I’d joked about that a few times when defining my philosophy about raising girls but today was compelled to seriously explain/defend my stance.
To be clear, I do not think all men are rapists; I understand the hypocrisy in stereotyping an entire gender. However, certain cultural and personal experiences reinforce my belief that girls should generally be taught that men are dangerous. Yes, instilling fear and suspicious sucks – but consider the world we live in.
One in six American women are victims of sexual assault (compared to one in 33 men). In 2004-2005, there were an average annual 200,780 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault. This works out to a sexual assault happening every two-and-a-half minutes in America.
But here’s some good news: Since 1993, rape/sexual assault has fallen by over 69 percent.
While progress has been made, violence – sexual and otherwise – against women remains entrenched. I’m sure many women have eloquently addressed what growing up with that knowledge means, but let me attempt to spell it out anyway: It means living life with an undercurrent of fear running through your decisions; it means limits, whether socially or self-imposed, on your choices. Every time you walk alone, travel alone, live alone, you remain aware of an increased vulnerability beyond what a man might feel.
Sexual assault rates and patterns confirm a greater likelihood that a father, a brother, an uncle, a teacher, a priest, a family friend or another adult that should be protecting you will instead abuse you. This means the people you trust are often more likely to betray you than strangers – and how do you ever figure out whom to trust when that is the case?
Even on blogs, women are subject to more abuse than men.
If you get pregnant, know this: A 2002 study in the Journal of the American Medical Women’s Association also found that homicide was the leading cause of pregnancy-associated deaths in Massachusetts from 1990 to 1999. Murder is now believed to be responsible for more pregnancy-associated deaths in this country than any other single cause, including medical complications such as embolism or hemorrhaging.
For most women, these stories are old news. But again, to grow up in a culture in which you are more likely to be assaulted or killed solely because of your gender can cripple any striving for strength and independence. Even girls and women not immersed in crime statistics understand this through the warnings of others (“Don’t travel alone!” “Make sure you have one of the guys walk you to your car!”) and their own personal experiences.
Five years old: A friend of mine and I play on the sidewalk in front of our neighborhood. A strange man shows up and talks to us for a few minutes until her mom comes out. He leaves. She swoops us inside. Later, she and my mom confer in hushed, strained tones. I didn’t understand, really, but later my mom admonishes me and warns me never to talk to strange men, to go in the house right away if one approaches me. (Apparently this guy was a known “bad” man in the neighborhood. A nice, middle-class suburban neighborhood.)
Sixth grade: Bra-snapping and boys teasing girls about their tits becomes commonplace.
Seventh grade: My girl friends and I can’t walk down the street without catcalls, wolf whistles and occasional perverse comments from men in cars. We can’t walk down the junior high halls without getting our butts grabbed or our bras snapped.
Eighth grade: At an amusement park on a field trip, two 18-year old boys start hanging out with my friend and me. We’re flattered at first and let them sit next to us on rides. At some point on a roller coaster, I turned to the guy to say, “Wow!” but he sticks his tongue down my throat instead.
Sophomore year: I go to a party where a bunch of the popular jocks are. One of them comes over, offers his hand. I reach out to shake it and, to the great amusement of his friends, he pulls my hand onto his crotch.
Sophomore year: I go on a date with this guy. We make out a bit after the movie while sitting in his car. He’s parked around the corner from my house. When I try to say goodnight, he shoves his hand up my skirt. I have to shove him off of me. He calls me a bitch.
Sophomore year: I’m asked to join a sorority made up of many of the popular girls in school. As part of the initiation, we have to mudwrestle with the jocks as an audience. (I decline to join.)
Junior year: I go on a date with this guy. We have a nice dinner, then park and make out. When I say stop, he doesn’t. When I say take me home, he doesn’t. Another date and I probably would’ve had sex with him anyway, but he didn’t want to wait.
Seventeen: I am at a beach house with a bunch of guy friends I’ve known for a while. We’re partying. I’m in a bikini. When I go into one of the bedrooms for a shirt, one of the guys follows me. He starts kissing on me. I’m drunk and he’s much bigger – with only a bikini in the way, he’s able to force himself on me quickly. (Later his girlfriend will call me a slut.)
Nineteen: The managers at the paint store where I work through the pregnancy and birth of my first child leer and make lecherous remarks concerning my enlarged breasts on a regular basis. (When I complained to their supervisor, she said, essentially, “Boys will be boys.”)
Twenty: I get drunk with a friend whom I trust. I’ve known him for years. I pass out and wake up in his bed, naked. He wouldn’t tell me what he did to me, but he sure thought it was funny. (Bad judgment call? Yes. Does that make whatever happened my fault? No. Is this a likely scenario to happen to a 20-year-old man who passes out around a woman friend? Not so much.)
Twenty-one to 24: I work in bars, restaurants. Getting my ass, and occasionally my breasts, grabbed is a matter-of-fact occupation hazard.
Those are just some highlights. I didn’t even have it so bad. I have always had many male friends – and still do. Many dates ended sweetly. Some boyfriends were kind. Many male coworkers made great friends. My husband and I have been together 19 years. He’s a great example of a good man. I trust my son will be as well.
In contrast, most of my friends experienced much worse than me. I never had my arm broken or a stepfather wake me up in the middle of the night or had to take out a restraining order.
I am more surprised by women without horror stories – or at least unpleasant ones.
My daughters have friends who have been through worse. My daughters have had men act inappropriately to them – fortunately they’ve also benefited from the changing attitudes in society. Bad behavior is discussed more, tolerated less.
But have men – and the normalizing of the sexual violence they perpetuate upon women – changing enough that I could tell my daughters not to be afraid of men? That men now deserve the benefit of the doubt?