Then some people said they hoped that 1984 (or whatever year) could be a topic for writing because what they had to say exceeded a comment. (So I am looking forward to some posts here!)
So here we are, the topic is:
. . . several people asked that the topic be related to my last post, about 1984. It doesn't have to be political, it doesn't have to be 1984 (keeping in mind that not everyone was born or much aware at that point). But choose a time that was an awakening for you, select a year or an event that year, that you invested in, although you might now have been quite old enough to understand it fully, and that affected you down the line. Or write about 1984, the election or your life then.Obviously I've already written about 1984.
So let me hit another year: 1985.
That was the year I got my first job, which I got in order to earn money for a summer trip to Europe. Along with a young teacher, her friend, and about 10 other teens I enjoyed a whirlwind (emphasis on whirl) tour of Europe in the summer of 1985.
One of the girls who went was Ashley, age eighteen. I've lived a lot of years since 1985 and I still don't think I'm half as sophisticated or wordly as Ashley was back then. Ashley took me under her wing that summer and taught me how to handle come-ons, an invaluable skill that served me well for many years after that. She started her lessons with theory, and then insisted we put it into practice---in bars and clubs (aka discotheques). First practical application? Italy.
I can't tell you what all went down in Italy but suffice it to say Ashley was a true asset.
Not half as big an asset as in Amsterdam, though.
We concluded our tour in Amsterdam, and Ashley, a couple of other girls and I were waiting in the hotel lounge for our bus. It was time to head home and we were ready, but sorry our big adventure was over. We wearily and drearily sipped sodas, heads drooping as badly as our eyes.
Apparently nothing says "come and get me big boy" like exhausted young teen girls drooping over a corner of the bar, because we hadn't been sitting for longer than five minutes before a man---probably in his early 30s but to us anciently old---came up with a come-on line. We simply pretended we didn't speak any language he threw at us and kept showing him our watches, as if he were asking the time. After an annoying level of persistence, he finally gave up and left with a good-natured laugh, as if we'd all been having a fun time, equal participants.
We hadn't, and that experience prompted Ashley to conclude with her "Edification of Julie" course. This final chapter of the learning unit was titled, "Creeps and Losers." She could have called it: Predators.
I think about predators while I raise my girls, and I know what I experienced so I try to figure out how to arm them without spoiling the good.
This topic came up last night between me and my husband. We were out shopping and a girl, maybe 18ish, walked past in a short and tight skirt with a barely-a-shirt, cropped up to here and unbuttoned down to there. She'd hopped out of a Volkswagen beetle decorated with flowers, so had caught my girls' attention.
"Her skirt's ripped," Patience said.
"Ummm, well, that's called a cutoff. It's meant to be that way," I said
"Oh, okay..." Patience said, "But maybe it's time for her to hand it down to her little sister. I think it's too small for her."
Yes, it was too small for her, but I don't think she had any plans to hand it down. Later, this stimulated an intense conversation with my husband, as we discussed how to handle the issue of clothing, perception and sent signals and messages (regardless of intention). In other words, we talked about the link between sex and clothes.
"I'm going to tell them that if they dress like that they're telling men they're open for business," my husband said.
Sure enough, a man had walked past and openly stared, even bothered to look back over his shoulder at the girl dressed so skimpily.
But was that the right approach? I've never used it, and it's not just about my kids' ages. I've never felt comfortable with how this approach implies that controlling sexuality is a burden that rests on the shoulders of the female.
"It's not reasonable to teach our girls that they have to take care to make sure men don't interpret any sexual signal from them. What does that do? I mean, that's crazy. Some men need very little. Just being a woman is enough for some guys. And then what? They dress modestly act appropriately and some guy still hits on them---then they're thinking it's their fault. That's really a terrible message; and it's not at all the angle and approach I want to take here. I want them to think that they can have their own style and be safe, and if for some reason some man can't respect that, then it's his problem. I want them to know they have the right to say no and the right to move on. I pray mothers and fathers of sons are out there teaching their boys the same thing. But a big part of that is language, and that means being thoughtful about how we speak about other people---how they're dressed---in front of and to our kids."
I shared that I'd recently read an article about empowering girls and teaching girls about appropriate dress without denigrating other girls.
One of the most valuable things I learned from Ashley that summer is that I have a choice---she empowered me. One of the other valuable things I learned from her is that some men have issues and while they might try to make (or succeed in making) that your problem, it will never be your issue.
I want to be cautious in creating an opening for my girls to think that anything dysfunctional that they might experience is their fault. I know the odds, and I know the odds are against my hopes that my girls will never experience a jerk, a creep, a loser, a predator, or similar who mistakes power and control for sexuality, or who mistakes his own sexuality and desires for theirs.
Someone out there right now is raising a boy who will grow up not respecting women as people. However, someone out there right now is also raising a boy who will grow up to respect women as people.
I want to teach my girls more about the way they should be treated and respected, so that when someone doesn't fit that, they know it, and move on. I don't want to focus solely on teaching them to watch for monsters in people.
My husband wanted to know what I planned to do.
"Play it by ear, mostly," I said, "Give a good foundation, and deal with any situations as they come. I buy them clothing we find appropriate now, and we skip all the sexualized kiddie clothes. I do my best to keep inappropriate influences out as best I can, and do my best to avoid communicating that things we find inappropriate are cool. I hope that helps, and we'll see."
I agree it's important to arm girls with knowledge and information, but not at their expense or other girls' expenses, also not at the expense of the male.
So...what's your approach to this situation? What do you think?
And make sure to ad in your reminiscing posts in Mr. Linky here.
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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