I was in eighth grade when I overheard a group of boys discussing their female classmates in the library. I sat frozen in a cubby desk hidden from their view. I attempted to finish a make-up vocabulary test, but my focus disappeared as I listened to their words.
“The new girl is cute, but a little chubby. Sometimes she is pretty, but other days, I don’t know.”
I felt the young man’s words cut through my skin and consume my thoughts. I looked down at my thighs and noticed their roundness. I put my hand on my stomach, soft to the touch. My other hand embraced a lock of my hair, reminding me again that it was a mistake to try a new haircut.
I was the new girl, and apparently ugly and fat.
I don’t remember much of my eighth-grade year, yet I’ve kept those words with me. I hear them when I look into the mirror and don’t like what I see. I think about them when my skinny jeans don’t zip up or when my hair is a mess. Every time my face breaks out or I slip my legs into a bathing suit, I am in eighth grade again.
Those words shouldn’t define me, shouldn’t have the effect they had. I grew up in a house with parents who showered me with love and positive affection about my looks and abilities. I married a man who is devoted and loving. I have friends who encourage and support. I am successful and happy with the person I became, the one I am still becoming.
Yet, those words often come back to haunt me. These are the words I keep in the desk drawer of my mind, the ones that startle me when they reappear. The ones I often shove into the back but can never throw out.
And now that I have girls of my own approaching eighth grade, I wonder what words will they choose to keep, what innocuous statements will stain their souls?
Although I like to think I can relate to my daughters, the world they live in is much different than the one I knew.
The pressure on young people today is tremendous. From looks and grades to social media presence and athletics, the burden to be the best weighs heavy on our most impressionable minds. This also creates a culture of envy and unconfident youth who do not know how to step away from the stories they create in their minds of their peers’ perfect lives. Individuality is admonished and childhood ends sooner.
The result is a generation of teenage girls searching for ways to cope. Eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, self-harming, body dysmorphia, depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are just some of the ways young girls deal with these external pressures.
So, I wonder, when my daughter looks in the mirror, will she hear my voice saying she is beautiful on the inside and out, or will she choose to purge her last meal? When a young girl ostracizes her on social media, will her father’s words ring in her ears, reminding her of her strength, or will she choose to cut her skin to deal with the pain? When a boy pressures her to move forward too quickly, will she remember her worth or succumb to peer pressure?
What words will she choose to keep?
Words are powerful. They can motivate groups and cripple young minds.
But words can be vague and open to misinterpretation. Eighth grade me didn’t realize this. Forty-something me wants to change it for my girls.
No longer do I compliment my daughters with generalities. I want them to possess mantras — words to live by and provide comfort in times of stress and confusion.
When we feel bad about our appearance, we say, ““I am enough, exactly as I am at this moment. Remember who you are.”
When someone treats us poorly, we say, “What others say is a reflection of them, not me.”
When we are troubled and don’t know what to do, we say, “Kindness is the best form of communication. Love always wins.”
And when the world brings us down, we say, “It will be okay, because I am loved.”
I am not naive enough to think that simple phrases will protect my girls from the evils of the world, but saying these mantras with them, believing these words, and trying to live it, is a powerful exercise.
It’s the way I start shredding the notes from my past and writing new ones for my daughters.
And living through eighth grade once is enough for anyone.
Brock Turner gets released from jail Friday, September 2, 2016, after serving three months in Santa Clara County jail.
For those of you not familiar, Mr. Turner, a scholar athlete and Olympic swimming hopeful, was convicted in March of three felony counts: assault with the intent to commit rape of an unconscious person, sexual penetration of an unconscious person and sexual penetration of an intoxicated person. He attacked a woman identified as drunk behind a garbage bin on the Stamford University campus in January 2015.
He completed half of the paltry six-month jail term Judge Aaron Persky imposed upon him. Prosecutors asked for six years.
Most people accused of rape are never found guilty — the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network estimates 97 out of 100 perpetrators of sexual assault avoid punishment. Turner’s crime, however, had witnesses. There was no doubt.
