Awhile back I had a cadet tell me that his mum doesn’t care what he does or where he goes. Not that she doesn’t care about him in general, but that he can go off without telling her where he’s going and when he gets back he won’t be questioned. Luckily, he’s a good kid overall…
But I responded in a “Wow, really?” kind of way… He is only recently turned 16. We segued into the topic of girls vs boys somehow – I probably mentioned that I didn’t get away with that at 16. My parents were pretty lenient with allowing me to go out – but I still was supposed to give them the rundown of who/what/when/where/how.
“That’s because you’re a girl,” he said.
I gave him immediate side-eye.
“Sorry, Emma, I’m not trying to be sexist or anything… but that’s just the way it is. If I ever have a daughter, I’d do the same.”
While I feel that regardless there shouldn’t be the double standard, I can see this world we live in and have lived in it as a girl. I understand where he’s coming from.
It can be a scary place out there for girls. Of course boys can get into trouble too, the simple fact is that if there is to be equality in this issue – in the world we live in – the boys would also need to have a closer eye kept on them as well.
Of course, some parents do that… but many view boys as being able to take care of themselves better… as in the teen boy is less likely to be attacked by a stranger. They are less likely to be taken advantage of at a party. They are less likely to be sexually assaulted. In general, they have more strength than girls their age. Of course there are outliers – bad things happen to everyone, so when I say “less likely” it doesn’t mean that it just doesn’t happen to boys.
Anyway, when I had this exchange with said cadet I got a flash from the past. In addition to previously written about events, predatory, abusive people, I have had other seemingly minor experiences that beg to contribute to this conversation.
The first thought I had was a memory from when I was 14; summertime in Warrenton, Virginia. I was walking down a sidewalk that ran along a string of stores. I was wearing skater girl shoes, a tie dye top, and short white shorts. I was minding my own business as I aimed for a particular destination while my mum was finishing her shopping elsewhere.
I approached a couple of punks that were leaning against a wall, smoking. One of them had a can of something in his hand as well. I glanced in their direction. They looked like a mixture of old school punks and new age grunge… plaid, chains, looser jeans, non-descript t-shirts, one with a mohawk. I saw that they were watching me approach so I lowered my head so that my hair hung in my face as I continued past them.
As soon as I crossed into their vicinity, the one with the Mohawk called out to me “Hey, babe. Come’re.”
I hesitated for a moment and then shook my head slightly and kept walking.
“Babe, come on!” He said a little louder. “I just want to talk to you.”
“I can’t…” I said as I turned my head towards him slightly “…sorry.”
I continued walking, only to realize he was now following me. I turned my head and saw that he was stalking behind me, periodically calling out names to indicate he was talking to me… like referencing my tie dye shirt or my hair. I was attempting to ignore him and I sped up a bit, but tried to make it look natural – like I wasn’t running away.
I heard him tell me not to be a bitch.
I got to a Christian bookstore and decided that would be a safe place to duck inside – so I did. Once inside, I turned to peek out the glass door and saw him throw his can in frustration as his friend stepped up behind him. They looked in my direction for a moment before turning back the way they came.
I stayed inside the store for about 15 minutes in hopes that I could move on without them being too close when I walked out.
The next memory I had was from the following year, I was 15 and on holidays in Athens with my mum, a sister and some family friends. We were out and about doing our sightseeing and I started to feel unwell. My mum gave me some money and told me to take a taxi back to the hotel and wait for everyone there.
I flagged down a taxi and the driver got out and opened the front passenger door for me. I had a passing thought that that was odd, but as we as a family had taken taxis before and had to have someone sit up front before… I dismissed the thought.
I told the driver where I wanted to go.
He told me I looked so sad and that I should smile. I shrugged at him when he asked me what I had to be so sad about. This was an all too common conversation for me – I have had resting bitch face since I was a young teen. All too many people think it is their place to tell me to smile; men and women alike.
After we had started driving he told me he knew what would cheer me up – he would take me to a place where I could see all of Athens. I told him I didn’t feel well and just wanted to go to my hotel.
He drove me to the top of some hill where you could see the expanse of the city laid out as far as the eye could see. I breathtaking view that was punctured by the hand of a middle-aged taxi driver running up my leg.
He said he wanted to take me out for some drinks. I protested again that I was unwell. He dismissed my protests insisting that he knew I would feel better partying with him.
“No!” I yelled. “I want to go to my hotel! Take me to my hotel!”
Luckily he gave up, lifting his hands up in the air in a very “c’est la vie” kind of gesture. He drove me to the hotel, but then before he let me out he gave me his phone number and told me to call him when I was ready for some drinks or if I needed any further transport.
I threw my money at him as I struggled to get out of the car as fast as I could. He smiled and waved at me, blowing a kiss. I ran into my hotel as fast as I could.
When my mother got back she asked for her change and I had to tell her what happened… I didn’t wait around for change, I had been too scared.
So my point is, I suppose, is that this world we live in makes it difficult to be a girl on your own sometimes. The fact is; that many boys our age are stronger than us… let alone in my stories above where the dudes were older than me – and bigger. The fact is, at this point in time, it is only smart to worry about daughters a tad more than sons. Especially when it comes to these kinds of issues. Though I imagine I will be in general just as worried when my son becomes a teenager.
These weren’t isolated events in my life. For those of you that have been following me for a while, you know the stories of Patrik and Timmy, the attempted rape, the abusive ex, and the violence of David. (Note all these stories are polished and expanded upon in the book “That Boy Gave Me Cooties” if you are interested to read further.)
I’m not the first person to say this – I’m sure I won’t be the last – but we need to teach our sons. We need to teach them not to be the creepy asshole. We need to help make the world safer for our daughters and sons alike so that the double standard can fade away.
We need to spread our stories so they know that what they say and do can be legitimately creepy and scary to girls. So that they know that certain behaviours are just not ok… Maybe it also needs to be prefaced with “imagine this girl is your own daughter – how would YOU feel?”
I read this text a while ago and it touched me something fierce, let’s all tell our stories and make them count for something.