I was sitting in civics class my senior year of high school. My teacher said, “Amanda, looking hot as usual, I see.” I was mortified. I slunk out as soon as the bell rang. “See you tomorrow, Amanda,” he called drawing my name out long and slow. I held on to my backpack strap with one hand and wiped my other on the frayed edge of my cut off jeans to wipe away the feeling of his stare.
Later I was told by an adult, “He’s entitled to say that. No harm.”
Guess he didn’t mean it like that.
Three months later I stood in a line for the bathroom at a party about four blocks from my house. I had not had anything to drink, but when a guy offered me a beer, I walked out to his car with him to get one. He raped me, saying as he thrust himself in me, “You like that?” About an hour later after gagging and biting him as he forced himself in my mouth, I was lying huddled between a car and the curb as the rumble of the car moved slowly through the neighborhood.
Later I was told there wasn’t enough to press charges. You were at a party. You walked to the car with him. What were you wearing? Had you been drinking?
Successful cases don’t look like that.
A year later I was a Rotary exchange student in Spain. I was standing against a wall waiting for my turn to order in a cafe. A man walked over to me, pressed his lips almost close enough to touch my ear and told me, “You better be careful with that neck, you never know what it will do to a man.”
Later I was told, “You should be grateful. He was saying you were beautiful.”
Don’t be frigid, don’t you like men?
A few years later I was studying in Mexico. Every day on my way to the school I would pass a garage where the workers would call things to me, “Look at those legs” and “You keep walking by but you never stop, come in here.” One day when I got back to my host family’s house I explained that I talked back to them and told them to leave me alone or I’d use the legs that they watch so closely to kick them.
“Amanda, you cannot say these things. You have to let them talk. Now we must apologize.”
Don’t resist like that, it makes them angry.
Ten years ago I was standing on my front porch talking to a friend about a couple of guys at work framing me to cover the laziness and incompetence of a co-worker. “It’s crap,” I said. “I bust my ass and they—”
“Shhh, be more quiet. You can’t talk like that,” he told me.
You can be mad, but not like that, not so loud.
I’m in my 40s now, the overt sexual come-ons are not as intense or as frequent, but I have meetings where men stare at my breasts rather than meeting my eyes or they listen to me talk and then turn to a man in the room to have my statements qualified. I have learned to navigate in ways that keep people from telling me to be quiet or to settle down. I understand that I don’t just have to size up people; I have to anticipate how they will react to me, because time and again society has taught me that I am responsible for men’s actions.
My yes for one thing negates my no for another.
Don’t be loud.
Don’t be cold.
Be pretty, but be careful.
I have three daughters and what I hear over and over, “Oh, you’re in for trouble,” and I think, “No, I’m not. Fuck you.” I don’t say it, though. I smile sweetly and say, “Thank you.”
Don’t make them angry.
Many say, “Does your husband have a rifle ready?” and I think, “You think it’s cute to look at a grade school age child and think about sex?” I let a slow smile spread across my face and laugh delicately.
Don’t be frigid.
I got a call from my eldest daughter’s school one day after she ran out of the gym during a dance. I asked what happened. They told me that there was a situation that involved a boy wanting to talk to her. I asked what the problem was and was told that she had run away from the boy. I asked what they were doing about it. They said they were questioning my daughter. “And the boy?” I asked. They were not talking to him. “She should have let him talk to her. He just wanted to tell her something.” I took a deep breath, made my tone even, and said, “But when does her desire not to talk with the boy become as important as his desire to talk to her?” Silence. “Will you be talking to him?” They answer weakly, something about staffing and the day being nearly done, and maybe my daughter will calm down and feel differently.
The cycle repeats as if nothing has changed.
I understand that I must teach my daughters that in our culture they are responsible for their actions and the actions of the men and boys around them. All the lessons they have been taught about right and wrong, kindness, respect, and standing up for yourself will be thrown out the window. It is easier to manage the girls. It is less complicated to focus on what the girls are doing. Experience suggests that I need to teach them to be quiet, to not talk back, to not allow their bodies to incite actions that will be their fault, to keep themselves safe.
I wish I had a tidy ending for this, but I am a woman in a society that thinks we are here for entertainment. I want to tell my daughters it doesn’t have to be like this, but this is what it is. I clench my teeth and breathe through flaming cheeks as I teach them both sides. Because I want them to have everything that they want, but I also want them to have their eyes open. They need to understand that injustice persists.
