I’m angry that I live in a world where I never have to wonder if my daughters are going to be sexually harassed or assaulted. I’ve never wondered that. I have never stayed awake at night asking myself if men will treat them as objects, will degrade them, will talk down to them, will hurt them. I have never asked if.
I ask when. I ask who. I ask why, and how, and where.
How old will they be when this happens? Will they be 12, as I was, walking to the mall with a friend and counting how many honks or hollers we got? We were proud. We thought it was flattering. We were 12. We were children, and we looked like children. We were two young girls walking in broad daylight down a street we’d walked countless times. Being honked at, whistled at, hollered at by grown men as they drove by. And we thought it was flattering.
Will they be 17,as I was, afraid to tell anyone that a boy at school stuck his hand up their kilt? That he took her hand and forcefully put it on his penis? That he offered to give her a ride on a stormy day, but only if she blew him in his mother’s van? Will she come close to failing a class because she can’t bear to be in the same room as him?
Maybe they’ll be 18, as I was, held down by their boyfriend and raped because they tried to break up with him. Maybe they won’t tell anyone because it was their boyfriend, and they’d had sex before. They said yes once, that must mean yes always, right?
Could it happen when they’re 29 and they try being careless for the first time in their lives, as I was? Will they think to themselves, it’s happened so many times that there’s no way it could happen again, right? Statistically speaking, they’d be safe, right?
And maybe they’ll be 30, as I was, when they thought they were past all of that. When they’re happy with their lives, when they’re doing well. When they’ve grown into themselves and finally feel comfortable and at peace with exactly who they are. When they’ve embraced the strong feminist being within, when they’ve stood up for victims and protested attackers. When they’ve told more than one friend or family member, it’s not your fault. You did nothing wrong. You could be plastered and naked and no still means no. Maybe they’ll be at this point in their lives.
Maybe they’ll invite a friend over to watch a movie, and maybe they’ll have half a bottle of champagne left over from dinner. Maybe they know that this friend has been attracted to them in the past, but they’ve made it clear that they aren’t interested, and this friend had seemed accepting of that. Maybe this friend is married and has a child, and just genuinely seems like a nice person. And maybe that bottle of champagne is already open, and it’d be a shame to waste the bubbles.
Maybe their married friend holds them down while he touches them everywhere. Kisses them everywhere. Leaves his mark on their chest. Maybe this strong feminist breaks for the millionth time. Maybe she blames herself, after years of telling everyone else that it’s not their fault. Maybe she tells herself she shouldn’t have opened the champagne, or that she shouldn’t have worn a tank top, or that she shouldn’t have had the lights so low. If it had been brighter, maybe he wouldn’t have touched her. Maybe he thought she wanted it. Maybe he thought her protests were a game.
Maybe she has a boyfriend at this time, and maybe she is absolutely terrified to tell him. Maybe she’s afraid that he’ll see her differently, that he’ll think she’s weak, that he’ll think she cheated on him.
I don’t ever have to ask if. I ask how. How will it happen? Will it be crude comments at work, or catcalls on the street? I hope for these things. I hope for my daughters, my sweet and innocent little girls, to be the recipients of harassment disguised as compliments – because maybe that means they will not be held down by their throats by a friend, or threatened and injured by a date, or raped by a boyfriend because they dare to stand up for themselves. Maybe they’ll get the lesser of two evils.
But the thing is, the lesser of two evils is still evil. Maybe Phillip Garrido is less evil than Adolf Hitler, but I still wouldn’t want to have brunch with him. I want my girls to grow into strong, independent women and I want them to know what is and isn’t okay. I want them to know that you can still be strong and independent and have bad things happen to you.
It won’t be your fault, my angels. It wasn’t my fault either. And one day I’ll believe that.