Normally, I am not one to pore over the news. I generally don’t watch the news on TV, and I usually just skim headlines and only read articles if I hear about something from other sources. Too much getting upset elevates my blood pressure and increases my anxiety and eventually… my body shuts down. Literally. I’m suddenly fatigued and having nerve pains shooting into my hands because something on the news got me upset. Just listening to The View sets my nerves on edge, even if I don’t know what they’re talking about. So, I avoid it whenever I can.
This is why the details of the UCSB killings and #YesAllWomen escaped my notice for more than 24 hours. Hubby was visiting, my dad is recovering from a broken pelvis in a rehab facility, the grass needed to be mowed, the dishes had to be done, the cats needed to be fed… you get the picture. This morning, during my “middle of the night” wake-up, when I usually hit the bathroom, feed the cat, take some meds, and go back to sleep, I decided to look at my phone. Usually, I know better than to do this, but I did it, anyway. On Facebook, there was a post from a male friend of mine expressing disgust at what he read concerning #YesAllWomen. He had only one personal experience even remotely like it (where a woman had done something to him), and it was a case of sexual harassment, not assault (though where that line gets drawn I have no idea). I was utterly confused and had no idea what he was talking about, so started reading.
An hour later, I was wide awake, yet still completely exhausted, brain firing off tweets and blog posts and journal entries and evaluating my life and experiences through this lens. I tried my level best to go back to sleep and let my mind and body rest. I tried to let others say what I would say and simply “Like” or “Favorite” or Retweet or Share. But I can’t. I dreamed I was in a room full of women and we were all talking about our viewpoints of #YesAllWomen. Each woman had a different story to tell. Each story brought another aspect of this issue to light. In the cold light of day, of course, this fabulous meeting of the minds is just a blur. But I woke up with the desire, no, the NEED, to add my two cents. You see, in that dream, it hit me how #YesAllWomen was a part of MY life.
A couple of years ago, my younger goddaughter went off to college. Her older siblings had decided to stick near home, work full time, and maybe do school later at the local community college, so this was the first child I got to help “GO OFF TO COLLEGE.” She was going to experience all of the fabulous things her mother and I had experienced in our college years, and we were going to watch her grow and blossom into a young woman just like we did. She would meet great people, think great thoughts, eat bad cafeteria food, stay up all night, party a little too hard sometimes, and enjoy the freedom that living in a dorm away from parental types gives you. We were excited to teach her the things we had to learn through experience. On the road to college, two cars packed full of belongings, we stopped for lunch and talked about all of these things she would need to know.
Her mom had gone to the same university, so was full of insight about dorms and transportation and books and classes. I, on the other hand, shared what I learned during my very first full day on campus: How not to get raped.
I taught my cute and perky goddaughter that it only takes six pounds of pressure to pop out an eyeball. I taught my goddaughter the Twist N Jerk (which us girls always joked made the eyeballs go back in their sockets). I told my goddaughter the story of a woman who got down on all fours, ate grass, and mooed in order to deter a rapist. I told her that she should never go to a party alone, and you leave with who you went with. No woman left behind. I taught my goddaughter never to let a stranger make her stray from her path, because displacing you is the first step to attacking you. I advised her that she would probably have some kind of security briefing in her first days, and that they would go over all of these tips and more, and if they offered to sell her pepper spray, she should buy some.
I have been thinking all morning about what else I might have told her. Did I tell her that she will find acceptance in her theatre groups that she won’t find anywhere else, but that the actors and the backstage people will still be different cliques? Did I tell her that roommates aren’t always friends, but that you still need to give and receive respect? Did I tell her that she should confide in professors and advisors at the first hint of trouble so she could find the best help before it’s too late to fix?
I told her how not to get raped.
I went to college for four years, and with all of that learning, the one piece of information that sticks in my head is that most of the college girls that are raped while attending college are raped during the first three months of their freshman year.
My natural next thought is to wonder why that is. My first answer is, “they didn’t know how to protect themselves.” All of those rules and tips and guidelines I gave my goddaughter, they must not have known. Even I made what could have been a fatal mistake in those first three months by going home with a guy I thought was safe and friendly. In the end, he was, but I was LUCKY. No one knew where I was going, no one knew when I planned to be back, so no one knew to raise an alarm. Those poor girls who were raped must not have known the rules.
Why must we raise our daughters to “know the rules?” Do parents of boys raise their sons to be prepared to be sexually assaulted? I have no children of my own, and am not close enough to teenage boys to know what lessons they traditionally learn, so this is a serious question from me. Mothers have been teaching their daughters how to “deal” with the unwanted attentions of men from the dawn of time. What is the male equivalent? Do fathers have to teach their sons how to dress appropriately so as not to be considered a prude or a slut? What lessons do boys need to learn to be considered equal, to be respected, and to avoid being attacked?
I understand why the #NotAllMen hashtag came into existence. Those men who respect everyone and treat everyone fairly are getting painted with the same brush as one disturbed young man. And I don’t mind a man defending himself, as long as he then joins the fight against those other men. The misogynists, the rapists, the abusers, the cat-callers, the harassers, and every other man who makes a woman feel two inches tall simply because they are a woman, or they wore clothing that was revealing, or they aren’t super-model thin, or they don’t want to have sex with them. We need more men speaking up to other men and saying, “Dude. Not cool.” We need more men telling other men that no doesn’t mean yes, and that a man can be respected no matter if he’s a virgin or whatever his “number” is. So, yes, defend yourself, men. And then do something about the guy sitting next to you.
Because someday, I want my goddaughter to take her daughter to college, and tell her about how great dorm life is, not about how not to get raped.