I wish I didn’t think that speaking up and teaching my daughters to do the same would end up with us getting hurt, but I do. I want to be braver, but I don’t trust my life or my daughters’ to be valued more than men’s freedom to do whatever they please.
Men will touch what isn’t theirs and be protected.
Men will demand gratitude for unwanted attention.
Men will label, discount, and judge women differently.
Society and women will side with them; them being men, not my daughters. That’s the world I grew up in, it’s the world I live in now, and it’s the world I have to prepare my daughters to occupy.
I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t want to be like that.
I can’t let it continue, not like that. I have to find a way.
Tagged: daughters, feminism, rape culture
Amanda, this is incredibly powerful. Thank you for turning these incredibly scary and painful experiences into wisdom. Of course you are angry, but it’s a powerful and protective fire.
As the mother of 2 boys I was shocked by this. If Oliver ran away from a girl at a dance he would be labeled shy or “just being a boy.” This double standard has gone on for too long. I am very clear with my boys that no means no. At their ages, no usually refers to not wanting to share Legos.But having been a girl, I know that we need to be raising men who will break these oppressive – and terrible – traditions. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing.
I’ll readily admit that parenting three kids, owning a business, and working at my marriage make these kinds of reflections few and far between. I’m trying to do it more, because I can’t do it all, but the more I try to consider where I’ve been and how that can be in any way helpful, the more tools I feel like I have—even if it means saying, “Girls, this one is pretty complicated and unfair.”
I love that you read and consider my words. xo
Speechless and in pain. I want to find a way with you. xo
Thanks, Tracy. Adore you, let’s do this.
Gut punch. Amanda, your writing evoking a physical response is astonishing. My heart breaks. Things have got to continue to change. Aaron Mitchell is right. The confidence that comes from being able to physically defend ones self is empowering. I am thinking that that recourse might have been a problem with your Civics teacher.
Yes. Thank you for sharing. I too seek to find this balance between my girls knowing what’s up/how the world works with feeling empowered to move about the world freely.
As you figure things out, please don’t be afraid to share. We all need it.
Thank you for this. The otherwise nice guys I worked with would turn into Neanderthals when anyone was having a daughter. “You’lll be fighting them off.” “It’s payment for all your misdeeds.” “Karma, dude.” I asked them once if they were equally worried about the boys’ virginity. Nah. They hoped their boys would be studs. *facepalm*
It’s almost like a reflex, “Oh, this scenario, for this I am supposed to whip out the lame protect your daughter joke.” It’s that reflex and the sort of mindless perpetuating of responses that bothers me. I saw a clip about racism and the man explained the difference between non and anti, essentially saying that if you are silent you aren’t anti anything. I am ready to be anti various kinds of BS. Thank you for coming over to read this.
I talk, often, with my boys, on this: I tell them all of this. I need them to see women as of value. And I am so sorry for the things that have happened to you, my friend Amanda.
I know that you are raising beautiful human beings. I am grateful for that just about every day, truly! Another thing I will work on with the girls is knowing that we are more than what has happened to us. I am fine. Standing tall and seeing straight.
I am crying as i read this because it is so true, so real. I have a daughter and a son. I have told them both, equally, that no one has the right to ignore another person’s humanity. I wanted them to always be aware that projecting desires or expectations on to another is wrong. And they know that there is never never an acceptable reason to ignore a “no.”
Thank you. I suppose one of the things I am figuring out is that I want my daughters to know that sometimes people in positions of authority don’t know what is best or who is telling the truth. A slippery slope, all of it.
That is a hard and complicated one to figure out. I’m wondering the same.
You and your words are powerful.
Thank you, Nina. I think sometimes it takes lining up all the little things to see the bigger picture, it can reveal blessings and it can reveal that there are longstanding problems. It means a lot that you take the time to read and reflect.
I had a conversation with my 9-year-old son last night after he kept tormenting our dog. It’s always this way. At first they’re both having fun. Then it goes on too long or gets too rough. The dog is miserable and whining but my boy keeps at it.
I stop him over and over and over again, tell him to listen to what her body and her dog-voice are saying.
