece, and a 5 month old niece. I’m asking because this is where it starts. When you are introduced to a little girl, when you cross paths with one, when you eat at your friend’s house and they have kids, what do you say to that little girl?
I really like your hair/dress/shoes.
You look very pretty today.
Aren’t you a pretty/beautiful little girl.
Have you considered other ice-breakers? Like asking them what grade their in and if they like school/daycare? What is there favourite thing to do there? Do they have a pet?
I’m not against compliments. I believe women have to support each other in all ways so yes, we should say “You look great today” whenever the occasion calls for it. But when it’s always the first thing we say to our little girls, is it really helping them?
What about if you go out for coffee with a friend and their little girl is in overalls with grass stains? Is she still pretty? Does this change our conversation?
I have a daughter. She is strong willed to the point that I’m sure she’s feral and I’m sure either she or I will not survive the next 14 years. So long as her clothes are weather appropriate she has almost free reign over what she wears. She can wear dresses to school, or her brother’s hand me downs. She can watch princess movies, or Star Wars with her brother. She loves Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder and Hello Kitty and Dora the Explorer. And why not? Some days she wants a dancing dress and sparkly shoes. Some days she’s a ninja. It makes her smile when someone notices that she’s worn a pretty dress and comments on it. But then my family is awesome about asking her about school, and her reading practice, and her new bike too. They’re pretty balanced that way. And that balance is really what we need for our little girls.
Okay, my next point is going to address older teens and adults, mostly. I understand that our daughters are dating younger and younger these days. We are starting an international open conversation about consent. We want men to understand that no means no. We want our boundaries respected. We just don’t understand how we can be misunderstood. WEll, I understand how.
When I was in high school I was walking around with friends one day at lunch. One of the boys had an empty 500mL pop bottle and was smacking the girls on the butt with it. He did it repeatedly, even after they said no. He did it to me once and when I said no he stopped. So what was the difference here? Why did he stop for me and not for them?
Well, they were giggling. They were laughing. They were smiling and him and flirting with him. When they said “Stop” they whined, they pleaded, they made little ‘tee-hee’ sounds. When I said stop I turned around and kicked him in the knee and said “You do that again I’ll aim higher.” He didn’t do it again.
I don’t advocate violence but in this case it was extremely effective.
As girls we are taught to be polite. Even our ‘no’ has to be polite.
Not right now.
I don’t like it.
I’m tired of saying please. I’m tired of apologizing for not wanting to indulge a male in something. I don’t have to talk if I don’t want to. I don’t have to smile if I don’t want to. And I sure as hell don’t have to let some punk kid hit me on the ass with a pop bottle.
Now there are two issues here. First, SAY NO. Stop being over-polite with your declines. Stop making excuses for the way we feel. I’m not saying you need to swear at people or kick them in the knees. Use your mature responsible adult words. But be firm. Say no and stick to it. Say it over and over again, without excuses. “Because I said so” worked for our mothers when they were dealing with children. Can it work for us now too? Please?
Second – if you say no, mean it. Don’t say no if you want him to keep going. Don’t be coy. Don’t play hard to get. We are encouraging boys to pursue us and then we get mad when they can’t tell the difference between “No, I’m not interested” and “I’m saying no to see if you’ll give up or not.”
We have to stop this and this is on us as women, as teachers, as mothers. We must change this. When we want attention we should be free to flirt. We should be free to flirt without owing men access to our bodies. We should be free to be friendly without it being labelled flirting. And we get there by stopping the games.
When I was dating my husband we were out walking and splashing in the ditch. For some reason I was pouting and I stayed in that ditch, playing mad with him. He just shrugged and said, “Go ahead and sit there if you want. I didn’t do anything wrong so I’m not coming back to apologize.”
That was a wake up call for me and the first and only time I attempted that sort of manipulation over a man’s feelings. At least seriously. I still say silly things like “Don’t you love me anymore?” but I’m married and it’s a running joke between me and the man I have been with for a dozen years. But there are times when we fight and I think back to that day and I take a deep breath and go apologize because I was wrong, I overreacted, whatever because he made it very clear that he would not stand by and be manipulated into feeling guilty. (To be fair to my husband, when he’s wrong he apologizes as well and he does not play emotionally manipulative games with me).
The hard to get game doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s continuing the cycle of “chase me” and “I say no but I mean try harder” that is in full support of rape culture.
We want boys to understand that “no means no”? Well we have to teach girls the same thing. No means no. It doesn’t mean “try harder”. Because if we are sending mixed signals it’s that much harder for boys to know when we mean no.
How do we do this?
We change our movies. We change our books. We change the way we talk to our children about dating. Romance novels and romantic comedies are full of this type of behaviour. The hero is rewarded for ignoring the ‘no’ because he knows better, he knows she wants him. The girl tests and teases so he has to prove his love. Sure, it builds conflict, but can we have conflict over important things instead of falling back on tropes that encourage the type of miscommunication that fuels rape culture?