I have two daughters — one is an engineering major and the other a high school senior. Both are strong-willed and confident. So naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot about the “Me, too” campaign because, sadly: Me, too.
There’s been so much talk about what to do about the pervasive and destructive sexual harassment that nearly every woman I know has faced. Macho entitlement is so ingrained in our culture, we wonder how we shift and change the very ground on which we’ve built our country. It feels tectonic — like trying to move plates beneath the surface of the earth. Where do we begin?
My thoughts race back to finding my own voice. It was a journey that was uneven and inadequate until I got much older. The few instances that I’m willing to share aren’t uncommon — many women will recognize themselves. Nor are they the worst of what women endure; these instances are just a sampling:
- A college date that didn’t go as he’d planned became the talk of the dorm; I had to confront him to make the rumors and innuendo stop.
- Later, living on my own for the first time, a creepy note left under my door by a neighbor prompted me to confront him in the hallway, to tell him to back off or I would contact his wife. I risked not knowing if things would escalate once he was confronted because often they do.
- A boss, the President of a company I worked for, ordered a stripper for a lunchtime surprise on my birthday. I was mortified, but remained silent and laughed because I was young and did not know what else to do.
- The catcalls as I walked to work? I had to bite my tongue and endure them. Walking faster was my answer — and to this day, I walk incredibly fast. It’s hard to slow down, the intimidating memories are so ingrained in me. I wonder how many women walk fast for just this reason?
Finding my voice — and tapping my strength — hasn’t been easy. And often, it’s been lonely.
Where I finally found my voice was in making sure my girls had theirs — strong, resilient, and powerful. Now that they are 19 and 17, I look back to see what the overt lessons were. I’m not sure there were any.
My husband and I encouraged them to always follow their passions. So one gravitated towards engineering while the other is moving towards sociology. One wanted to work with lathes and tools, while the other wanted to experiment with make-up and fashion. But even as building lives that build on their passions creates confidence, I cannot say that their passions will insulate them from misogyny or sexism. And yet, both young women seem to have their voice when it comes to injustice — so where did that come from and how do we replicate it?
I think it comes back to the old adage: You cannot be what you cannot see. So what have my girls seen throughout the years?
They’ve seen a mom and a dad who pretty much share equally in the division of labor. Dad also makes dinner, mom also takes out the trash. Everyone does their own laundry. But more than that, there is tremendous respect. We’ve modeled that because we’ve lived it. We also use the power of our voice, the consequences of our actions, as a way to deal with injustice — as a way to take a stand for what we believe.
This week I responded to a question of what to do in order to shift the destructive winds of sexism and misogyny and this is what I wrote:
We must teach our boys — and our girls, of course — how we behave respectfully, in spite of and especially during those years when hormones are raging. Hormones are never an excuse. We teach our girls to stand firm in who they are — and to say “no” without feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or pressured. Most importantly, we as adults must model this behavior — we must live it. We have to speak out when someone says something that is demeaning, even and especially if they couch it as a joke. Even when it’s hard to take a stand — and really, it’s more important when it’s hard to take a stand. Our kids are watching.
What are your thoughts? How do we raise our children to be better adults? How do we show them a better way? I’m interested in hearing about the small things — and the big ideas, because they all work together to make it better for all of us.