You’d Look So Much Prettier If You’d Smile: On #MeToo

What have you done today to protect yourself from sexual harassment or assault? What has your wife done? Your mother? Your sister? Your daughter?

Someone you love was sexually abused as a young child. Someone you love wanted to say no and didn't know how. Someone you love believed she was dirty, damaged, worthless because of something that was done to her.

I have had this post on my mind since the Weinstein allegations came to light last fall, but I somehow kept putting off writing it. I don't need to tell you that sexism, harassment, and assault exist. We don't need to talk about any of that as a dynamic of this community (thank goodness), but I want to share a few things from my own life and share some thoughts about raising kids in a world where sexism, harassment, and assault exist.

The summer when I turned 18 was one of my favorite summers. But thank God I'm not 18 anymore. There is a particular vulnerability in being a young woman that brings out the worst in men. They somehow seem to know that you aren't prepared for it, don't know how to respond. That you'll let their comments get to you. My parents have always been loving and supportive, and on the whole, they did a wonderful job of raising me. But they never told me how to handle catcalls, how to brush off men drawn to my youth and naïveté.

Your mother, your wife, or your sister has almost certainly experienced at the very least some type of low-level harassment. Your daughter almost certainly will, if she hasn't already. And while the experience may have been nothing more than a comment from a passing stranger or a brief hand on her back, the shame and disgust she felt afterward likely lasted much longer than the incident itself.

So for those of us who are parents, how do we raise our children in a way that doesn't perpetuate sexist beliefs and behaviors? I don't really know, but somehow I don't think that simply saying to our kids, "everyone's equal, we're all the same, be nice to everyone" is going to do it. Before I had children, I had a lot of ideas about how to raise kickass girls. And then I had two boys.

We've talked before at the WGOM about ways of addressing consent with young kids. Tickling is okay only when the child says it's okay. A child (or an adult) can say they don't want a hug. It's not okay to touch another person in a way they don't want to be touched.

I also try to put into words when my kids touch me in a way I enjoy: "That was nice." "I like when you hug me like that, it makes me feel really loved." It is my hope that this will help them develop their own vocabulary for navigating all manner of physical encounters as they get older.

After the Weinstein stuff came out, I talked a little to the jalapeño (who is 7) about how women haven't always been treated fairly. That they have been paid less for doing the same job as a man, that there have been a lot of jobs they were told they couldn't do at all. His response. "Well, that's really dumb." Sing it, brother! It feels weird to point out inequality, but my gut tells me that he needs to know about this stuff if he's going to play a part in not perpetuating it.

Earlier this year, I had a rather unpleasant experience with a man while I was waiting in line to order a burrito bowl at a large grocery store near my job. There was a creepy comment and a hand on my waist. But lucky for me, I'm no longer that 18-year-old girl who doesn't know what to say. I turned and looked right at that guy and he asked in a slightly sarcastic way, "Is that not okay?" I said, "No. It's never okay to touch someone without permission." And he left. That night after dinner, I told the jalapeño about it (without many specifics). He didn't say anything, but he gave me the kind of hug that makes me feel really loved.

And yet, women talking won't by itself fix everything. That's where I'm hoping all of you come in. Men have to talk with other men about these things. They have to talk to kids about these things. And kids have to see the men in their lives making their way through the world in a way that is respectful toward women. Because nothing is going to get better for anyone unless we're all in this together.

Thanks for reading, guys.

43 thoughts on “You’d Look So Much Prettier If You’d Smile: On #MeToo”

  1. I had a lot of ideas about how to raise kickass girls. And then I had two boys.

    As you say at the end, I think that's the important part. Boys need to be taught about toxic masculinity and we need to do our part to fix it.

  2. As someone who works with the kids choir at church, I have to be very careful how I interact with the little ones. I get a lot of hugs, but I don't initiate them and I make sure they are of the "sideways hug" variety. I also make sure that any playful interaction is always of the appropriate kind and in the presence of their parents. We all have to be "safe sanctuary" certified and keep the certification updated.

    Recently in a baseball card trade email thread, a guy made a "horny old guy" inappropriate comment, which I ignored, but when he followed up later, I finally ended up giving him a "geez, don't be that guy" response.

