Last night, we packed up the scented candles and snacks (my goodness, my girls love ranch dressing) one last time. It was our final teen girls’ group.
SocialJerk, you said you weren’t going to cry.
OK, I’m back.
We did the things you usually do when terminating (my, that word sounds kind of harsh) with a group. The girls did evaluations. We reminisced. We talked about what went well, what could have gone better. And we asked the girls what they learned.
They had a lot to say. A lot about confidence, and self-esteem, and making friends. But one thing stuck out to me.
“I learned that I can say ‘no.’ Like, that people should listen to it.”
It’s not a groundbreaking idea, I know. And this girl had definitely heard before that she has a right to her boundaries, and that people should respect them.
But still. This was something important, that she credited group in helping her with.
Weeks earlier, we had a rather memorable sex ed chat with the girls, which was spread over two sessions. A lot of the second week was spent talking about the right to say no. Is “no” ever not enough? Can you ever sacrifice that right?
Some of the girls thought that you can. Quite easily.
We asked the question, “If a girl is wearing something sexy, and she’s assaulted, does she have the right to go to the police?”
Why was I so naive to think that this wouldn’t be a debate?
Almost all of the girls thought that a girl dressed “too sexy” was at least partly to blame for her assault. My co-leader and I challenged this assumption. We talked about self-control. Why are we constantly degrading men, acting like they’re dogs who can’t help but hump anything that will hold still for long enough? It seemed like these girls legitimately thought that a man could not be expected to have any restraint if he saw a woman showing too much skin.
I then pointed out how subjective “too sexy” is. Have you ever seen footage from Afghanistan? Saudi Arabia? They would be scandalized by you showing your arms, your ankles, your neck. Does your grandma ever think your clothes are too revealing, when you know they’re exactly what everyone else is wearing? OK, so how could one possibly regulate this?
“Well, maybe the guy AND the girl should go to jail.”
One girl (there’s always one) looked at the rest like they were crazy. “I don’t show off my body, but no one has a right to touch you if you don’t want them to.”
Thank God for you!
The other girls came around a bit. And I think they will continue to. I’m glad they were exposed to some different ideas. It’s important to challenge those immediate assumptions, because people really just don’t realize how silly the knee-jerk reaction is. Oprah showed us all when she interviewed Trisha Meili, “the Central Park jogger,” who was raped while out jogging. She asked her what she was doing in the park at that hour, alone?
We’ve all heard it. Most of us have thought it. “It’s terrible what happened, don’t get me wrong. But what was she doing in that area/out at that hour/walking alone/going home with that guy/drinking that much/dressing like that?”
Um, she was probably looking for someone to assault her horribly. I mean, obvi.
We need to teach girls that they have control over their own bodies. That they have rights, and are entitled to their boundaries. That their bodies are not on loan.
A lot of us have been hearing about HR 3, a charming bit of legislation that would make it more difficult for low-income women to have Medicaid pay for their abortions in cases of rape.
Stay classy, Republicans (and one Democrat.)
They want to limit Medicaid funded abortions to cases of “forcible rape.” You attorneys out there will recognize the term “forcible rape” from your second year law class, “Legal Terms That Do Not Exist and In Fact Make No Sense.”
All rape is forcible. What they’re saying here is, you weren’t really raped. Unless a stranger jumped out of the bushes and assaulted you while you were walking to the library in a safe neighborhood at a reasonable hour, preferably while you were wearing a nun’s habit, it simply doesn’t count. Saying “no” isn’t enough. You are not in charge of your own body.
I don’t delude myself into thinking that my girls are C-Span junkies, hanging on John Boehner’s every word. But they are getting this message. It’s a part of our culture.
And let’s bear in mind, in our work, that this is something we need to challenge. Making sure that women are aware that they have agency over their lives and bodies is crucial to what we’re trying to do. The idea that one of these girls, my girls, could be victimized in the future, or think of how they’ve been victimized in the past, and see it as something they brought on themselves, breaks my heart.
Which is enough to get me preparing for our next group already. I’ll get the ranch dressing.