Yesterday, was International Woman’s Day, March 8, 2018. It began in 1908 as woman protested for better working conditions and against sexual harassment in the workplace! This movement spans over a century and around the world, countries from New York to Kyrgyzstan to Cambodia officially honor women’s rights and achievements across the political, economic, social and cultural spheres. It is wonderful to have a day celebrating woman, and for us to celebrate each other and our achievements. In honor of this day, our future and our ongoing work in equality, I wanted to bring you my own personal #metoo story. I previously posted this on my private Facebook account, but wanted to also share it publicly, as I feel there is a message for those brave parents raising today’s little girls.
Don’t tell your girls to “Be Nice” or “Be Good” – tell them to Be Smart and Be Strong and stand up for themselves in this World.
To begin, I have a question for my female friends out there who have responded #metoo. I am wondering if you feel you were taught to ‘be nice’ growing up? You know, the lady-like thing… told to “be good” or “behave yourself.” If so, do you feel this thwarted your own inner guidance system? Were you conditioned to override or not listening to your instincts? For me, this was a key factor in my becoming a victim of sexual harassment and assault. Answering “Yes” does not, in ANY WAY, take the blame off of the offender. Sexual harassment is abuse. Sexual Assault is a assault and should be taken very seriously, and punished as the crime that it is.

I was taught to be nice, be polite, don’t talk back, respect adults… I was taught to hug people I didn’t want to hug as a child, “Give Mister so & so a hug.” “Oh, he didn’t mean that.” “Boys will be boys.” Would you say that the ‘be nice’ behavior we teach girls leads them into not listening to their internal warning system? Are we teaching girls to ‘be nice’ when someone is being a creep?

This is my story. The perp: a babysitter. As a kid, you weren’t supposed to be ‘rude’ to adults and I was molested multiple times. Who knows how many kids (girls or boys) he molested as a babysitter. My parents hired this older couple, grandparents, to babysit us when they went out on a date. The man would pick me up and pat my bottom in front of everyone. He would whisper in my ear, “Is this mine?” Which left me feeling frozen and confused about this strange affection. To this day, this phrase makes my skin crawl and my body recoil. He would often follow me if I left the room. He would find me alone and remember feeling uncomfortable, cornered or helpless. He would pick me up and carry me into a bedroom away from everyone else, where he would pull down my panties and put his hands where no one had before. I was 6-years old. I can still hear the words and phrases he would say to me in those terrifying and confusing moments. I can still feel the sensations, fear and shame. I am now 49. These things do not leave you.

As a child, I eventually distanced myself from this man when they came to babysit. I would not allow him to pick me up or carry me. I would not leave the room with the others or go to the bathroom without his wife. I developed defense strategies so that I was not alone when he was in the house. At some point, we got new babysitters, and I was relieved. Unfortunately, for years into the future the molester was a family ‘friend’  who would drop by to deliver gifts to the family. When he was announced, a visceral shudder would claim my entire body, all the horror returned and I would hide in my room. I would not interact.

I was shattered and disturbed every time he came around. My parents would repeatedly call to me, impatiently and exasperated, “Mr. Molester was here!” and “Melinda, come say Hello!” I wouldn’t come out. After he left, I was exhausted from the stress. I would often get scolded and made to feel guilty for my distance and disrespect. I was not ‘being nice’ or ‘polite’ or a pleasing child.

The heartbreaking part for me, as a kid, was that no one noticed, no one asked me why… I was made to feel wrong or bad. I was a ‘bad kid’ because I hid and wouldn’t come out to give Mister Molester a hug. From my parents perspective, it was just lack of awareness I suppose, a lack of noticing a change in my behavior or preparedness, and this is one very powerful reason for me to write this article.

I kept the story to myself believing the guilt and shame to be my fault somehow in my child mind. For 49-years, I kept this story to myself with exception of telling a dear friend or two, until this #MeToo campaign brought it to the surface. I decided to be FREE of this story, to speak up in solidarity, to put down the burden and shame, and highlight that Teaching our girls (and boys) to “Be Nice” “Behave” “Be Good” is part of the problem. If you say this to your children, please STOP. Phrases like these set our children up to deny themselves, override their instincts and trust predators.

Phrases like, “Be Nice” “Behave” “Be Good” set our children up to deny themselves, override their instincts and trust predators. Let’s teach our children to Be Smart and Be Strong so they can protect themselves.