  3. Thanks for this piece, Pepper.

    Our generation still has a lot to learn. I'm grateful for the changes I see happening in society and for the much greater awareness, acceptance of differences, and resistance to older patterns of petite sexual harrassment behaviors we now see, particularly amongst today's teens and young adults.

    I think I've changed a lot from the kind of person I was as a teen (and I maintain that I was pretty respectful and open-minded then, but...). I think my wife and I did a pretty good job of providing a supportive, respectful, nurturing environment for our two kids, who have grown into tremendous young adults (IMO). I'm proud of how they stand up for what's right, even in ways that I'm still hesitant to do.

    Speaking up takes courage. I'm trying to model that courage, and I'm appreciative for the people who model it for me.

  4. Thanks for this post. I think one of the things that strikes me is how, when its laid out there like you do here, and like I've seen in a number of places since #metoo really got going, is how... obvious it all seems. And yet, the fact that it's not always followed, or that any of us should feel awkward confronting it, shows how far from obvious it actually is.

    I was visiting my sister the dentist lately, and a sales rep was having her try out some new procedure. Listening to him talk to her, I couldn't believe the things he was commenting on. Nothing over the top or insulting specifically, but even just the categories of discussion (physical attributes, relationships, women as professionals, women and technology, etc.)... since I was just a random patient to him, it was like I didn't exist, so he felt free to be himself. I was amazed at how deftly my sister deflected his comments as I sat there, mouth agape for more reasons than one.

    Anyway, it's something that comes up with my kids too - Aquinas 2nd-grade class very much started the year with a "girls vs. boys" mentality, but he seems to be coming to grips with the fact that maybe the table isn't titled against white males... And Aristotle loves to hug and kiss people, but sometimes it gets to be too much, so we end up having conversations with her about consent, though she's often on the other side of that, where she's the one being told no. Hopefully it translates for her that she has the right to say no too. We try to make it clear for all of them that they get to define what they're comfortable with.

  5. One of my oldest daughter's friends (13 years old, yay teenagers) had a terrible experience with a slightly older boy. There was inappropriate touching, inappropriate texts, and I don't know what all else. I do know that it was enough that the boy ended up with a restraining order against him and can no longer go to the same school as the girl. I feel terrible for the girl, who along with the harassment and other emotions, now is unfairly known as the b*tch that got the guy kicked out of school. And I also feel bad for the guy, who by my daughter's account is normally a decent kid, who now has a reputation as a harasser and a creep. Both kids will be dealing with the fallout from this for years.

    I talked it over with all three of my kids - daughter (13), daughter (12), and son (10)- to make sure that they knew that no matter what happened or how, once someone says no, or says stop, or anything else, that's it. If the other person persists to act in ways that make you uncomfortable, get someone else involved and make sure an adult knows. I tried to explain consent and to emphasize how important it is to listen, and even more so how important it is to be definite in your refusal or responses to unwelcome attention or contact. Pepper's example is a perfect way to handle it.

    I'm sad that I have to talk about things like this with my kids, but there's no way I'm going to let them end up on either side of this kind of situation from ignorance.

    1. I also feel bad for the guy, who by my daughter's account is normally a decent kid,

      I find this phrase fascinating. I don't mean to argue with it, so please don't take this as contrarian or as in any way specific to you. I mean to wonder out loud about people much more generally.

      Anyways, I'm just stunned by how quick people often are to judge harshly people who make mistakes in other areas of life. Heck, yesterday we were talking about a person facing criminal charges for not returning library books. I've worked with scores of people who have made stupid mistakes and bad decisions, and they often have the book thrown at them and are treated as bad people. But in this one area, people often seem to be willing to accommodate a different narrative - that the mistake is just a mistake and the person can still be a good person. Maybe I'm wrong in that assessment, but I think if you look at the narrative around other areas of crime (or bad decisions, or heck, even things like poverty), there's a way harsher treatment of individuals. This might be getting too forbidden zoney, so sorry about that. But it's weird, right?