Last night, I tried a different approach. I said, What if we let some older uncle come live with us? What if that uncle loved to wrestle? What if you and he had a blast doing it, but then you started not to like it, or he was hurting you, or you just simply wanted to stop, and you said so, and he said, “But it’s fun! We’re just playing!” How would it feel if you wanted to stop and he wouldn’t? And what if I was there when you were being ignored, and I just laughed it off, saying “It’s okay, it’s just play, everyone’s having fun”?
I don’t know if he got it or if he ever will get it. But we’re going to keep talking about it, over and over and over again.
Dear Amanda, thank you for sharing. I am grateful that I am in my early 50’s now and the cat calling has stopped!! I must admit that writing that makes me very sad and angry. Sad because I don’t want my daughter to hate being young and loving herself and not being self conscious about what she’s wearing…I hear myself saying to her that she cant’ wear a particular item of clothes because as she matures she is developing beautiful curves; and angry that I am training her at 11 to already start protecting men from their “uncontrollable” base urges. I have been telling my son that when someone no matter who they are says “no”, and that when he says “no”, they mean it …I hope that he will be respectful of everyone. My husband made a comment when our daughter was born about getting a rifle…I was horrified that he was already thinking about this, and he said “I’ve been a boy”. I want my son to be more respectful than his father and my daughter to be stronger than her mother.
m standing here in my kitchen with chills running up and down my back. I just read this raw post and I’m rigid with adrenaline and tearful with rage and compassion – for you, and for all of the women and girls who are raped and harassed and shamed and silenced. For our daughters who will learn this lesson one way or another (my heart hopes not physically) but they won’t be silenced or shamed with mothers like us who have their backs and will hold our heads up high alongside theirs.
I taught self defense classes to women and children for years and heard many awful stories, but I also saw amazing feats of strength, of girls and women taking back their power and their voices, of kicking the crap out of the male instructor in his padded assailant suit. It was some of the most important work I ever did. One day my children will take those classes, but I start now by teaching them that they are in charge of their bodies and their voices.
Thank you for this kick ass post.
As a 40-something woman, this resonated. I suspect most every 40-something women have experienced many, if not all, of the bleak situations you describe. Now I’ve got 3 sons. They watched me flip out on my husband’s brother a few years ago for jokingly referring to one of his friends as a pussy. (This was maybe a month after San Bernadino at the inception of #yesallwomen). I unleashed about the message that sends his own wife and daughters, me, his mother (all were in the room) – girls/women are less; girls/women are weak; being female is bad. I unleashed about the message that sends my sons – boys/men are better; boys/men are stronger; being female is bad. I’ve had such great conversations with my sons over the years and my oldest (14) is now a proud, outspoken feminist. He wrote a paper and gave a presentation in his freshman language arts class in support of feminism and he was shocked at the misogynistic comments and attitudes of his peers. I admit, at age 14-15, I am too. I thought we as a society were making progress. I’ll keep doing my part because clearly those of us raising sons have some serious work to do.
Very powerful. And as a man I am sorry for the way many men perceive women. I live in a beautiful, small country in Europe (Croatia), which struggles with these issues on a daily basis.
You are changing the world Amanda. Bit by bit.
Best to you and your family.
I sincerely hope that your daughters are or will be taking martial arts lessons.
Empowering your daughters emotionally is one thing, but as your own story tells us, physical defenses are also needed. Men are and will continue to be fallible human beings. Even without the crushing weight of centuries of male domination and overt chauvinism, there will always be those weak people who allow their hormones and brain chemicals to overpower their humanity. We must prepare to meet these misguided fools head on.
When your daughters are cat called (and they will be), I hope they never break stride, confident in their ability to kick ass if necessary.
I wasn’t taught this. But then again, I wasn’t taught there was a difference. I knew my mother was a superhero. She looked out for us, and also was a full time Rn.
I know the societal differences. They’re seen daily. I don’t remain silent when I see it in front of me. I share what I can, including things like this.
I don’t go for feminism and all that because it’s (to me) just adding more labels where fewer are desperately needed.
Sure there’s differences. The world would be really boring if men and women were clones of each other. But the most fun comes from those your respect.
Thanks for the share. When we’re old and grey and if society falls apart, you get my vote for shaman. 🙂
I love you. Your fierceness. Your spirit. You. Do not be quiet. Do not allow your girls to endure what we have for the sake of people.