Recently, Forward promoted one woman’s harrowing story of having been sexually harassed multiple times throughout her life with the statement, “This woman’s story will remind you that sexual harassment is ingrained in the experience of being a woman.” Aside from this being a clickbait notion feeding off of the Trump Sexual Harassment Train, I found the assertion that all women will inevitably be sexually harassed rather odd, even offensive. I, for one, have never been sexually harassed. Moreover, why should any girl grow up with the feeling that she will inevitably be sexually harassed?
Reading this woman’s story, I noted several differences from her upbringing and my own that pointed to reasons why I, thankfully, never had to experience the pain she did. While nothing is a guarantee, here are some things my parents did to ensure my safety as a child that laid the groundwork for some good decisions on my part as a young adult.
I was never left alone with strangers
My mother often recounts the story of fellow preschool moms searching for babysitters via the classified ads in newspapers. I don’t care how fully vetted that website claims their babysitter is; when you need help, turn to the people you know and trust. Never, ever leave your child with someone you don’t know.
Make the sacrifice to be there
My mother always worked, but her schedule revolved around me. Before I entered school she worked nights when my father could be home. During my school years she worked part-time jobs that would allow her to both drop me off and pick me up from school (we lived too close for busing). One day she was running late and pulled up just as two rather skeevy looking men in a beat-up station wagon had sidled up to the curb. As soon as they saw her they drove off at a rapid clip. It was one of the scariest moments of her life. As a high school senior, my friends scoffed when my father came to pick me up after a late night movie let out. Taking one look at the crowd of rowdy college kids around me, I was incredibly grateful that he had no problem being there any time I needed a ride.
Keep the lines of communication open
Being there doesn’t just mean being available for drop-offs and pick-ups. It also means playing an active role in your child’s life. Somehow my mother managed to be both an authoritative parent and a caring friend from the time I was very young. When I told her about my day she listened and told me what she thought about how others behaved. She knew how to translate her own tough growing up experiences into a language I could understand and apply to my own life. We had cultivated such trust that we were able to confront abusive situations, like school bullies, together.
Be honest about the consequences
Growing up with a nurse as a mom was tons of fun. Worried about your tween playing Spin the Bottle? Tell her about herpes and mono. She’ll be the most boring kid at the party.
Watch what your kids are watching
Fortunately, I grew up on a healthy dose of classic movies and TV shows. When I was 14, a boy in my class teased me about a particular crush. Instinctively I knew his language was foul, so I did what any good woman of the 1940s would do and slapped him across the cheek. Knowing how ladies should be spoken to and treated spared me a boatload of trouble down the road.
That leads me into some of my own decision-making as a college student and young professional:
I never went to frat parties
Filthy, crowded, dark houses loaded with drunken kids looking to get laid? Not how to treat a lady. The same goes for any event or location that wasn’t my style.
I respected my body
Thank God I grew up before the era of “body positivity.” It was a simpler time when women knew the tighter, more revealing their clothing, the more gross offers they’d get from handsy guys. I also greatly disliked my ex-sister-in-law who thought she’d turn me into a raging feminist by giving me a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves on my 13th birthday, along with a subscription to Seventeen. Photos of hairy women and rail-thin blondes did nothing more than remind me of what I wasn’t. (Thanks for the good upbringing, Mom and Dad.)
I moved back home after college
Not only was rent astronomical, dating was much easier when the guy knew he’d be coming back to my place to see my mom. What a great way to get rid of a loser fast. Think I’m crazy? One friend who lived alone wound up locking herself in her own bathroom after a guy she brought home refused to leave. Don’t like mom and dad? Get a roommate. Get two. It pays to have backup.
I spared myself the shock
When I worked at a local bank, a lawyer who was rather well-known in the area invited a female colleague and me over to swim in his pool while his wife wasn’t around. We both responded to his pervy snarl with, “We don’t think your wife would like that and neither would we.” He was instantly shamed and avoided us for quite a while. Always answer back.
I took a self-defense class
This should be a logical choice for any young woman, especially one starting a new job in a new place.
Nothing is a guarantee. But, there are ways to point your child in the right direction so she may hopefully be spared the threat of sexual harassment.