I know that this is a pretty volatile subject, but I feel I have to address the topic of sexual harassment.
I’m going to admit something. I’m not going to say it’s right or wrong, but it’s just how I always felt. I always looked at harassment from the point of view of while none of it was okay, some things were worse than others.
Obviously, some situations and events ARE worse than others. Some things are serious and should be taken as such. Assault, violence, stalking….those things are serious business and should not be ignored.
But there’s the point I’m going into with this…should ANY harassment be ignored?
Here’s the thing. We’ve all been sexually harassed in some way at some point in our lives, right? Men and women, we’ve all been victims of harassment at one time or another.
And do you know what? While it wasn’t okay, as I said before, I always looked at it as no big deal either. It was just something that, as a woman, I knew I’d have to deal with from time to time. Aside from something BAD happening, you just shrug it off and go on about your day.
But when do we stand up and say that’s a problem? When do we realize that by shrugging it off as just one of those things we are enabling the degeneration of society?
When do we start demanding as women AND men to be treated with more respect?
So my daughter is a curvy girl. A lot of people think she is older than she is and she has been getting looks and even cat-called for at least two years. (Yeah, I think I was in shock for days the first time some man cat-called my thirteen year old.)
One day she was walking in town and some boys whistled and called to her as they drove past. As they passed her though, they realized that they knew her. From church. The boys felt bad and pulled to a stop and got out and apologized to her. She accepted their apology but while they were embarrassed because they realized she was someone they knew, she asked them would they have not been embarrassed by their behavior if it had been some random girl that they would never see again? They had to admit that they probably never would have given it another thought had that been the case. They were properly repentant and I think they skipped youth group for a couple weeks just to avoid her. When she told me about it, though, I remember just shaking my head and saying something like, “Dumb boys.”
While fifteen and sixteen year old boys are one thing, sometimes it’s adults too. She has been whistled at plenty by grown men. Gross. (And for the ones of you that are about to ask “What in the world is she wearing??” First of all, one’s clothing has no bearing on the fact that no one deserves to be harassed – and second of all, she is usually wearing a band t shirt, jeans and black Converse high tops. Nothing provocative in any way, and nothing that tries to make her look older than she is.)
One day very recently we stopped at a gas station and she was going to run in and get a drink. We were coming from church and she had on a dress. Going in she passed a man coming out. As they approached one another along the sidewalk, I could see him looking her up and down. She passed him and he turned around to ogle her. This man was sixty if he was a day. I rolled down my car window and said, “Excuse me but did you lose something? Is there a problem?” He put his head down and scurried away. Now I’m sorry, but she might look a little older than her fifteen years, but you can’t tell me a GROWN man doesn’t know when he is looking at a CHILD.
Again, are these things that are just bound to happen? Is it acceptable? Is it okay?
She came home from school the other day with a story. She told me that one of her friends had been making inappropriate comments to her. Since he was a friend, she didn’t want to make a big deal out of it because he didn’t mean anything by it, but it was making her uncomfortable and she had asked him to stop but he didn’t. Now she had not told me or her school counselor that this was going on, because she didn’t want to make an issue out of nothing and get him in trouble.
However, he made a comment at lunch and she was vastly uncomfortable and didn’t know what to do about it. The boy walked away, but one of her other friends who had seen this happen, and knew that she had told the boy to stop, grabbed her by the hand, yanked her up and told her to “Come on.” She asked him where they were going and he said, “We are going to talk about this with someone.” He took her to his advisor and proceeded to rant about boys having zero respect for girls and how this boy had been harassing her and she’d asked him to stop. Her friend declared he was shocked, appalled, disenchanted with humanity, embarrassed by his gender, and fed up. He was so upset he didn’t even let A speak for herself. When she started to giggle at his zeal (just because she was embarrassed) he hotly inquired as to whether she thought it was funny. She assured him that the situation was definitely not funny, and yes, she had been made to feel uncomfortable and she wanted it to stop.
The teacher was upset and promised to take care of the situation, which he did.
A’s friend got me thinking though. No form of harassment is okay. As a teenage boy he saw the problem in something that I, as an adult woman, had been ignoring.
No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable in your own body. No one has the right to make unwanted sexual comments or advances of any kind. And when it happens, it is our right to stand up for ourselves and demand that it stop. We have the right to demand to be treated with respect.
It’s not too much to ask, and it certainly isn’t too much to expect.
I don’t want my daughter to think these things are “normal” and something that she just has to put up with because she’s female. Enough is enough.
I’m glad she has a friend who was willing to not only stand up for her, but to go against the grain of “normal teen boy” to declare the actions of his classmate unacceptable. His mother should be very proud of the young man she is raising. His actions speak volumes to me. I hope they speak volumes to his peers also.
Respect. Dignity. Morality. These aren’t things we should just wish for and be surprised when we see them. We should demand them.