Manners are great -- when appropriate.
But there is a time and a place for everything.
And when it comes to the health, dignity, and safety of your children (and, you know, yourself), there is no place for manners.
Yet it's not unusual to hear parents asking question like, "My uncle/brother-in-law/step brother/whatever has been very physically affectionate with my daughter. How can I get him to stop without causing tension in the family?"
Here's the thing, though:
You made the decision to bring a human being into this world. And now, the only thing you should be worried about is your precious, perfect child's well-being.
Would you forgive yourself if you found out that this guy was sexually abusing her, and you’d failed to stop it because you didn’t want to “start a family war”?
Or if you found out someone else was abusing her, but she didn’t tell you because she saw you witness the way her uncle was touching her, right in front of you, and you didn’t do or say anything to stop it?
Probably not, right?
In fact, given the way so many girls are raised and socialized to be "lady-like" and "polite," I think it's actually super important to model the behavior you would like them to use someday.
If you don't like how someone is touching your daughter, don't wait until later to tell them. Say so, right now.
Sure, it's "more polite" to say something later, in private.
But what message does this send young girls?
"If someone's doing something that makes you uncomfortable, grin and bear it, and maybe politely tell them later."
Instead, send the message that, the moment something starts happening to your body that you don't like, SAY SO.
"Could you take your hands off her bottom, Henry?"
"We don't allow that kind of touching."
"Chelsea, if the way he's touching makes you uncomfortable, all you have to do is say, 'I don't like that.' It's your body!"
"Jim, did you ask if you could touch her there? She might not like that."
SAY SO. RIGHT NOW. THERE IS NO REASON TO WAIT, AND WAITING CAN ACTUALLY BE DANGEROUS.
If you're going to handle this all delicately and quietly, your daughter might never know you even said anything. She needs to know you will always defend her, even if the person who is making her uncomfortable is someone you both know and care about.
She needs to know that women have a right not to be touched -- and that right is way more important than other people's feelings.
After all, if someone rapes or sexually abuses her, the odds of it being a stranger are super small. It's much, much more likely to be someone she already knows, trusts, or works with -- someone whose feelings she cares about. This is one of the flaws with lots of women's self-defense classes: they're designed to help you fight off a stranger in the night, not someone you have ongoing interactions with. (See also: Mollie Tibbetts is Dead. That Doesn't Mean Jogging is "Unsafe" For Women.)
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Earlier this year, I wrote about why Laura Kipnis' 2017 book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, was still super relevant in 2018. In one chapter, she opines how awful it is that a woman in academia attended a work event... at which the men on either side of her both put their hands on her leg under the table.
What would happen if we stopped commiserating with one another about how horrible men are and teach students how to say, "Get your fucking hand off my knee?" Yes, there's an excess of masculine power in the world, and women have to be educated to contest it in real time, instead of waiting around for men to reach some new stage of heightened consciousness--just in case that day never comes. (p.214)
But... you don't have to wait till your daughter has her Ph.D. to teach her this. You can, and should, start right now.
Teach her, right now, that she doesn't have to be "polite," and that it isn't her job to smile for men who make her uncomfortable -- show her that her safety and comfort matter more than anyone or anything else.
To borrow a meme from The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Gif All Women Need to See Immediately:
Do you really want your daughter to end up in a bunker because she "didn't want to be rude"? No, right?
Or, to use a real-life example:
Eva Moses Kor is a holocaust survivor author of several books, including Surviving the Angel of Death: The True Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz; Echoes from Auschwitz: The Story of Eva and Miriam Mozes; and, notably, Forgiving Dr. Mengele.
When reflecting on her holocaust tattoos, she wrote:
The tattooing was at the end of our first day at Auschwitz. I was the second to last person in our group of 26 people to get a tattoo, and I decided I was going to fight. I was not going to let them touch me. I didn't really know how much it would hurt, but it wasn't the tattoo that bothered me as much as my thought, What right do they have to do anything to me physically? And maybe it was my only way to make a stand against what had been happening to me all day long.
Yes, times have changed... but still today, way too many women and girls end up getting hurt because they're afraid to #BeRude.
Remember -- and remember to tell your children: if someone is touching you in a way that you don't like, HE is the one who is being rude. NOT you.
And you shouldn't be afraid to tell him so.
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Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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