      (Personally, I kind of like the idea that we see the person behind the action, and that they aren't a bad person, just a person in need of correction because of mistakes. I just don't get why it only seems to happen in this one area.)

      1. (Similarly to above, I don't mean this to be argumentative, or directed at any one individual. Any use of the word "you" is intended to be toward a generic person in society, not anyone here specifically.)

        I might agree that these situations get more of this "they're still a good person, they just made a mistake" response, but I don't think it is only this sort of situation that gets treated this way. I see this as an example of the implicit bias that exists in the world.

        I think for some (many?) people, the difference between thinking of someone who committed a crime as a bad person, vs. someone who just did a bad thing tends to be whether that bad actor can be seen as an "other." I think the overall American populace tends to treat someone from another another country, another neighborhood, another religion, another sexual orientation, another economic background, or especially another race in a much harsher, less-forgiving manner. For some, it seems that empathy comes down to whether or not they can see themselves in that particular position. If the accused is different enough, it becomes easier to look down on them, to see them as a bad person. When the accused who is much more like you, your family, or your friends, it becomes much easier to think of how you would like to be treated if you were in their situation. I don't think this is a malicious or intentional, but it certainly seems to me to be a form of racism/xenophobia/etc.

        I think this also helps lead to this difference Philo mentioned here, and is related to the general lack of respect and mistreatment of women that exists today and in the past. In a society where this kind behavior toward women is so widespread, it is much easier to envision a situation where the alleged perpetrator is someone similar to you, your family, your friends, or others close to you. The fact that these kinds of behavior are so common means not only could there be bad actors similar to you, it becomes quite likely that you have friends, neighbors, family members, etc. who are guilty of these same sorts of actions. If you know someone who has done something similar toward women, someone who you consider a friend, it becomes much easier to think of a perpetrator as a good person who did a bad thing.

        1. If you know someone who has done something similar toward women, someone who you consider a friend, it becomes much easier to think of a perpetrator as a good person who did a bad thing.

          Yup. And this is how we so easily get to the place of excusing the perp or blaming the victim, given the historical default presumption seems to be the women are in control of access to sex and acts of physical affection.

          A complex, fraught space, to be sure. (and, all necessary caveats about not intending to point any fingers at anyone here; just adding a note to the conversation)

  6. I was definitely taught about consent a lot as a child, even by my older sister-in-law (she even told me to wait for the girl to use her tongue first!). I've tried to be very conscious of my actions but I have no doubt I have crossed the line at times, whether it be a comment or a look or a light touch. Some people at work view me as reserved and not a touchy-feely type. I would hug half the staff every day. But I'm never going to offer someone a hug who I'm not really close friends with, especially if I'm above them in the organization, as they likely wouldn't feel they could say no. And at least once per week someone is crying or emotional distressed in my office. It's really kind of sad, as touch is such a powerful, healing thing. So many of our clients literally have nobody who they can touch, and it's a wonder it's hard to get rid of the depression and anxiety. The one exception I make where I'll offer a hug to someone I have power over is if someone they're close to has died. That seems to have been overwhelmingly welcomed, with a sense of relief.

    At least I'm grateful to work in an environment that is led almost entirely by women so I don't have to make the decision every day on whether or not to confront somebody.

  7. One other thing. I got conflicting messages as a kid despite being told a lot about consent. My dad was very outspoken about domestic abuse and rape and other forms of sexual assault (being a victim himself). I'm very grateful for that. But I would guess over half of the time when we went to a restaurant he would tell the waitress to smile and I frequently heard objectifying comments.

    1. Beau, you've touched on something I think about a lot. There's what we tell our kids and then there's what they experience in the world. Even if it's not the parent behaving in, er, less-than-respectful ways, our kids are going to pick up a lot from what they see around them. I know I certainly picked up a lot out in the world that wasn't conveyed at home about, for instance, intelligence being unattractive, assertiveness being problematic, etc. (And while I ultimately rejected a lot of what I took in as a teen, I remain acutely aware to this day that I need to present myself differently than a male colleague might when it comes to sharing my point of view in a meeting and arguing for something I want.)

      1. Do you find yourself presenting differently in this forum? Do you find it doesn't matter who the company is because you've had to adapt your behavior for society?

