Here’s a #metoo story from me that I’ve never disclosed publicly: Two men tried to lure a friend and me into a Ford Pinto when I was in 2nd grade as we were walking home from school. I remember the scraggly, ugly Leif Garrett lookalike and his dirty bell bottom pants as he opened the passenger side door and stepped one leg out of the car. We ran home. After that, my dad immediately signed me up for Tae Kwon Do. The training did wonders for my confidence. I don’t know if TKD would have worked in a tough situation but I’m sure after I started taking it I carried myself differently so that I didn’t seem an easy target.
Look, I get it. The #metoo topic is kicking everyone in the ass. Some people are reliving their trauma again and again. The subject utterly perplexes others. Eighties teen queen Molly Ringwald came out with her own story around the accusations of unwanted sexual advances and harassment in Hollywood as a result of the allegations swirling around Harvey Weinstein and others. You can read her story here.
One sentence in Ringwald’s story of her experiences of a young female actress in Hollywood strikes home a crucial point I want to discuss:
“At a time when I was trying to figure out what it meant to become a sexually viable young woman, at every turn some older guy tried to help speed up the process.”
This. What Ms. Ringwald says here is part of why I do the work that I do. I do NOT want any adults to speed up the sexual maturation process of someone younger than them. Even over the age of consent (whatever the law deems this age to be, depending on the state), coercion is never okay.
Hollywood teen starlets are not the only victims of this unwanted sexual attention and coercive behavior by any stretch of the imagination. So many “regular” young girls (and boys) deal with this type of pressure on a daily basis.
Sometimes, unwanted sexual attention starts when girls are very young. In 2015, a Reddit user posted the question, “Women of Reddit, when did you first notice that men were looking at you in a sexual way? How old were you and how did it make you feel?” The mega thread that resulted was heartwrenching at times. Another article discusses how harassment begins earlier than we think. One definition of trauma offered by expert Leah Harris is “an event or series of events that makes a person feel unsafe or physically threatened”. This #metoo topic is likely stirring things up because of the embedded trauma stored in our bodies.
Here’s the thing: my fear (and anger) doesn’t help my children. It causes me to be overprotective and prevent them from living their lives to some extent. So what is a parent to do?
My fear of unwanted sexual attention, coercion, and sexualization of children led to me having my two tweenaged daughters go through an intensive Krav Maga training. Twice. If you’re not familiar with it, Krav Maga is Israeli Military Hand-to-Hand Combat Training. Women learn it now for self-defense. As a result, my girls could maim a grown man if it comes to that.
TKD is a tea party compared to Krav Maga.
It’s cool to see my little women now. They carry themselves differently. Seriously. I’m not scared of underground garages at night anymore when we are together. I feel like I have badass teen girl bodyguards now. They exude a confidence now that I’m sure can be seen and felt.
I’ve been as protective as I can be with my children. In the last four years, as they have entered their teens, I’ve come to the awareness that I need to move from being their supervisor to being their executive consultant. My job as a parent is to make sure my children have all of the information they need to live their lives. All of it. It’s so much bigger than the basics. Yes, they need to know checkbook balancing, laundry doing, egg boiling, etc. But they MUST also understand what the world is like out there so they can navigate successfully. Without me.
I want these young women to make good choices. I want them to be good people. The message I share with them is this: Let people do what they want WHEN they want to do it, and with whomever they choose to do it with using their own free will. I wish adults would stop sexually engaging with children, and in the meantime, I will educate my children to know what is an appropriate interaction with adults and what is not, and that I will listen to them. They know from experience that I will. And if by any chance I’m not there, and shit is going down, they can defend themselves, and I will stand by them.