I grew up believing that as if I wanted to be a well respected “lady” I needed to act, speak and dress a certain way. My grandmother used to tell me to not play with boys or cars, “that’s not what ladies do” Of course, I wanted to play boy games, climb trees and play ball outside.
Much hasn’t changed; we still talk to our girls like this. We still tell our boys “boys don’t cry” and tell them “not to act like a girl or pussy” somehow we make them believe that’s so wrong… to be like a girl. Why do we say this? Because a girl is supposed to be weak, a girl does not know how to fight, a girl cannot defend herself, a girl is not smart, a girl cannot play sports, a girl is a sissy, a girl needs to be protected and on and on.
Is this what we want our boys and girls to believe? Do we still believe that a “lady” a defined by the way she dresses, speaks and acts? Do we still judge someone by all of the above? Yes, of course we do.
Take the Cleveland case for example, an 11 year old girl gang-raped by 18 young men. We have heard all about how the young girl dresses, how she wore so much make up and how she looked so much older than her age. Oh, let me not forget her postings on Facebook were of sexual content. So what? Is that a free pass for this group to brutally rape her? Well, if she was acting like a lady, this wouldn’t have happened right? Wrong! Not once have we heard about this child and how she’s coping with this traumatic crime. Not one article I’ve read has attempted to talk to a rape crisis expert about the effects this may have on her and the family. Not once did I read about the treatment she got after the brutal attack.
I don’t give a shit about what this young girl was wearing or that she looks much older than her age. I just want to know how she’s doing. Is she getting the treatment? Is she safe?
I’m deeply saddened by how some media outlets have chosen to cover the story. I’m more disturbed by how community members have responded to the issue. I’m also encouraged to bring both awareness and education to another level. The topics of Sexual Violence or Rape are not ones we feel very comfortable discussing. They are not “fun” topics to chat over dinner with friends and loved ones. But is it something we must open our eyes to and realize is necessary to talk about? We cannot live in a bubble and pretend this doesn’t happen. It does. It happens every single day. It is happening as I write this blog entry and as you read it. Someone at this very moment is being sexually assaulted. What can you do about it? Can you prevent it?
Unfortunately, one cannot prevent rape. One can take precautions like not walk at the park late at night, walk to your car with keys on hand, always have a cell phone, lock your doors but this doesn’t mean “it” won’t or “it” can’t happen to you. If someone decides they want to hurt you, there’s nothing you can do to stop that. That person is the only person that has control over his/her decision to hurt you.
One thing that we can do about it is be more critical about what we see on the news, magazines, TV shows and music etc. We can talk to our youth about healthy sexuality. We can talk to our children about safe/un-safe touches. We can talk about consent and the right to say no.
Consent is a beautiful thing. It gives you power and control of not only your body but the situation. Asking for it should not be something “weird” or not cool. Consent is about respect, communication and boundaries. Respect how far your partner wants to go. Communicate with your partner what you feel comfortable with and what like and don’t like to do. Set your boundaries and know that you have to right to say “no” and having ‘no’ accepted and respected. Consent is an agreement between both people and it should be voluntary, mutual and wanted but never under pressure.
What’s in between my legs is mine and NO ONE can to touch it unless I give consent. My body is mine and I decide who gets to see it. The deciding factor shouldn’t be based on how I’m dressed, how I act, who I hang out with or where I am. NO ONE has the right over my wonderful body but me. NO ONE had the right over that young girl’s body but her. I can only hope for her healthy healing after all that she went through. She is a survivor and one of the reasons I continue to do the work I do.