        Like I said I work in a mostly female environment, where all the top leaders are female. But when I talk in a meeting I can tell my opinion is given more weight automatically. And if I'm not looking where I'm going and I crash into a woman, she's the one who apologizes profusely before I even get a chance to. I try to be conscious of my privilege and not take advantage of it, and I'm sure I do more than I realize.

        1. Beau, by "this forum" do you mean the WGOM?

          At work, I'm most aware when in meetings with senior executives who are responsible for approving projects I'm bringing forward. Of the key decision makers, 3 of the 4 are men* and I am very attentive to presenting projects in a way that highlights why I think they'll succeed without being overly aggressive or pushy. I take great care not to interrupt anyone more senior than me. In cases of disagreement, I try to smile and listen politely and respond in a way that isn't "too emotional." For a number of years, I had a male colleague at my level, and I noticed he was able to get away with saying/doing things that I couldn't in meetings.

          Many of these behaviors carry through to other interactions in the world. I've been socialized to be polite, but that also means sitting through mansplaining without the slightest hint of annoyance, because god forbid I call it out and potentially make a man feel even the slightest bit of discomfort.

          *While I work in an industry dominated by white women, white men hold a disproportionate number of roles at the executive level--see here for more detail.

          1. Yeah, I was curious about the WGOM. I'm sure I've done my share of mansplaining without realizing it.

            1. At the WGOM, if anything I feel more at liberty to be just say what I want to say and not stress about it.

              1. I do think it's more of a factor at the CdL, for example in non-anonymous Survivor games.

                  1. No, not at all. But I stress much more about how I present myself in terms of appearing neither too aggressive/controlling nor too passive.

                    I've heard from others that this comes up on the TV show as well, with female players being held to different standards than male players.

                    1. I'll definitely agree with this take. Male players "make moves", female players "backstab".

                      That's a gross generalization, but it's a thing.

                    2. Yes, this is a very real aspect of things. Just like in business, the things that make a man “loaded with potential” make a woman “a bitch.” We see finalists raked over the coals as women in ways that completely evade the men, even if they play identically. I’ll say that it’s gotten much better over the years, but still exists. CdL doesn’t have a problem to the level of the general public by any means, but none of us are immune.

      2. our kids are going to pick up a lot from what they see around them.

        My kids are 4 and 6, so a lot of these issues haven't come up as much. But I have seen this already. The main thing I've been dealing with is from my son who has been really into categorizing things into "things for boys" and "things for girls", mostly colors and type of toys. (i.e. cars are for boys, that sort of thing). He's been bringing this up pretty much out of nowhere, like we'll be eating dinner and he'll start it. I make it a point, every time he says something along those lines, to remind him that there really aren't any specific colors or toys or what have you that are specific to boys or girls. (I do my best to say it in a way to not make him feel, like, dumb about it. More matter-of-factly). It's frustrating, though. I'm about 99% sure he's hearing stuff like this at school/daycare because, based on my interactions with (and a lot of me judging the appearance of parents I see and things I over hear) other parent there are a lot of misogynistic idiots hell bent on maintaining traditional gender roles in this town. Basically, I think I have a lot of hard work ahead of me if we stay in this town long term.

        1. My son also talks about things for girls and boys, and I think it comes from other students. I think it's so ingrained in our culture I'm not sure you can escape it, just fight against it.

          Kids are idiots who want to label and categorize everything and need reasonable adults to guide them. When I was in elementary school, I remember the boy's bathroom had six urinals. Three were designated to be "girl's toilets" and two were also off limits because they had brown marks in them, so they were called "poop toilets." Any kid not using the one urinal designated as okay was mercilessly made fun of. So you'd have 15 boys lined up in front of one urinal.

          1. I know we've tried to push against those cultural influences too - our son is in dance, our daughter wants to play sports, etc. - and sometimes that seems to have more success, and some times less. It kind of makes me wonder if any percentage of this type of categorizing is independent of adult influence? I'm guessing some studies have been done somewhere. I mean, I suppose the "blue is for boys pink is for girls" specifics are very culture specific, but does the notion to categorize by gender exist independent of the culture in some way?

