I have always had crazy dreams. Sometimes they are super weird and I can’t make any sense of them. Other times the significance is pretty obvious. Add in some pregnancy hormones, and my dreams went to a whole new level. Early in pregnancy before we knew the gender of our baby, I had several dreams with a child in it. In some it was a baby, and some it was a little kid running around. But it was always a girl. Every time. So imagine my non-surprise when the ultrasound technician announced that we were going to have a girl.
For most of my life I had a lot of reasons I always told myself (and others) why I wasn’t meant to have a daughter when I had kids. Most of the time I hid behind excuses like I don’t really know how to do makeup. Anything more than a ponytail is really beyond me. I have never been into the things society tells girls they should be interested in (which could be a whole other blog post, or several in itself).
Then bam. I was going to have a daughter. Let’s be honest though; my lack of knowledge when it comes to hair and makeup weren’t the real reasons I was terrified to have a daughter. There are YouTube videos to help me learn how to braid hair and do makeup. Thank goodness I have friends who are good at makeup and fashion just one phone call or text away. It is all about delegation, right?
I had to be honest with myself. Having a daughter terrified me because I know all the experiences I have had because of one simple fact: I am female.
When I was in high school, I was in the newspaper with some other girls for swimming. A day or so after the article, I had just walked home from school when the phone rang. It was a collect call (hello, pre-cellphone days!), and I didn’t accept it the first time. I couldn’t tell what name he said. But he called back immediately. My brother was away at college, so I thought it was him and accepted the call. The man on the other end asked, “Is this Beth?” Cue freak out. I asked who it was, and he replied how he couldn’t wait to see me. I hung up the phone, closed all the windows, and hid in my room. The phone kept ringing. I was scared out of my mind.
To make a long story short, my parents worked with the police to trace the number. The caller was in prison. He saw the newspaper article and called me because my name was unique and easy to find in the phone book. We blocked the phone number. A few months later, the calls started again. The man had used a different phone to call me again. The police were contacted, and we had to change our phone number. A few months after that he wrote me a letter in the mail. He wanted me to send him photos and have my friends write him and send photos.
Here I was in high school, and this man, who is in prison, knows my name and my address. It is safe to assume I was freaked out for a long time. In fact, it still creeps me out.
You know who else was in the paper a lot in high school for running and had the same last name as me? My brother. How many creepy prisoner phone calls did he receive? Zero.
There are not many times I have gone running by myself and not had a man say yell something at me. Usually something crude about my body. I had a car full of teen boys go around the block 4 times to keep passing me and yelling gross things. I was maybe 19 at the time. In my early 20s, I was running around the track for an organized interval workout. There were a lot of people there. One man, in his late 40s at the time, slapped me on the ass as he passed me. Seriously. I wasn’t out by myself. I was at an organized running group with about 50 other people. And he slapped my ass as I was trying to run a workout. What the hell?
In college, there was this guy, and he kind of stalked me my freshman year. He told me he first noticed me when I was walking up the stairs behind me, and he liked “watching my butt move back and forth.” He wanted me to go on a spring break trip with him. When I said I had a boyfriend, he told me “What he doesn’t know, won’t hurt him.” This guy was in one of my classes. He wouldn’t leave me alone. I was young and didn’t know what to do. I had to tell him several times to leave me alone. You think it was easy to focus in that class while being worried that guy, who was much larger than me, would follow me back to my dorm?
In more recent years, I had an older male coworker call me “kiddo” at work. Do you think he ever called the male graphic designer, who was the same age as me, kiddo? Nope.
These are just drops in the bucket.
I have not encountered many women who don’t have experiences like this and worse. So yeah, having a daughter terrified me. However, at the same time it empowered me. Sometimes I wish it hadn’t taken a daughter to awaken this side of me. I mean it was always there, and I knew these experiences were wrong, but I, like many women throughout our lives, minimized it. Probably because it happens so often.
I look at my little girl, who has wild, curly hair that yes, I watch YouTube videos to learn how to manage it better, and I hate that she is going to have encounters like this. That people might think she is weak, not capable, or define her value based on her looks and body.
The time for waving these situations aside is gone. A woman shouldn’t have to choose between speaking up for herself and feeling safe. Having conversations with other women about this topic has been inspiring. We have to keep talking about our experiences because if we don’t talk about it, the girls growing up will not speak up. And I don’t want my daughter, or any girl to feel like she can’t speak up when these things happen. Reading books that help with strategies and how to recognize what is happening around me and how to address it. I recommend starting with something like Feminist Fight Club that is humorous but honest and real at the same time.
And yeah, talking to my husband a lot about this over the past few years has been great. So much so that now he points things out to me before I can point them out to him. He will never be able to completely understand because he is a man, and these things simply won’t happen to him. But he can be aware. He can speak up when he sees another man displaying these types of behaviors. He can encourage the women in his life to speak up and share their stories. Especially his daughter. We to have these conversations with the men in our lives. Tell our experiences. Educate them.
We need men to be feminist. Because feminism isn’t about being female; it isn’t about man-hating. It is the idea that women should be able to go for a run and not be harassed. Should be able to walk to our car in a dark parking lot and not be fearful. To apply for a job and get equal pay as our male counterparts. It is the idea that woman’s value is not based on what our bodies look like. The list could go on. Until there is no list, there is work to do.