One summer. Three months. 2,160 hours. Not even a full swim season.
Movies released when he entered county jail — instead of the prison time he should have received — may still be playing in theaters.
Don’t get me wrong; I know Brock’s life will never be the same. He is now the poster child for what is wrong with our Justice system when it comes to rape. He is the shining example of how people in authority do not take sexual abuse seriously. His life is forever changed.
And perhaps I could find compassion for Mr. Turner if he or his family had any empathy for his victim, instead of attributing his “mistake” to two individuals who consumed too much alcohol.
But one thing universally common to rapists is that they don’t think about what their victim goes through. To commit a crime that heinous, it often involves a tremendous amount of dehumanizing.
Victims, however, often do not have the luxury of detachment. Rape is a devastatingly intimate crime that women take with them for the rest of their lives. While some victims are severely injured, become pregnant or contract a disease, for most it is the emotional weight of the crime that breaks them.
Raped women often deal with nightmares, panic attacks, waves of self-doubt, and an overwhelming sense of distrust. They often cannot work because of the fear of another attack. The constant shame inhibits relationships.
Some victims say they are never the same again. It is a lifetime prison sentence.
Why should this matter to you? If you are the parent of girls, you should know that the chance a woman between the age of 12 to 28 getting sexually assaulted is one in three.
I have three daughters. Those are odds I can’t live with.
We keep telling our girls that they can do anything and be anything, but the cold reality is they can’t. Women are constantly in sexual danger, and it limits our potential. Until we change the conversation from who gets raped to who commits rapes, the “Rape Culture” in our society lives on.
Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at the State University of New York who has received international recognition for his work on men and masculinity, calls it a matter of carrots and sticks. “I think the stick is we need very strong laws with uncompromising enforcement all the way through the legal system so that we make it clear as culture that we won’t stand for this. As a culture we can say the way we try to say around murder for example, or auto theft for example, ‘this is beyond the pale, you cannot do this. We will come down so hard on you, you won’t want to do this.’ O.K. that’s the stick. What’s the carrot? If we as men make it very clear to the women in our lives that we don’t support men’s violence against women, that we are actively opposed to it, that we are willing to confront other men who we see doing aggressive things, then our relationships with women will actually improve.”
All the weight does not lay with our legal system, however, or as society as a whole. There is a burden we carry as parents as well.
Before sentencing, Brock Turner’s father issued a statement detailing the impact this event has on his son, which included how he could no long enjoy a good steak nor follow his dreams to become an Olympic swimmer. He insinuated that the prosecutor’s recommendation for prison time was unfair, suggesting that county jail with probation (instead of the usual mandatory sentencing of several years in lock-up) is a “steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.” He felt that Brock has suffered —will suffer — enough for his role in this situation. He also promised his son’s time would be better spent educating other college students on the misuse of alcohol.
His statement forgot one small detail: Brock Turner is not the victim.
Brock’s life changed the moment he decided to pursue a woman so intoxicated she could not speak or even stand on her own. That mistake — that crime — cost him his Olympic hopes.
The fact that the most central figures in his life — his good friends, his parents, and a California Supreme Court Judge — minimized his role in this event will cost Brock Turner something much more: any chance of learning that his actions have measured consequences.
More importantly, allowing him out of jail after only three months gives every other young man on campuses across the country an out for rape. Intoxication is a mistake and sexual assault just an ugly consequence of poor judgment.
As a parent, I can’t imagine the heartbreak for the Turners. It must be devastating to watch your golden child’s life destroyed because of what may have been his first drunken binge at a frat party.
This pales in comparison, however, to finding out your daughter was violated in rubbish by a young man that didn’t even know her name. Living with the fact that the convicted perpetrator has no remorse about the crime, and in fact, won’t even admit to it, must be unbearable.
But knowing he walked out of the county jail after three months — one-quarter of a year — well, that is enough to destroy a victim and their family forever.
