Guest Post from my dear friend Kristin, who is also raising her son to look out and protect not only himself, but women as well. Also, a Duke fan. So Gold star in our books.
Kristin also tells stories of the unfairness between women and men, and how men and women’s safety list are different. And essentially, why do we as women have to look over our shoulder constantly.
The other week
I had to run to Target right before they closed. The parking lot was pretty empty and it was pretty dark. I walked to my car as fast as I could.
The other day
I had to work late. Really late. I was alone in our office building on a busy street in a nice part of town… that got less busy and less-well-lit as the minutes ticked by. At seven, I got up and locked the front doors to the building and locked the door to our suite, because my office (with me in it alone was clearly visible from the street to anyone passing by).
At nine, I got up and locked the door to my own office. At twelve-forty- five , I walked to my car by myself, which I purposely had parked under a light outside and texted my husband and my boss to let them know I was on the way home safely. I got two very different and revelatory replies.
My husband said, “I’m not worried about you being alone there – I’m more worried about you driving home tired.”
My boss (who is female) replied: “Good. I don’t like the thought of you there alone at night. Next time, bring your dog.”
The other year
When I was in college, I did a ton of dumb stuff. I made dumb decisions, some involving alcohol, some involving boys, some involving whether or not I should back up my final paper on the poetry of the late Romantics (remember the Chernobyl virus? It ate my 25 page final paper on Byron. (The thought of this still makes me want to throw up.)
One night, my friends and I went to a party downtown thrown by a fraternity from a different school. Boys – we called them boys, but they were already men if you go by the standards of society and biology – we didn’t really know. A friend of a friend must have invited us, but I don’t remember the details. What I remember is that the guys were tall and played lacrosse and my friends and I were pretty and invincible. There was drinking – lots of drinking, dancing on tables, black lights and the constant, thumping chorus of “Can I Get A.” on repeat in the background.
Things got blurry, our DD was leaving, it was time to go. I refused. “Why are you girls being so ridiculous? I met a guy, you see, and he promised to get me home safely, guys, are you being so difficult, nothing is going to happen, for god’s sake, I haven’t had that much to drink. He said he would bring me home. He promises nothing will happen.”
I think they put me in the car. I know I got back to campus and woke up in my bed the next morning. I never said thank you to any of my friends for what they did. Instead, I was ANGRY at them. I cringe at my ownstupidity now. But then – I was smart. I was pretty. I was invincible. And I was ANGRY my friends didn’t leave me all alone, very drunk, with some random stranger, 25 minutes from campus, with no cell phone (because they did not exist).
Maybe nothing would have happened. Maybe something would have. I’ll never know, because I had friends that night who were smarter than I was, who stuck to the primary rule of the informal sisterhood women are forced to live by – to be safe, you must be skeptical. It’s terrible. As the mother of a little boy, this makes me sick. Because the vast majority of men are good people who would never hurt a woman, who would drive home a girl who had too much to drink and make sure she got up the stairs and inside safely. If the men I know found out one of their friends mistreated a woman, they would not laugh. They would throw him through a wall. They would be horrified.
The guy I met that night at a party probably felt awful that my friends didn’t trust him to get me home, that they probably made a scene. He was probably a good guy. He was probably horrified. But maybe he wasn’t, and maybe my friends saved me from something terrible. I’ll never know. And I’m saddened by it, because as a woman, there are situations where you will never, ever feel 100% safe by sheer virtue of the fact that you are a woman. And there are situations where men will incorrectly be viewed skeptically and suspiciously, by women by sheer virtue of the fact that they are men. It’s not that we see predators lurking in the shadows everywhere; it’s more of the constant and subconscious training that We Must Be Aware Just In Case.
I don’t want this for our kids. I don’t want all those little girls out there to grow up and have to worry anymore about walking to their car at night. And I don’t want all the little boys, my little boy, to grow up and have to worry that someone thinks they are a predator when all they did was do what their mom told them – to have manners and offer to walk a girl home.
This is not fair. So we are trying hard to change this with our little boy, in tiny increments, teaching him that all words have meaning, that some things are not funny, that when you are being physical with a friend or any gender (out of anger or during play) and they say stop – you stop immediately. That your body is your business – not anyone else’s. So when he doesn’t want a hug, we don’t force one on him. If he doesn’t want to kiss other family members, he doesn’t have to. If we are tickling him (which I would do all day if I could – it’s the best way to hear his beautiful, uninhibited laugh) and he says stop, we stop. That he is entitled to feel however he wants to feel but it is not ever appropriate to express those feelings by hitting, or kicking, or anything physical. He has the absolute right to his own body and boundaries, and everyone else has the same absolute right to theirs.This is not simply about teaching respect for women. It’s about teaching respect first for himself, because I know the rest will follow.
The other month Melissa asked me if I had any advice for her sister who is going off to college. It spilled out of my mouth almost too quickly: Don’t go out alone. Don’t accept drinks from strangers. Don’t go to the bathroom and leave your drink unattended. Don’t leave a friend behind, especially if she’s been drinking and especially if she is adamant about staying. We talked too about the advice we’d give boys. It was another stream of don’ts. A different kind of advice, but still, pretty depressing, colored with the idea that women usually assume the worst. I try not to have these assumptions about “what might happen.” But when it’s dark, and I’m alone in my office late at night, I still lock the door. I still walk to my car as fast as I can. I still park under a street light.
Melissa has a daughter. I have a son. If you have one of those, or a bunch of them, I think it’s possible to make a huge change with small lessons and good examples about respect, boundaries, and kind actions.
I really hope one day the only pre-college advice we have to give Baby Anna and Hank is “back up the damn paper you write on the poetry of Byron for your class on the late Romantics as many ways as you can.”