It is possible as parents, that training your child to “Be Good” or “Behave” could be creating confusion and setting your child up as a target for child molesters. I want to bring this to the attention of ANYONE raising children out there. I know it’s not an easy job and you certainly have your hands full, but you do NOT want to miss these signs.

Our children are wise and their instincts are valuable. At an early age, we have not been conditioned to ignore our sensations, leadings, body alarms, and intuition.  Parents can learn to support and encourage their child’s intuition and tune in to the subtleties of their behavior. Parents and guardians can educated themselves and get prepared before an incident occurs. If there is change, we need to get involved and get help. Children can learn to honor their own instincts and be given tools for supporting their own safety. If they are informed and empowered, they do NOT have to become victims at all.

You see, as a 6-year-old, I sensed something was not right with this man. He made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but perhaps this was me picking up the ‘energy’ of a predator. It was something in the way he looked at me that made me uneasy in my own skin. Yet, over and over I was taught and culturally conditioned to disregard my own senses. “Do not be rude” to adults, “Do not talk back.” I was not taught to say “No” in fact, I was taught the exact opposite.It was acceptable to be pleasing and respectful, “Yes Mam” “No Mam.” It just wasn’t allowed for me to say “No” to an adult, this was seen as extremely disobedient, even seen as rebellious and punishable. My parents modeled friendliness and trust with “Mr Molester” – so I should trust him, right? The instincts were there to distance myself, but I felt a dissonance, even guilt even after the molestation began. My child-self felt the shame and blame were mine, as if I was a ‘bad girl.’ I wanted to get away from him, yet felt bad guilty, and torn somehow confused as to know what to do. How mixed up the messages can be as a child. Everything gets turned around and upside down in a child’s mind when something this confusing and violating occurs.

Years later, as a young preteen, I was constantly verbally harassed and physically assaulted on the school bus. My breasts or butt were grabbed repeatedly by boys laughing and daring each other to do it. It was so common. I was in the band and carried my saxophone to and from school. I used the case as a weapon and a shield. I would sit on my case on top of the seat, so the boys behind me couldn’t reach up through the crack in the seat to fondle me. It was horrifying. The school bus was a place of fear and dread.

In Middle School, I was still riding the buss and hated stepping onto it every morning. I was the last one on, which fortunately made for a short ride, but what was awaiting me was a group of older boys who verbally harassed and intimidated for their entertainment every day. They found it funny to attack a younger girl. I was embarrassed and always second guessed myself in my actions. I felt attacked, yet acted nice when boys acted inappropriately… I remember that this stupid nervous giggle would escape out of my mouth, instead of a firm ‘NO’ or ‘STOP IT’ – still unprepared and mostly paralyzed, I did not know what to do. I was intimidated, scared, insecure and built emotional guards and walls around myself. The butt grabs or boob fondling was beyond innocent horse play, it was sexual harassment. I didn’t speak up, because I wasn’t taught to. I didn’t think anyone would listen anyway. I felt like it would bring more attention and shame upon me and I still believe, at that time, it would.

When I started dating in high school and college, I came across more sexually aggressive males who would get mad if I didn’t want a sexual relations with them, their anger would be made my fault. I was even called a cunt once for not wanting to have sex with a guy. As an adult, I came across a couple of predators in the workplace and plenty of general sexual harassment, mostly verbal filled with innuendo. One man in a position of power cornered me in a conference room and put his hands down my pants unexpectedly. I as stunned and shocked. This time I did speak up, disgusted and appalled, I pushed him off of me and shouted “Back off!”  I did not report it to Human Resources but threatened to. He was a manager in a male dominated workplace… again the fear and shame prevented me from taking action. Another superior lured me into his office… my instincts were up, but I was ‘being nice’ – that stupid nervous laugh surfaced again – my instincts were telling me something. He closed the door and immediately grabbed my upper arms and tried to kiss me. Again, shocked, I pulled away and said “I’m married!” as if that was a boundary that provided me any protection. Their behavior was brazen and they didn’t seem to care. It was a ‘good ‘ol boy’ company environment, so instead of reporting him and incurring the potential shame, embarrassment and potential victim blaming, I distanced myself again, and eventually changed jobs.

In retrospect, I asked myself, “why were you shocked” so many times? My instincts were telling me the truth of the situation. My intuition was screaming of a threat. I believe the ‘Shock’ I incurred came from a culture of teaching girls to override our natural instincts telling us something is wrong. We have to close the gap between our instincts and our mind over-riding these messages of the truth in threatening situations. We need to have healthy boundaries and be taught how to have these from an early age. We need to know how to report such an incident or violation to our parents, company or the authorities. Our society needs to know how to protect woman and not shame us for being assaulted or harassed. It goes deep into every culture. Woman need to be valued and celebrated! We can start with out girls.

