|Photo is of a smiling 11-year old girl named Snugglebug, |
with shoulder-length brown hair and sunglasses,
standing on a balcony with a pond, green lawn,
and trees visible in the background.
Monday afternoon, the girls and I took a walk to the nearby grocery store. Snugglebug and Curlytop took turns pushing Pumpkin in the stroller, and we caught Pokemon along the way.
As we transitioned from the sidewalk to the parking lot, a truck slowed down. The thirtysomething driver rolled down his window, and said, "Hey, baby..." while making eye contact with Snugglebug.
She's 11, y'all.
She plays with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and plays Minecraft and Animal Jam.
She doesn't want to wear makeup, even though some of her peers do, and if I can get her to brush her hair in the morning, I consider it a victory.
This is not a kid who has been sexualized, or pushes the boundaries of age-appropriate behavior or appearance.
And... she was pissed.
"THAT GUY JUST CALLED ME 'BABY.' HE TALKED TO ME LIKE I WAS HIS GIRLFRIEND. THAT IS NOT OKAY!"
I hadn't heard the exchange. I was talking to Curlytop when it occurred. I'd seen the truck slow down, but assumed it was slowing because the driver was being cautious of us pedestrians.
If I'd heard it, I would have lost my Jesus with that man.
I agreed with her, and I told her that sometimes, "putting up the middle finger" at someone is an acceptable response.
Yeah. I gave my kid permission to flip off an adult.
She mentioned the offense several times during our shopping, and several more times on the walk back home.
"What was I even doing? Why did he do that?"
"I think he was looking at my butt." (She was wearing sweatpants and a baggy sweatshirt. She didn't even feel her butt was safe from his violating gaze in sweatpants, y'all.)
"That made me really uncomfortable."
"No adult man should talk to a kid like that."
She's right, you know.
And, as furious as I was at the grown-ass man who took it upon himself to sexualize my baby, I was dedicated to letting her speak her mind, and to process it, with me as a sounding board.
As she did so, I realized something:
- At her age, my two best friends and I had already been molested by my sixth grade teacher. When we told the principal, our teacher was forced to apologize for any "misunderstanding," and we were sent back into his classroom every single day for more abuse, until the end of the school year.
- At her age, those catcalls from grown men in my community were commonplace. We girls were told to ignore it, and we learned to giggle and roll our eyes.
- At her age, one time when I was riding my bike, a grown man yelled out, "Life would be so sweet if my face was that bicycle seat!" I didn't know what he meant until years later, and when I realized, I was retroactively grossed out, ashamed, and embarrassed. There were several other men standing with him, and they all laughed. No one admonished him.
- At her age, I'd already had one man expose his erect penis to me when I got separated from my mom in Kmart. After I found my mom and we reported it to store security, we were told that the man had mental health issues, and probably didn't know what he was doing.
- At her age, I'd been told so many times to change behaviors that weren't "ladylike," I was already self-conscious of everything I did in view of adults and peers.
- At her age, I'd already learned that being objectified was part of my female life, and the sooner I learned to accept it, the less painful life would be.
- At her age, I lived in a strange, dichotomous world where I played with Cabbage Patch Dolls, read Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and climbed trees, but also had my breasts and thighs stroked by a grown man.
- At her age, I learned that anger and outrage weren't feminine, but silence and submission were.
- At her age, I learned that the attention of grown men was something I couldn't escape, so I had to learn to accept it.
And you know what?
I renewed my vow that my daughters will never be 11-year old me.
No one will ever tell my daughters they're overreacting to the bad actions of grown men.
No one will ever tell them to "get over it," or "just ignore it."
No one will ever tell them that being objectified is part of female life, and the sooner they accept it, the less painful life will be.
My daughters are the owners of their bodies, and they get to protect those bodies.
Snugglebug was outraged because she knows her body is hers, and when someone objectifies her, they are the one in the wrong.
She was outraged because that man treated her with a level of familiarity she had not given him permission to use.
She was outraged because she had not done anything to call attention to herself, yet received it, anyway.
She was angry because she knows she is a child, and she knows that adults who sexualize children are gross, and capable of criminal sexual violence. (She reminded me that her plan -- if any adult man ever tried to touch her body without permission -- was to "kick him in the balls, as hard as I can, and get away while he's on the ground in pain," and I applauded.)
She was angry because she was just trying to enjoy a walk with her mom and sisters, and some grown-ass man had to ruin it for her.
She was angry because she has every right to be.
My daughters will never be 11-year old me.
Anger and outrage, today, to me, are no longer anti-feminine.
Appropriately applied, they are the epitome of feminine power, and I won't allow my girls to be silenced into submission.
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