A distinct memory from my childhood came to me yesterday…as often happens now that I’m a parent. I was in a high-school-aged-female Bible study, and the two female teachers were showing us how to respond when men in our church hugged us inappropriately (too closely). Their advice was to aim for a side hug to avoid front-of-the-body contact. If a side hug wasn’t possible, our last resort was to turn the front-of-the-body hug into an “A-frame hug” by standing as far back from the man as possible and arching our backs to keep our lower bodies at a safe distance.
At the time, their advice didn’t sit well with me, but as I think about it as a mother, I see how damaging it actually was. I think that the teachers meant well and hoped that the advice would help us diffuse an uncomfortable situation in a graceful way. But the subtext to their lesson teaches girls that it’s their job to remain silent and do what they can to neutralize the situation when someone touches them inappropriately. That being polite and not causing a stir is more important than personal boundaries.
My daughter might eventually hear these messages, but she won’t hear them at home.
My husband and I will teach her that no one has the right to touch her without permission.
That if someone makes her feel uncomfortable (and sadly, they will), it’s her right to tell them “no,” and depending on the situation, tell someone else in authority (us, a teacher, a flight attendant, the police).
It’s not her job to protect the other person or their feelings.
And their words and actions are neither a reflection on her nor are they her fault. So many girls and women blame themselves and don’t speak up because “I accidentally flirted with them/said or did something bad/gave them the wrong impression/dressed inappropriately/wasn’t clear enough when I said ‘no'” etc.
The only way we can end this turn-a-blind-eye culture and normalize direct confrontation with predators is to empower our girls, one lesson at a time.