We have a culture of teaching girls to override our natural instincts telling us something is wrong. We have to close the gap between our instincts and our mind over-riding these messages of the truth in threatening situations.
As a woman, I no longer hold guilt or shame over any of these incidents. It did happen to me, but it does not define who I am. I do not harbor blame as if my parents should have seen what was happening. It is a tragic situation where a perpetrator took advantage of kind and loving people, and molested an innocent child.

Adult men, are also product of their environment. The #MeToo Campaign also addresses the need for retraining our men to be better men. No more excuses like “boys will be boys” shall be tolerated. We are raising the bar together, men and woman. Together, we can value and protect each other.

My brother and his wife have used a group called Camp Careful to help educate themselves and their girls. Camp Careful is a program developed by Dr. Soo Battle, a pediatrician and mother of two, to reduce and prevent child sexual abuse through child empowerment, family education, and community awareness. The statistics are scary and the molesters are not who you think! Don’t look to the “monsters” or “sickos” out there, it’s likely someone you know and trust.

From the Camp Careful Website, here are some Tips on Protection Your Children:

Parent tips and prevention strategies:

  1. Talk to your child frequently and openly about their body parts and include use of anatomic names. Use these words without embarrassment.
  2. Tell your child that s/he is in charge of their private zones and nobody is allowed to look at or touch theirs and vice versa.
  3. Tell your child to trust his feelings. If s/he has a bad or “uh-oh” feeling about a touch or situation, it is a bad touch or bad situation and s/he needs to remove her or himself from it.
  4. Remind your child that only you or the doctor should see/touch their private parts, and only if there is a reason or need to help. Other loved ones have no reason to see their private zones.
  5. Tell your child there are no “forever secrets” that s/he should keep from you.
  6. Tell your child to stay in a group when they are at camps or activities. Your child should never go alone with another counselor or camper where others can’t see them.
Here’s what I wish I was taught as a little girl and a young woman entering the World…
  • When your child shy’s away from someone, honor that.
  • Kids are wise about energy. Don’t override their instincts. If they don’t want to be close with someone, don’t make them.
  • Teach your kids to say, ‘No!’ and with authority!
  • Teach them that saying “No!” is their right and they have a right to their own boundaries and their own personal space.
  • Teach them to have boundaries.
  • Teach them to come to you with anything out of the ordinary.
  • As an young adult teach your girls to say, “NO!” loudly.
  • Teach them to speak directly and with force, “No, don’t touch me!”
  • Teach them in these instances to stop being polite.
  • Drop the “lady-like” dialog.
  • Drop the nervous laugh.
  • Teach them self-defense, how to throw an elbow, a fist to the crotch, or a high heel to the top of the foot. Eye Gouging First, if it’s a violent situation without hesitation or remorse!, and even louder “Fuck Off!” if and when someone crosses a boundary or becomes aggressive.

Teach them to Be Strong, Be Themselves, Be Smart…

And above all teach them Don’t Be NICE! 

After publishing this on my Facebook, I was privately contacted by a number of woman who had been molested or assaulted. I was called ‘courageous’ several times for telling my story. It may be courageous, yet at the time I wrote it is, all I felt was outrage. This behavior against woman has gone on far too long. Society (men and woman) can no longer accept this. Woman should be honored, not abused. We need to be supported and cared for from girls to woman.

The women that wrote to me privately often felt writing their story was re-traumatizing. The idea of sharing their story was not conceivable. This is not the purpose of the #metoo campaign. No woman should feel pressure to tell painful stories about being violated. Those of us who can speak up will, and for the good of all. I request whole-heartedly that every man feel a responsibility to get involved and help put a stop to behavior that leads to sexual harassment, assault and rape culture in our World.

Good Men reading this… this culture only changes with your help! Please see my post, “Guys, Why the Silence? We need you” with a list of suggestions on what can you do.

This in no way encompasses it all. This is a LIFELONG problem for ALL woman. This is what the #metoo campaign is about, awareness and change. In honor of Woman’s Day, I celebrate ALL of you – the amazing, brilliant, generous, compassionate, and courageous souls that you are.

Please join @thequestionspirit Facebook Group for the discussion. I’d love to know what you think. 

From the heart & with great love.

Melinda Alexander

P.S. If you want to know the history of International Woman’s Day, this is a good article to learn more.

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