Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis C.K. Al Franken. Roy Moore. James Toback. Mark Halperin. Charlie Rose. The recent wave of women and men speaking out about sexual harassment and abuse presents a teachable moment for us parents, lots of teachable moments. However, I grapple with how to handle it.
My son is 15. My daughter, 12.
According to a study by Cornell University, most women report their first catcalling experience was by age 14. More than 11 percent reported such experiences before they were 11 years old. Half of U.S. women younger than 40 reported they had been groped or fondled in the year prior to the survey. Some 77 percent of U.S. women younger than 40 have been followed by a man or group of men in a way that made them feel unsafe during the past year.
This reminded me of a scary moment for me. I was in my late teens, maybe early 20s, driving home from the mall with a friend. The route home took a series of rural back roads. It was dark, and I noticed that with every turn I made — and I made many turns — the headlights about a half mile behind us remained.
Twenty minutes later, as we approached my house on one of those rural roads, the headlights were still there. A friend’s dad once told me that if ever I thought someone was following me, not to pull into my driveway unless my parents were definitely home (his wife was followed home once). Go someplace public, he said. So I drove past my house, and turned toward town.
At the interstate, there was a truck stop and McDonald’s. I pulled in, expecting the other car to keep going. But it pulled in beside us. My nerves on edge, I remember getting out of the car. I remember two young men about our age getting out of the other car. “We wanted to meet you,” one said. And I lost it. I’m normally a quiet person, but I remember yelling. You can’t just follow girls home! You scared us half to death! Don’t ever do that again! Heart racing, I got back in the car, and we left.
As I got older, I heard much worse stories from friends. And of course there were catcalls and unwanted touches. How do I teach my son not to be that man, that groping, or more, is more likely to cause fear than arousal? How do I teach my daughter to defend herself, to speak up even though she’s scared? And how do I do that without destroying her ability to enjoy a healthy sex life with an eventual soulmate?
Right now, I have more questions than answers. I found tips on stopstreetharassment.org and ihollaback.org, like “use strong body language” and “project confidence.” But these tips feel inadequate. More is needed. I can feel it like a mountain in the fog. But I can’t see it yet. Perhaps this wave of #MeToo will bring clarity.
Pamela Hayford is a mother of two and editor of Southwest Florida Parent & Child magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook (swflparentchild) or Twitter (@swflparentchild).
SW FL Parent & Child
The November issue of Southwest Florida Parent & Child magazine is available online and will soon be at family-friendly locations throughout Lee and Collier counties. Inside, three Southwest Florida moms share their tales of Mom the Taxi Driver, often shuttling kids more than 50 miles around town in a single day. Plus, meet children looking for forever families, learn how to raise a foodie and find lots of family events. Learn more at swflparentchild.com.
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