My 21 year old daughter Keisha is beautiful. She has always been, in my eyes. When she was a baby and a toddler, we would literally be stopped in the street by strangers who exclaimed over her bright blue eyes and her golden curls. She grew up and those golden curls went dark, then pink, then blonde again. She has dark hair now and it suits her. She lives on her own now and that suits her too. She has flourished. That bright and inviting smile, the laughter that bubbles up like a mountain stream dancing its way down to the valley, those eyes are still the most inciting blue.
She has also spent the last year making some huge and healthy changes. She has lost 80lbs, she has more energy and confidence.
Keisha works in a mall at a kiosk right now. She stands there every day and talks to strangers for a living. She is very good at it, which is not surprising, she is naturally inviting and friendly. But, she has been having a problem. With men.
Often men come up to her and ask for her number. Okay, it takes courage to approach someone you find attractive and to take that risk. She is nice about it. She politely declines. She thanks them for the compliment. She wishes them a good day. Usually that’s fine. But, a lot of times they will touch her. A shoulder, a hand on the forearm, the small of her back, an arm around her. She hates this. And, if she asks them to please stop, to please not, she is usually met with the same resistance. “Come on, honey. I’m just being friendly.” But usually, again, they DO stop.
There is a guy that comes to her kiosk a lot. And always touches her in some way. She has been polite. She has been blunt. She has told him she’s gay (and gotten the even more abhorrent “that’s even hotter, can I watch?”). This guy won’t leave her alone and she is getting angry and scared.
She called me Thursday night after a day when no less than six men had put their hands on her.
“What do I do? Why are they doing this?”
We had a talk I never wanted to have with her. No matter how open I am with my kids about life, love, sex, money. THIS was the worst talk of all, and, I realized, I’d have to have it with my other kids too. My daughters and my son.
“They do it because you’re young, and you’re beautiful and to some men, not all, but to some, they feel like it’s their right. That you should be flattered by the attention and, when you’re not, it’s because something is wrong with you, you’ve offended them. Sadly, because you’re a girl, this is part of your life.”
I wanted to cry. Or throw up. I thought back to my younger years. I was touched a lot too. Unwanted arms over shoulders, around waists, on my ass….sometimes even when I had my small children with me.
“What do I do about this one guy, though? I can’t ask security to just hang around my kiosk all day until he shows up?”
I told her to do two things. I told her, on her next day off to call the police station and talk to a female officer and find out if she has ANY recourse.
“Then,” I said, “the next time this happens, and we both know there will be a next time, you YELL. You’ve been nice, you’ve been blunt and he still feels free to touch you and that’s Not OKAY. You need no reason, no explanations other than its your body and you said no. Draw a crowd. Embarrass him. Hopefully he will get the hint.”
Yesterday he came back. And though she physically tried to keep away from him, he assumed she was being playful and tried to hug her. And she yelled. She yelled at him to stop touching her. He tried his usual “come on” bit, but she yelled louder “I don’t want you to touch me!” He got angry, really angry, because people were staring, and he stormed off. Someone who saw told security who then talked to my girl and went looking for the guy.
By the time she related this to me, she was shaking with adrenaline, fear and emotions.
I wish I could have been there to hug her.
My husband and I told her we are proud of her. But it isn’t fair that she should have to resort to this after politely saying no weeks ago.
I wish I had realized, back in my day, that I didn’t have to smile and bear it to save the GUY from a scene, or a rejection. I wish I had realized back then that it was MY choice who touched me in any way. All the way from who held my hand, to who hugged me to who I had sex with. Because it wasn’t always my choice when those things happened. And I’ll be dammed if I watch my daughters go quietly through the same humiliations, because that’s what they are, in the end. A series of small humiliations.
You might say, wouldn’t it just be easier, for everyone involved, to just let that hug, or that tap, or that hand just on the arm happen, ignore it and get on with your day?
Maybe. For the guy. But for that girl who is just “grinning and bearing” it, it’s a slow chiselling away at her own self worth. Her rights to her own body and her freedom to say to someone yes, I invite you to touch me, because that’s what SHE wants.
A woman’s body is hers and only hers until she chooses to share it. In ANY capacity.