I do not know the type of parents Brock Turner has or how they chose to raise him. I can only hope that as the California penal system releases him back out into society that his parents will begin to hold him accountable for his actions.
He made an incredible mistake and will pay for it for the rest of his life. But it is a parent’s job to help him understand what he did was wrong — not make it easier for him. He committed a violent crime and needs help. If the Turner’s do not understand this, they need help too.
To date, no one from the Turner family publicly apologized to the victim. Perhaps this is the result of legal counsel, but I can only hope Brock’s parents will help their son see his wrongdoings and give some semblance of closure to his victim. The justice system sure didn’t.
And I am scared. I am scared that one day my girls will drink too much at a party, experiment with drugs, or trust the wrong person, and the direction of their life will forever change in that one second because someone like Brock wasn’t held accountable; because another man felt raping a young woman wasn’t that big of a deal.
Brock Turner gets out of jail after serving 90 days in a county jail after being convicted on three felony accounts by a group of his peers.
His victim will pay for his actions for the rest of her life.
We all must live with that.
From the victim’s letter to her assailant at sentencing:
“As a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.”
I watched from my park bench as a young mother tried to console her sobbing daughter. “I’m sorry, honey. I don’t blame you for being upset.”
“I don’t know why they won’t let me be in their group for the talent show. They just said they already had enough people and their routine was done and there wasn’t anything they could do about it. I told them I would make a new one up, but they wouldn’t do it.”
I tried to focus on my kindle while occasionally looking for my kids to exit the school door, but the wailing was distracting and as much as I tried not to eavesdrop, I had to admit I was interested to hear how the mom would handle this all-too-common situation.
“Well, they’re probably just jealous of you honey, because you are such a good gymnast and they aren’t. They probably don’t want you in their group because you’ll show them up,” the mom stated matter-of-factly. “You should do a solo routine. Or maybe one with Chloe.”
“You think?” the girl replied, her tears slowing down. “You think they’re just jealous of my tumbling?”
Several minutes passed before my girls came out, but the interaction between the mother and daughter stuck with me for a lot longer. Maybe the girls were jealous, or maybe they honestly had their routine finished.
Feeling excluded is a common problem in today’s transparent culture, particularly among girls and women. Social media exasperates it, as often we mindlessly scroll through images and come across a photo of a group at some fun activity that did not happen to include you.
There is also the problem of parents striving for perfection in every aspect of their lives. It is intimidating to be surrounded by a sea of thin, perfectly coiffed women in expensive Lululemon athletic outfits or watch a working mom of five kids whip up homemade, gluten-free, glow-in-the-dark snacks for the Fun Fair as you drop off cookies from the grocery store in your stained yoga pants.
But what happens when we continually use jealousy as the rationale for exclusion? What are we telling our daughters that the only reason anyone treats them poorly is that someone is envious of their talent, stature or situation?
A few years back a friendship went off the rails for me. Someone I liked a great deal turned into a person I didn’t even know anymore. I tried multiple times to mend fences, but she clearly stated she wanted nothing to do with me.
As another friend and I sat and tried to rationalize what transpired and why my relationship with this woman turned combative, the response came easily. She was jealous of the relationship I formed with another mom, perhaps even jealous of the fun we were having. My friend even surmised that perhaps she was jealous of a position I recently acquired. It didn’t seem to fit based on the person I knew, but it was a simple rationalization, alleviating me from any responsibility or introspection.
I found out nearly a year later that a mutual acquaintance apparently shared what I thought was a private conversation among three women over wine with my former friend. When she provided what I felt like was a lame excuse for not joining us for a birthday dinner, we ended up discussing how we felt her husband was a little too controlling. I wouldn’t say the conversation was malicious, but I can see how it would be hurtful if relayed.
The net-net is I did something wrong, and I got caught. She wasn’t jealous of anything. She was mad, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, she received an exaggerated story that I spread this gossip all through town, and she decided anything that subsequently came out of my mouth was not worth hearing.
We both handled the situation poorly, and it took me awhile to process the entire event and understand my role in it.
