I received an email from a woman named Elizabeth regarding my post Speaking Around Rape and it contained such useful insight that I am reprinting portions of her email here with the permission of the author who has asked to be identified by her first name only.
We condition girls from the very start. Then we tell them to get over everything, including the conditioning.
I am the mother of two daughters, age 10 and 6. My older daughter was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome when she was very young, and as a result I have paid close attention to the process of how girls are socialized -- closer than I think I might normally have, even as a mother of daughters. It was with my younger daughter, though, that I had the lightning flash moment of insight into the sort of silent suffering described in your post, and how it might begin.
When she was a toddler, a couple lived across the street whose only child was a boy the same age as my younger girl. His method of saying hello to my daughter involved jabbing at her with his fists or hands, pushing her down or grabbing her roughly.
When this sort of thing happens the first time you meet a kid that age, boy or girl, it's not unheard of to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even the sweetest-natured two-year-old might be aggressive if they're short a nap or a meal. The second and third times, it's obviously a problem that needs addressing.
The mother of this particular boy would address it by saying, "Oh, that wasn't nice, say you're sorry." The boy would mutter "Sorry," and nothing would change. Because of this, play dates stopped after the third or fourth time -- the behavior was escalating, was clearly a pattern and I wasn't making headway with getting the parent to see it was wrong.
On the last get-together with my daughter, this boy and another boy, the aggressor kid got my daughter IN A HEADLOCK. No doubt about it -- he was throttling her. She protested, pushed him off and ran to me, crying and saying, "X is a bad boy! He's mean!" (Or something of that sort.)
The other two mothers came hovering in to comfort her, but their idea of comfort was an eye opener: "Oh, honey. Don't cry. He's not mean. Stop crying. He's not bad. He didn't mean to hurt you. He doesn't know any better. Boys play rough sometimes. You're not hurt. You'll be all right."
Those words are not paraphrases. I might not have the order exact after four years, but I remember the words very clearly. And I remember thinking: Well. My kid's just been caught in a headlock and all their energy is being spent explaining to her that it's *not a big deal.* That's interesting.
What I said was, "You know, I don't think it's her job to worry about why he did it. She's not all right, she's pretty upset right now and we're going home." He probably was coaxed into another meaningless apology but it really didn't matter at that point, we were done. And at home I made a point of telling my daughter that he WAS being bad and it WAS wrong, and that's why we weren't playing with him any more.
I think the reason I was able to have this epiphany was that by this time, I'd already had some eye-opening encounters involving my older girl. She is not a hugger, wasn't even cuddly as a baby. Maybe it's Asperger Syndrome/sensory defensiveness. Maybe she just doesn't like the damn hugs. She's a loving kid without hugging, but grownups took her distaste for hugs VERY personally. Her kindergarten teacher actually complained to me about it. Apparently it was the woman's habit to hug each child at dismissal time, and my older daughter would recoil and say, "Please don't hug me."
I was pleased she articulated her feelings so well -- hey, the speech-language therapy paid off! But to her teacher, she was being unacceptably standoffish -- strange, even. It was something that needed looking into. I asked, "But isn't it impolite to hug somebody without their permission?" And I pointed out that it was going to be pretty weird to square this with the "Don't let anyone touch you without your permission" lecture, which is also mandated for kindergartners. See, I said, she's AS, and she's very logical about this stuff. To her, permission is permission. It doesn't get waived just because it's you.
We sell little girls this bill of goods ALL THE TIME. *It's your job to be huggable.* And worse: *You're not really hurt.* *What happened didn't really matter.* *Your job is to be nice, forgive, play nice.*
And of course, triplicate that message if it comes from a person of high authority or social standing.
Then, I guess when they hit puberty, we expect them to develop assertiveness, aggression and a huge sense of personal boundaries, apparently overnight. Otherwise they're whores.
No wonder that poor kid [who wrote the anonymous letter to the editor] didn't know what to do except suffer. No wonder that when she does speak out, she can barely find the words. It's how we train them.
Thank you, Elizabeth.
Labels: Violence Against Women