But I’m going to tell you about my now seventeen year old daughter instead.
When she was starting kindergarten at a private school, they had a get to know the parents, classmates, and teacher picnic. At the picnic I overheard a boy tell his friends how much he loved to chase and kiss girls. I said something to his mother and the teacher, who both laughed it off.
On the way home, I told my daughter if anyone tried to kiss her and she didn’t want to, she had the right to say no–loud and long–until they stopped. And if they kept pursuing, she had the right to make them stop. I said she might get in trouble at school at first, but I would never be mad at her and would explain to the grown-ups.
Sure enough, I got a call the first day of school. I walked into the principal’s office and faced an outraged parent, teacher, and principal who wanted to suspend my daughter for punching a boy in the eye—violence and hitting would not be tolerated.
I calmly asked my daughter to explain what happened. She described how this boy was chasing all the girls at recess, knocking them down, and kissing them—and was encouraging other boys to do this, too. She matter of factly said she’d told him she didn’t want to kiss, he told her she’d better run, and she’d said no and if you try to kiss me again, I’ll punch you. He tried, so she socked him. He ran to the teacher, crying. My daughter also said we didn’t have to worry or punish the boy because in her opinion the problem was solved because she didn’t think he would try to kiss her again. Could she go color now? I gave her a hug and sent her out of the room.
I wish I could say the adults—all women—immediately got it, but they didn’t. I insisted that punishing my daughter for defending herself against unwanted sexual advances was exactly the wrong message. Remember, this was supposed to be a progressive, enlighten private school. I ended their boys will be boys defense with my daughter always has my permission to defend herself against assault.
This boy continued to kiss unwilling girls until my daughter taught them it was okay to fight back. She told the girls not to run or cry, but to tell him no and to punch if he didn’t listen. She said sometimes a punch works best, but to use words first. She also said don’t be mad at him, he’ll figure it out eventually.
The wisdom of a five year old.
After a few more bruises and visits to the principal, his parents acknowledged there might be a problem and got him some counseling.
Knowing that you have the right to say no and to defend yourself—and others—is not a magical protection shield. But maybe if more five year olds felt empowered to stand up for themselves, fewer perpetrators would grow up thinking behavior like this is okay.
#metoo is hashtag used to to increase awareness of sexual harassment and assault on Twitter and Facebook. The original call for stories looked like this: “If every person who has been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “Me too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem.” In my original Facebook post I left out a very important detail to this story, the part where I wished someone had told five year old me what I told my daughter. For all men and women who get this, thank you. Your voices, examples, and actions make a difference. For those who never considered what happened to them in the hallways or playground as sexual harassment or assault and have now realized that snapping bra straps, flipping up skirts, and chasing girls to kiss them is a forerunner to more serious issues, this can be an eye-opening experience. Let’s teach our children better and resist ideas that downplay these incidents as kids will be kids.
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