Lately, I have been recalling this moment in 7th grade. I can still feel the redness in my cheeks and the knots in my stomach. I can recall my mind racing what to do and how to get out of this situation. My best friend and I were alone in the school gym cleaning up from some project we had been working on. Two boys in our grade walked in. They cornered us and asked us to show them our boobs.
There are so many things looking back that I’m unsure about. I do know for sure I did not want to lift up my shirt for anyone. But I’m not sure why I didn’t immediately just tell those boys to screw off and walk out of there. I am not shy nor do I usually have any problem standing up for myself. I’m not sure why I stood there for what felt like forever and listened to them beg. I’m not sure why I felt so pressured. It’s unclear to me why in that moment I felt so trapped. I can even remember feeling slightly sorry for them because they seemed so desperate.
I had known these boys for years. We had been in the same very small school most of our elementary years together. I’m not sure what about that particular day made them so emboldened. I also, in my heart of hearts, knew they weren’t going to hurt me physically or force themselves on me. But in my mind, I can vividly remember thinking I did not want to do this, but also it felt like the only way out. I thought maybe if I just quickly lift my shirt up, they will leave and this will all be over.
Why was I contemplating something I absolutely did not want to do? It wasn’t even about trying to be cool or liked. The thought of trying to impress them did not factor into it at all. I just felt like somehow this was my burden and getting it over with seemed like the only way out.
I now look back at this moment with the hindsight of adulthood and particularly through the lens of motherhood.
I am positive that if either of those boys’ mothers had known what took place that day, they would have been appalled. I knew their moms and knew they expected a lot from their sons. But despite that, why did those boys corner and pressure me into doing something I so obviously did not want to do?
I am the mother two sons and a daughter. I often think about the issues my three children will face, and how things will be different for each of them; how things will be different for the boys versus my daughter. I think about things from my perspective growing up as a girl and the things I faced because I was a girl and the things I faced because of what boys did to me or how they acted around me. I try to digest all of that and decide how I will use it as fuel to do better, to make my children better.
I think, as a society, we have come a long way in thinking and talking about consent. “No means no” seems to be more commonplace than it was a generation ago and certainly more than it was two or three generations back. Our sons will most definitely know better and will be expected to act accordingly.
But what about my daughter? She’s still currently an infant so we haven’t started really having conversations yet. I have to do my best to instill in her the confidence to never ever do something she doesn’t want to. To know and understand her worth and not only her right to stand up for herself, but help her exercise her ability to do so. I know that her self confidence starts with me. It’s me modeling to her standing up for myself. Not doing what is best for someone else, but doing what I want because it’s my choice, advocating for myself, illuminating and rejecting the entitlement of what someone else thinks I should look like or talk like or behave or what they think I might owe them.
I want her to have the self confidence to tell those boys “screw off” and move on with her day. There are times I want her to be able to say “screw off” to society in general, because the harassment I felt in middle school does not only apply to dingy school gyms. It creeps its ugly head into trips to the grocery store, conversations with a technician about a home repair, and even business meetings.