#MeToo: How to talk to your children about sexual harassment
Allegations of a long history of sexual misconduct by Harvey Weinstein have recently come to light. Apparently, Weinstein uses power and potential opportunity to overpower women and have his way. He did this over and over again. Just ask Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvino to name only a few. In an audio exposed by The New Yorker, Weinstein is heard pestering Italian model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, to come with him a day after fondling her breast. There is one section that pelted me like a tsunami. Here is the passage:
WEINSTEIN: Please. I’m not gonna do anything. I swear on my children. Please come in. On everything. I’m a famous guy.
GUTIERREZ: I’m, I’m feeling very uncomfortable right now.
WEINSTEIN: Please come in. And one minute. And if you wanna leave when the guy comes with my jacket, you can go.
GUTIERREZ: Why yesterday you touch my breast?
WEINSTEIN: Oh, please. I’m sorry. Just come on in. I’m used to that.
GUTIERREZ: You’re used to that?
Does that sound familiar? It should. Almost a year ago today Donald Trump was heard on an unearthed audio saying this to Billy Bush:
TRUMP: I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BUSH: Whatever you want.
TRUMP: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
What is strikingly similar about these audio clips is the idea that both powerful men reference being able to do what they want to women because they are famous. But it isn’t being famous that gives men this idea. How do I know this? Because nearly every woman I know has a story (if not many) of being kissed, groped, sexually harassed or raped against their wishes. Boys and men systematically learn that women are at their disposal. Sadly, so do the girls.
Last year my 13-year-old daughter was routinely subjected to unwanted criticism and sexualization of her body. Her gym teacher told the class and parents that girls in yoga pants were too arousing for the boys. If the boys were to get excited it could be embarrassing for the boys. Later in the year my daughter was dress coded twice for wearing shorts that were deemed inappropriate by the school administration. Because my daughter’s fingertips went below the hemline of the shorts she was considered a distraction. My daughter was made to change into boy’s gym shorts and sent back to class.
I can’t help but wonder what messages my daughter is internalizing. She was told in no uncertain terms that the boys are turned on by her, and it’s her responsibility to keep them under control. She was told that she’s a distraction just for showing her knees.
After the reports about Weinstein’s sexual harassment, his friend Donna Karan – the women’s fashion designer – spoke out in his defense. In order to support Weinstein, Karan put the blame back on women in a familiar trope. Karan said, “How do we present ourselves as women? What are we asking? Are we asking for it by presenting all the sensuality and all the sexuality?” It can’t be Weinstein who is at fault. Again, women are responsible for controlling men’s urges. My first reaction was fierce distain at Karan for betraying the women assaulted. But I realized she is a victim of the same messages my daughter is receiving.
As a parent, I’m want to teach my daughter the opposite of those messages. But I also feel an obligation to keep her safe. What if I don’t have her cover up and some man takes advantage of her? Am I being foolish and reckless? It feels impossible to build her self-esteem as a young woman and also talk to her about the sad realities of sexual assault. Unfortunately, my daughter, and girls like her, cannot solve this problem just by speaking out or pushing back. Boys must be taught to combat those messages, too.
Here is what we all need to be teaching both girls and boys from a young age to combat sexual harassment:
- A girl’s outfit does not imply any message about her desire for sexual contact. It doesn’t matter if a girl is walking down the street in a bra and underwear, she is not asking to be groped, touched or catcalled. End of story. Period.
- Girls do not have to put up with anything to get ahead. If someone tells you differently, speak up.
- Boys are accountable to control their own behavior. No girl is responsible for a male’s uncontrollable desire or behavior.
- Girls do not have to “help” boys deal with an erection. Just because a boy is turned on doesn’t mean a girl must then do something with that erection.
- Sex is about relationships and mutual pleasure. Women are NOT put on this earth to service men. They are equals in the bedroom just as they are outside of it.
- No really means no. If a girl says, “No” then they mean that. Asking, pestering and bullying until you get a yes doesn’t take away that the girl said no. No, don’t show your penis. No, don’t send pictures of it. No, don’t ask repeatedly if girls are sure.
This story originally appeared in Dr. Catherine Pearlman’s blog, TheFamilyCoach, and is shared with her permission.
Catherine Pearlman, Ph.D., LCSW is an assistant professor in the School of Arts & Sciences and teaches social work classes. She is also the author of "Ignore It: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems And Increase Parenting Satisfaction."
Become a Student
Have questions about enrollment, degree programs, financial aid, or next steps?