This month’s topic is a heavy one. Sitting down to the page, I have to admit to a serious case of writer’s block. Not, in this case, because I can’t think of anything to say. Rather, because there is so much to say.
The experience I keep coming back to is actually one from my childhood. Before I begin, I think it’s important to state that my childhood was truly quite charmed. Although we were poor and had some struggles with mental illness, I was never mistreated. There was always food on the table, clothes on our backs, and someone to give a kind word.
But it’s those clothes on our backs I am coming back to. I was 10-years-old in the last 1990s and I had this awesome flowered top that I loved to wear. There was just something about it. Maybe it was the bright colors or the fact that the buttons were covered in the same fabric as the shirt.
Whatever it was, I felt so cool in that top. That is, until the day when I couldn’t wear it any more.
Oh no, I didn’t outgrow it. That is a perfectly reasonable assumption given my age at the time. No, I couldn’t wear it anymore because my mom announced one day that I was getting to be too old to wear a sleeveless shirt. Because you never knew what someone else might be thinking when he saw exposed shoulders.
At 10-years-old I suddenly became aware that something was wrong with my body. That the clothes I wore could make things unsafe for me. As a child, I vehemently protested. I loved that shirt and wanted to wear it. But I could not. I spent the next ten years, or so, trying to make my body as invisible as possible. And when it didn’t work, and I was hurt anyway, I spent months trying to convince myself that I had wanted what happened to me.
This is the essence of rape-culture. We start early, telling little girls that they need to be invisible. Telling little boys that they can channel their naturally rambunctious behavior into whatever avenue they want and it’s okay. We don’t use those words exactly, but through our actions we show our children that behaving in a certain way is what we expect.
We can, and must, do better. Our children can be energetic, but we have to draw the line at their energy hurting others. It is up to us to teach them how to be.