            1. I don't doubt kids do this independently as well. It's part of making sense of the world. In addition to boys/girls categorizations, my son wants to categorize good and bad foods, good and bad people, geographical locations, et cetera. Nuance and grey is something we learn as we get older.

              1. Fair enough, I suppose. Despite not pushing it at all, our kids have both pretty much been in-line with traditional gender norms. I've just seen more of a certain flag and bumper stickers with a certain kind of content that I'm very wary and cynical about many of the adults where I live.

            2. but does the notion to categorize by gender exist independent of the culture in some way?

              Yes, and it seems to happen early: around 18 months. Not long after* they pick up on sex stereotypes (e.g. lipstick for girls) and starting in preschool they start separating themselves by gender. They also start hyper-focusing on gender-specific things around then and it continues through elementary school.

              * I'm only sounding smart because the SciAm issue I'm on right now is dedicated to gender. The stuff above is from an article about trans youth.

              1. Yes.

                Our oldest saw me play softball and her mom play soccer when she was 2. When she was old enough to play sports, she refused to play softball because it was a "boy" sport. I'm pretty sure no one told her that.

                1. This can manifest in the most comical of ways in formative minds. Because of the breakdown in our house, my sister thought for years that boys were righthanded and girls were lefthanded.

  8. In our ongoing extended (but low-intensity) version of "the talk", I've been telling HPR to treat girls the way he'd want others to treat his sisters or mother.
    He can be pretty protective of them when he's not wanting to inflict pain on them himself. In absence of sisters, I'd have to take a different tack. But that seems to resonate.

    I've also, through that or a Boy/Cub Scout thing pointed out not to let others get away with that sort of thing either.
    Trying to prepare him to stop (drunken) friends from nonconsensually "hooking up" without giving him more info than he needs right now.

    Which, thankfully, I never had to do. Though I did hang around a dwindled party late once when I was worried that two friends were too impaired to give consent.
    I learned over the next few days that I was just a third wheel: she broke up with her boyfriend and they dated for almost the next year. But I'd rather have made that kind of error than walk away and let a date rape happen.

    As we go on and he gets older, I also won't be above using legal ramifications as the "bad cop", saying that he'd better be damned sure of (sober) consent because it's not worth risking jail/college expulsion/sexual predator listing/etc. for something he's just "pretty sure" of.
    I'll admit that'll be easier to communicate with an overall "abstinence until marriage" message.

    1. I'll admit that'll be easier to communicate with an overall "abstinence until marriage" message.

      I wouldn't mind expanding on this piece. Personally, this approach has a lot of appeal (probably not too surprising), but I think there's another underlying idea here too, about the necessity for healthy relationships, and not seeing sex as an end in itself, or as something to be pursued casually? That is, I think even without going all the way to "abstinence until marriage" there are far more healthy messages to send about sex, and that doing so would better our approach with regard to equal treatment too. I suppose I'm probably sounding all GOMLy here, huh?

      1. Not really. But I've known women who do sometimes treat sex as an end to itself and feel empowered and safe. Sex without intimacy is not something that's ever been for me, but I would never go so far as to say it automatically contributes to power dynamic issues.

      2. I was preparing for a big presentation (which took place yesterday) and am just now rereading the comments here. Philo, while I think I see what you're getting at in terms of treating sex as a non-casual act being related to overall being more respectful, I feel the need to point out that historically, focusing on abstinence until marriage has gone alongside some pretty effed-up stuff as far as emphasis on female sexual purity, shaming of women who don't conform, and limitations on women's roles generally.

        1. No doubt. But I'd argue that's as much a perversion of what I'm trying to get at as the flip side discussed above. Indeed, subscribing to the Aristotelian notion of virtue as balance, I'd suggest that it is the two extremes in concert that are problematic, and messaging that strikes the right balance is important. It's why I like promoting the goals of the abstinence only message (healthy sexual relationships) and not the rule for the sake of the rule.

  9. I was supposed to help write this post. Oops. I forgot WGOM existed. 0.o

        1. More with the sterotyping... you know, it's not just a woman's job. Men can bakef things too.

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