Now that my daughters are in their tweens, I try to avoid using jealousy as a rationalization for bad behavior for a myriad of reasons:
Reduces the need for self-examination. When we write off other people’s behavior as jealous, it eliminates the opportunity to consider our role in the situation. How can girls learn that their actions impact other’s responses if we are easy to blame jealousy as the answer.
It also promotes big heads. If we constantly tell girls that other people are jealous of them, whether it is because of their appearance, friendships or grades, how will they develop coping mechanisms when they get out in the real world? There can be a thing such as too much self-esteem. In our Kim Kardashian culture, we assume each time someone dislikes our actions, it’s because she is jealous or the nefarious “hater.” This I-can-do-know-wrong mentality is a dangerous way to live.
Decreases the opportunity for compassion, and more importantly, grace. The pressure on young people today is tremendous. From looks and grades to social media presence and athletics, the burden to be the best weighs heavy on our most impressionable minds. This also creates a culture of envy and unconfident youth who do not know how to step away from the stories they create in their minds of their peers’ perfect lives.
Often, when someone hates on you, it’s because you’ve got something they want. This is not the time to rub it in their face by acting even more confident. It is not our job to teach other people a lesson on how we perceive a situation. Instead, it’s an opportunity to extend kindness and grace. Most times it will be ill-received, but we shouldn’t stop trying.
Consider offering a compliment to a woman you feel is sizing you up. There is a power in acknowledging what you admire in another woman, and it can change the dynamic of a relationship. On the flip side, do not acknowledge a snide remark another mom makes about your daughter winning the science fair…..again. Instead, take the higher ground with jealousy and simply do not acknowledge it. Letting go of the need to defend yourself releases you from the burden of other’s perceived opinions. Plus, it stops the negativity dead in its tracks — it’s tough to have an argument with only one person.
That being said, if there is a pattern of snide comments or damaging behavior, it’s important to practice self-distancing. Learning not to engage with negative people is an important life lesson as well.
It extends mean girl behavior. Recently I watched a gaggle of kids in my neighborhood playing a game. It was a mixture of children who lived on our street and friends of friends. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as a sad seven-year-old boy slinked over to his dad, telling him he was left out. The father’s response: “Don’t be ridiculous. If you want to play, just tell them you want to play.” And off he went. No drama, no attempt to decipher the other kids’ thoughts. Just a swift kick in the pants to go after what he wanted.
When we tell our daughters consistently that girls are jealous of them, we are perpetuating a stereotype we’ve lived for too long. While insecurity is still a major problem — and the main reason for the “Mommy Wars” — jealousy should not be the go-to excuse in our feminist toolbox. Instead, we need to teach our kids how to navigate difficult relationships and improve communication as opposed to merely writing off behavior as a jealous rage.
Jealousy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s human nature. It’s natural to feel jealous from time to time. Fighting off the green eyed monster is hard, whether you’re the one experiencing the emotions or on the receiving end.
What’s important, though, is to teach kids — especially young girls — that you can stand for something without tearing another down. Imagine the power we’d give our kids then?
I am making my debut on one of my favorite sites today, Mamalode, discussing managing my daughters’ self esteem.
I find it hard to find the right balance of encouragement and honesty with my girls. It becomes particularly difficult during a fashion stand off. On one hand, I want them to feel empowered and loved, and on the other hand, I want to be honest and helpful.
And sometimes you just have to tell a girl she looks ridiculous. You know, the girlfriend rule.
Thanks for reading.
THE TIGHTROPE OF SELF ESTEEM
The small-framed tween girl slides to a stop in her sock-clad feet directly in front of me.
“Ta-da,” she sings, using jazz hands as her chocolate eyes dance with excitement.
“You can’t wear that to school,” I respond too quickly.
“Why not? I think I look awesome.”
“It doesn’t look right,” I declare. The words spew out of my mouth like bullets, and I instantly want to siphon them back in as I watch my daughter flinch. “I mean, you are not supposed to wear it that way.”
