Thursday, 25 April 2013

what it means to be a girl

Yesterday, when I picked Sasha up from her after school Spanish class, we were barely out the doors of the building when she confessed that Isaac had chased her down and kissed her ("twice!") on the cheek during recess. She shuddered, and explained that she did not like it because "he's gross; he wipes his boogers on the carpet!" She said she waited to tell me until we were out of the building because she didn't want lots of people to hear.

In that moment I heard so much of what it often means to be a girl in our culture. It means people you don't want touching you do touch you in ways you don't want, and then you feel like it's something you have to keep quiet. Because if you don't keep it quiet, if people know about it -- people will remember, it will keep touching you, it will mar you. It will shadow you and taint you in a way it never will for boys.

I know so many adults who would wave this off with a laugh. "It was just a kiss on the cheek," "oh, boys will be boys," "aw, he probably likes you," -- and that is all complete and utter bullshit. I don't care about the details of the kiss, I don't care if Isaac likes Sasha, and I certainly don't think boys should get a free pass for their actions on account of their sex. I don't even care that Isaac has behavioral challenges and some particular special needs -- he still needs to learn to respect other people's boundaries, it may just take more time and support for him to learn it than it would take other kids.

I want Sasha to know that her body is hers, and that she has an absolute right to determine, on her own terms, who has access to it, how, and when. That nobody has the right to touch her without her explicit consent. I want her to know that when these bodily rights are violated, she can and should speak up. I want her to know that there are people in her life that will have her back, that will believe her and support her, that will not belittle her experience or make excuses for the other person's behavior. I wish I could promise her that everyone in our culture would have her back, but she already knows through the subtle power of misogyny and rape culture that she is expected to just stay silent and take it, that making it public can make it worse.

So I told her, as briefly and firmly as I could, that what Isaac did was not okay, that if she doesn't want somebody to kiss her they need to respect that, and if they don't respect that then what they did is wrong.

She said she told her teacher right away, and it sounds like he gave her a similar soundbite and promised to talk to Isaac. I hope he does, and that he conveys to Isaac how inappropriate his actions were.

I wish every boy grew up being taught to respect girls' boundaries, to wait for permission instead of waiting to be stopped.


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