Raising my own two daughters, I went to great lengths to teach them empowerment, self-determination, self-confidence, self-respect and a plethora of other “woman power” values. With the undeniable aid of the Spice Girls, and some amazing female friends, I think I did a pretty good job.
One of the biggest challenges, was teaching my girls to own their bodies, in the face of a culture that is at great pains to teach them otherwise.
Over the years, I’ve gone head to head with friends, relatives and visitors who expected my girls to submit to unwanted, good-bye hugs and kisses, for the sake of conforming to a convention of “politeness”, that flat out denies children the right to determine for themselves, who they will and will not invite into their personal space.
I’ve staunchly defended my daughters’ right to say “no”, when they’ve told little old ladies in grocery stores “Don’t touch me. This is MY body, and I didn’t say you could touch MY body…”.
I have gone to battle with teachers who told my daughters that they had to put up with classmates assaulting them because apparently, kissing or touching someone against their will is widely accepted as “normal” behaviour for school-aged children in our culture.
I’ve told Principals, straight up, that in a situation where someone is touching them in a way that makes them uncomfortable, my girls have been taught to: “Ask once nicely. Ask a second time, not nicely. And if a third time is necessary, do not ask. If a third time is necessary – scream, punch, bite, kick, run… do whatever you have to do to get them to stop.”
I have endured many a disapproving look for “allowing” my girls to leave the house in costumes, mis-matched outfits, self-applied face-paint, and all other manner of unconventional attire.
As they’ve grown older, I have personally dyed my girls’ hair colours that would have made my parents’ skin crawl. I’ve supported their explorations into ideas of piercings & tattoos. I’ve kept my shit to myself when the clothes they’re wearing make me cringe. I have steadfastly encouraged them to find their own way.
Yes. It has often been uncomfortable, difficult and scary – particularly when I’ve had to challenge people whose opinion or approval is important to me. But, it’s nowhere near as uncomfortable, difficult and scary as the idea of my girls growing up thinking that their bodies were made to be invaded. It’s nowhere near as uncomfortable, difficult and scary as the prospect of teaching my girls that they should sacrifice their own feelings, rights and boundaries, so as not to make another person “feel bad”. It’s nowhere near as uncomfortable, difficult and scary as the thought of my girls hearing me tell another human being to ignore their protests, to silence their voices, to hear them say “no”, then go ahead and touch them anyway…
My girls are both women now.
My girls are women who learned from their father to love, trust, and respect themselves. They are women who learned to take up space in the world. They are women with ideas, and opinions, and voices that they use.
They are women I take great pride in knowing.
They are women who, as children, and as adults, have moved me to continually examine the lessons and assumptions I grew up with.
They are women that I respect, and trust, and love with all my heart.