Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Raising a girl

Today in the car, Boo told me a long, halting story. It took at least a mile of driving to get it out. She went around and around and back to the beginning. And finally she got to the upshot: a boy in her class logged her out of the computer and she lost a day's work on a really important project.

Now, there wasn't much for me to do here. The boy in question has lost computer privileges for a week, Boo's teachers know what happened and will make sure she has adequate time to re-do her work, and while she's been inconvenienced, she isn't hurt. But I did advise her to save more often in future.

And I felt like this is the 9-year-old version of the rape prevention talk. Because this wasn't Boo's fault. This boy did a jerky thing, and it sounds like he did it to annoy her. There's no reason she should have been expecting someone to aggressively shut down her computer. She should be able to walk away from her work without it being deleted. But there's something she can do to protect herself, and it's my job to teach her that.

If she was a little bit older, that's what I'd be teaching her about Steubenville. Rape is wrong. An unconscious person cannot defend herself and relies on the people around her to keep her safe. The boys who actually raped her are the ones going to jail, but every other person in that house, every person who saw one of those tweets, whoever bought the alcohol for that party and the adults who should have been supervising but weren't all failed that girl that night. All of those people are the ones who are wrong. An unconscious person cannot be held responsible for what happens to her.

But that's why you don't want to drink until you black out. That's why you only go to parties with friends that you trust, and that's why you stay with those friends and you leave with those friends. That's why you call me and Dad if a party seems out of hand and we will come get you, no questions asked. That's why I don't want you to use drugs, and if you feel you have to, you only use them when you're with trusted friends. And that's why you should only have sex when you're ready and with someone you trust. Don't put yourself in that position.

I don't want to teach her those things. I shouldn't have to teach her those things. I wish we lived in a world where all the boys were taught that women are human beings with feelings who should be treated with respect. But I will teach her those things, because even though a girl should be able to pass out at a party and wake up the next morning safe and sound, I can't help feeling like the outcome of that party in Steubenville could have been different if that girl had taken precautions. If she had known her limits, or had a trusted friend who could bring her home, or if she had called her parents when she arrived to say that there were no parents at the party and drugs and too many boys and she wanted to come home. It's not that I blame her for what happened, but rather that I wish it hadn't happened. I wish that girl had had enough control over her environment to protect herself, and I want to keep my own daughter safe from that kind of horror.

There's no way to know if I can. If the message boys take from Steubenville is not "don't rape" but "don't post your rape on the internet," then the result of Steubenville will be more rapes, not fewer, and more rapists getting away with their crimes. Hopefully enough people are outraged by this event and the way it's been covered in the media that more parents of boys will teach them "don't rape" and rape culture will diminish and eventually disappear.

In the meantime, I'll have to live in an uncomfortable world where I say to my daughter, "It's not your fault, but here's what you can do to prevent it from hurting you so much." And soon, "Here's what you do to stay in control of a situation, and here's what to do to get out when a situation gets out of your control."

I hope it's enough.

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