There are now 3 little girls under our roof who can say the word "No." Our almost-18 month old looked up at me when I said to give back a sharpie marker she wasn't supposed to have, curled the corners of her mouth into a smile, then furrowed her brow with intention, and said it:
Ok, so it sounded more like "Neaah!"
But it was clear what the message was. And it was clear she felt the power of it. Proud of herself. The recognition that she could assert herself. That she could put out into the world a message of defiance. That she could vocalize her dissent. That she has a voice.
Y'all, parenting is not for sissies. With 3 kids, both working, my partner commuting 2 hours each day, and no family around, we pretty much feel like we're drowning in parenthood on a daily basis. We've given up on the living room rug. There are stains that are just not coming out. One of the girls' twin mattresses is lying across the floor of the nursery because we've been playing musical beds throughout the night.
And there's a small piece of banana that has now turned hard, black, and caked to the floor in the downstairs hall. I've been secretly hoping our dog would lick it up for us. Sigh....
There's a lot of love in our house but there's also a whole lot of exhaustion, physical and emotional. When one of my girls defiantly says "No," I find myself wanting to beef up in response. To show them who's boss. To break their defiant spirit. How dare you say no to me?!
The truth is, I often want parenting to be easier. For them to just do what I say and not make waves. I mean, can't we have a family meal or weekend of fun without the whining and complaining? Can't I ask them to clean up their mess without them asking me "Why?" a dozen times or defiantly telling me "No!?" Is it so much to ask to have a morning when my oldest is ready for carpool on time, when my middle doesn’t change her outfit 3 times, and when my youngest doesn’t throw her food down for the dog to eat off the floor? I’d be lying if I said their defiance doesn’t exasperate me. Make me want to pull my hair out. Give me headaches.
It also gives me hope. It also gives me pride.
I want them to be able to say "No."
I want them to be able to say "No" in hopes that one day they won’t have to say “Me Too.” That they won’t have to be part of the socialized birthright of women to be sexually harassed and assaulted. That they won’t have to look back over their shoulders into deserted alleys. Won’t have to learn how to hold their keys to be ready to stab an attacker’s eyes. Won’t have to question whether they "wanted it" or not. Won’t have to protect their drinks. Won’t have to smile for others’ pleasure. Won’t have to accept sexism in the workplace as normal because "that’s just the way it is.”
I don’t want them to have to say "Me Too" but the odds point pretty strongly in the direction that they will. Not because they deserved it or asked for it. Not because they’re attractive or unattractive. Not because of what they will be wearing or doing. Not because it’s their fault. Not because they didn’t say "No" forcefully or clearly enough. I don’t know many women who have not experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault. And the ones who have initially told me they haven’t experienced it have typically ended up later realizing that they had simply brushed off their experiences as “just what happens” because the experiences are so common, so ignored, so minimized by the world around us. These experiences have become so normalized in our cultural fabric that women are afraid to speak up at the risk of losing jobs, promotions, relationships, respect.
I have many Me Toos I could list. Here are just a handful:
The male boss that butted me in front of a room full of my students.
The guy in college who groped me at the bar without my consent, starting from my breasts, tracing down around to my butt. Doing it as a joke in front of his basketball teammates.
The coach who brought me back to his office to show me porn on his computer.
The high school band teacher who ordered me into his secluded, small back office to scream at the top of his lungs about how I would not defy him because I had asked to be able to leave band practices early to make it to my field hockey games. My mother kept it from my father, knowing he would flip out. Knowing it might be worse for me if he got involved. After being reprimanded by the school counselor and my mother, the band teacher proceeded to tell his entire band class that "there was a female student who thought she could get me in trouble." How dare I.
The many times I did things sexually, not because I wanted to, but because I believed "this is how you get men to give you attention. If I don't, then I have nothing to offer."
The female boss who told me I should be "grateful for what you're getting already" when I approached her about a raise that would be equivalent to industry standards. Would she have said that to a male employee?
The graduate counseling students who wrote on my course evaluations that I should smile more and who made comments about how I dressed. I wonder how often they gave the same feedback to their male professors?
Girls, please keep saying no. Practice it a lot. Try it out at different decibels. Notice how it feels. Let it come from deep inside, all the way from the heels of your feet, grounding you into your own sense of worth and autonomy.
Say no to the guy who interrupts and talks over you in your work meeting.
Say no to the idea that your worth is tied up in your appearance.
Say no to the idea that you have to be small to take up space.
Say no to the idea that the only good bodies are thin bodies.
Say no to the guy who tries to touch you without your permission. Who makes a joke out of it.
Say no to being paid less for equal work.
Say no to others policing your body, your health, your choices, your desires.
Say no to sexism, racism, xenophobia, sizism, healthism, ALL OF THE ISMS.
Say no to the shrinking of women’s bodies, of women’s voices, of women’s needs, of women’s wants. Of your voices.
Say no to the bullying and stigma and discrimination that fat people experience, that trans people face, that minorities learn to expect as a given of their existence.
My loves, one day, even though you say "No," even though you have not granted your consent, someone will do or say something to you and your body. I pray I am wrong. I pray things will continue changing so much that this won’t be true.
When your Me Too happens, know it is not your fault. Know that you didn't deserve it. Know that I will not be disappointed in you or mad at you or ashamed of you. Including if you weren't able to say "No." Even if you said "Yes" when you didn't really want to. Or said "Yes" but changed your mind. Know that I will support you. I will back you. I will fight for you. l will believe you.