“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking
they don’t have any.” Alice Walker
We’ve all heard of the #Me too movement. It’s done an impressive job of making everyone aware of how widespread sexual harassment and assault is. In fact, I wish it was around when I was a teen. I look back and remember several #Me too moments from the age of twelve on. They ranged from relatively harmless to definitely harmful.
But even though #Me too has put this topic in the spotlight, inspiring important changes, I’m ready for a new direction. Yes, perpetrators need to be held accountable. Yes, sexual abuse is pervasive and yes, it’s abhorrent.
But what next?
We need more than awareness. We need to empower ourselves, our daughters—and our sons—to prevent this type of abuse in the first place.
It’s a little like protecting our homes by taking precautionary measures. When we leave the house, we lock our doors and windows, strategically leave lights on, and set an alarm if we have one.
We can compare this responsibility of safeguarding our homes to safeguarding our bodies. My girls need to know a lot more than the prolific ways they can be victimized. They need to be armed with the confidence, awareness and skills to thwart any unwanted sexual advances, and to prevent precarious positions in the first place.
This doesn’t mean it’s in any way the victim’s fault by not “preventing” abuse if it happens. Of course not. Just like it’s not our fault if someone breaks into our home because we didn’t leave the exterior lights on. But aren’t we better off reducing the chances of either situation from ever happening?
When I have safety conversations with my daughters, we talk about how to prevent unsafe situations, and how to get to safety if they are in dangerous territory.
This means teaching our girls to pay close attention and take control when their Spidey senses are tingling.
It means knowing it’s OK to appear “mean” or unfriendly to stop unwanted advances. Girls don’t always have to be nice, especially when others aren’t playing that way.
It means focusing on their surroundings, especially when they’re alone, by not being distracted by music or smart phones.
It means teaching them how alcohol affects judgment, and to have a buddy system in place so that friends are always aware and taking care of each other.
It means knowing that date-rape drugs can be snuck into drinks at a bar or party, and how to prevent that from happening.
But we need to include our boys and men in these conversations too. There is a backlash effect of the #Me too movement that’s created hostility and fear among males. I agree some of them have a lot to learn, but there are also many well-intentioned guys now tiptoeing around females or avoiding their company for fear of committing unintentional infractions.
If we’re able to move beyond the hurt and anger embedded in the #Me too campaign, perhaps we can move to hope. Hope that future generations can proudly be part of a #NOT ME movement.
This means when asked if they’ve ever been the recipient of sexual harassment, assault or coercion, our daughters can say, NOT ME.
This means when asked if they’ve ever been the perpetrator of sexual harassment, assault or coercion, our sons can say, NOT ME.
Regardless of which movement, if any, we align ourselves with, the message of safe and respectful relationships should be the ultimate goal. And then we can know we’ve done our job—as parents, and as a society.
Purely Practical Safety Plan
Create a plan that your son or daughter can use to get out of a dangerous situation. Let’s say they’re at a friend’s house and things go sideways (think drugs, alcohol, sex, potential violence, crime). Create a simple code they can text which signals you to call and come get them right away.
For example, Bert Fulks calls it the “X” plan, and it goes like this: If his son texts him “X,” it means Mom or dad has to call right away to say there’s been a family emergency and needs to pick up their son. Check out Fulk’s “X Plan” for a way better explanation. Whether your family uses this or a modified version, let your kids know there is a no-questions-asked safety net if they ever need you.
Join the Conversation
What precautionary steps do you take—or suggest—to prevent getting into dangerous situations?
Any insights from the male perspective? Some of you have sons. How has the #Me too movement affected them?