The Clarion-Ledger Opinion
Published 6:00 AM EDT Oct 5, 2018
Growing up, I do not recall having hard discussions about sex and intimacy. It was taboo to talk about such things with children, or so it seemed by the lack of conversations on the topic in my household. I am sure I was told not to let anyone touch me in the area where my thighs meet. But there were no tangible speeches about men or boys who preyed on girls. There were no school lessons about pedophiles, rapists or sexual assaulters after snack time. There were no warnings about guys who don’t take no for an answer or that don’t bother asking for permission, especially if they seemed cool.
In hindsight, I am still unsure if I would've been a raging, gutsy feminist had I been equipped with the knowledge early on that some men view women as nothing more than objects to be conquered, abused or violated. I'm not sure how that knowledge would've helped me, but it would've been nice to have it.
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Gone are the days of cute, brief and awkward exchanges about the birds and the bees. We need TED Talks, PowerPoints and master classes on the dynamics between men and women. I navigated my journey with the opposite sex through trial, error and silence. It would have been nice to know that I wasn’t alone. The #MeToo movement exposed stoic suffering in numerous numbers.
But let’s talk about the girls who have never been to Hollywood. The little girls who appear to be entirely neglected in this new era of the intolerant Me Too. In light of the latest news cycle and a political rally in Mississippi, we need more than a crusade and a hashtag to change the ingrained and unchecked demoralizing behaviors our country appears to glorify.
What about everyday girls?
So while we’re still judging women who dare share their stories as if we have permanent appointments on the Supreme Court, what about the girls? The girls whose relative or family acquaintance made them bear burdens and secrets beyond their years. Girls who were urged to greet these same people with a hug or smile every time they visited their homes. And even if she mustered up the fearlessness to tell someone, she would then be asked to forget or pretend it did not happen. Not only would her immature and unsophisticated mind have to process the act of defilement internally, it then became her responsibility to keep the family intact by not sharing ‘what goes on in this house.’ Her muzzled silence also ensured that the family’s reputation remained pristine because appearances are much more important than her mental, physical and spiritual wellness.
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She then grows up in a society that says women are to be submissive, demure and anemic while boys-will-be-boys. A culture that says our value is in our looks and physique. A culture that tells us we need the approval of men to be anything and do anything. Some of these broken and disillusioned little girls grow into jaded, angry women never reaching the potential God gave them because someone robbed them of their freedom and peace. So, by all means, let’s teach our boys, our men to ask for permission; to treat women with respect and dignity; to not "grab them by the p---y" as President Donald Trump so gratingly yet eloquently stated.
Teach our daughters to be warriors
But why would we, as women, leave our fate in the hands of the society that aided and abetted in our victimization. It is our responsibility as mothers, as women to teach our daughters, our sisters how to be warriors. Many ladies give me a side-eye when I say we have a responsibility in this seedy underbelly of molestation and sexual assault. But I firmly believe that we have to make sure that our girls feel confident and comfortable in the world. We must reinforce their positive self-images.
Help our girls understand that they do not need a man’s affirmations or acceptance to exist. We must educate our babies about what to do when they find themselves in tense situations or circumstances. How dare we make them feel voiceless and helpless. We do not teach our daughters to be quiet, pretty little things. We do not force them to forgive their abusers or pray for them. We serve as the rock and foundation for and to each other. Honor the code.
We show our children how to ride bikes, how to cook and how to spell. Why would we not give them the necessary skills to protect and fight for themselves? Candidly speaking, we can raise boys not to rape and men not to be pedophiles, but I am sure the prison is full of sons who refused to listen. Why would I let my daughter, sister or friend’s internal and physical well-being hinge on the hope that a man will err on the side of right and not violate her? No, we — men and women — have an obligation in this world that seems to be orbiting further into the wrong stratosphere. Men should not be victimizers, and we will not be your victims.
Rachel James-Terry is a contributing columnist to The (Mississippi) Clarion-Ledger, where this column first appeared.