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“Oh no!” I exclaimed while drinking my coffee in between packing lunches.
“What happened,”my 5th grade daughter asked, in between bites of frozen pancakes.
Today is the day before Halloween, which means it’s class party time at the elementary schools. It’s a BIG day for the little people, one of their favorites. I have been at one of my children’s Halloween parties for, like, always. It’s what I do. As a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, it’s one of the perks of my job. Even with the coordinating and party planning and begging for volunteers —I am always grateful for that opportunity to see my kids in their element. I whole-heartedly love it.
But entertaining 26 ten-year olds without getting heckled is a tough job. That why I shouted “oh no” when I received an email from a fellow volunteer — a mom I really like and admire — who goofed up her schedule,
Halloween parties at our school run a little earlier than others because of a special Fall program the staff does. She accidentally inputted the time wrong, and now will be late because she is leading a meeting.
And she feels awful. I’m sure she feels guilty for letting the other parents down, but mostly for missing time with her daughter. She feels the pangs that working moms experience all the time.
That’s when I decided to pick the next words I spoke to my daughter carefully. I looked deep into those dark brown eyes and said, “Nothing is wrong. One of the moms is going to be a little late to your party because she gets to lead a very important meeting for her company. She actually teaches people how to communicate ideas about their business better, and she is really good at it. Today, she gets to lead a video conference. She has a lot to pack into her day so she’s just going to run a few minutes behind. We will figure it out until she gets there!”
“Really? That’s a cool job,” my daughter said. “I’d love to lead a video conference for a bunch of people one day.”
“You could totally do it, “ I told her. “She started her own business but works with some of the biggest companies in the world. She combined her passion with making a living. You could do that too one day.”
“Like maybe soccer and math?” she mumbled with a full pancake in her mouth.
“Sure, maybe even soccer and math.”
I know this sounds like an innocuous conversation. Really, it’s just a school party. But to me, a stay-at-home mom, this is important stuff. Life-changing stuff.
Because to be honest, I am counting on you working moms. I need you guys to succeed.
Due to life circumstances — a husband who travels, moving around the country a few times, birthing three kids in sixteen months — it made sense for me to stay at home. I didn’t anticipate becoming a full-time mom, but it works for my family. I enjoy it and live a fulfilling life filled with volunteering at my kids’ school, charitable work and a little bit of writing here and there. My children understand that I work, even if I am not getting paid.
But my daughters may choose a different path, and I need role models for them. Role models like my friend who volunteers at school, creates beautiful projects with her kids and runs a business — and still has time to go out and grab a glass of wine.
In that moment I found out my working mom friend was going to be late, I could have admonished her in front of my daughter. But, instead, I wanted to show her something else, something much more important.
Middle school is the time when most girls no longer believe they can be anything they want in this world. According to my friend Vanessa at TIA Girl Club, this is the time when camouflaging occurs, meaning our daughters want more to fit in then become their authentic selves. This is when we lose them.
The number one way to raise girls who believe they can do anything and be anyone is by supporting other women — women who make different choices than ourselves. It is the most important way to show our girls that they control their destiny.
We need to support the moms who are working either by desire or by necessity. Offer to carpool so their child doesn’t miss an event or take in a snack they prepared. Help their kids when they can’t be at the class party. Don’t make them feel bad when they are running late. I’m pretty sure dealing with guilt is a second job for most working moms, so don’t add more.
Because the truth is, I feel guilty too. I wonder if I am the best example to my kids at times, if I am demonstrating girl-power. I am comfortable if they choose to follow my path, but I don’t want them to do it out of fear or resignation. I want them to understand they have the power of choice.
And my brand of feminism has to do with two things and two things only — equality and choice. Feminists who came before us fought for the right to choose a life that was on their terms —whether that was staying at home or participating in the workforce.
And we ladies should support each other in whatever choices we make. If we don’t support them both, what message will that send to our girls?
When men do it they are applauded, so as women, let’s really show them how it’s done.
So, to all the working moms running late today: don’t worry. We got this!
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