Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Objects (And My Shame)

I did something today that I am ashamed of. It is something I have NEVER done before. Like, NEVER. And did I do this in private? Nope. Right on the hyway. In the van. With all FIVE of my kids as witness to this despicable behavior.

I am really ashamed about it, and I even hesitate to share it here. My cheeks are burning with embarrassment as I write this. But this brings to question another matter that has been mulling in my mind. I have had a hard time puting in to words how I feel about this particular topic and have failed to express very well to those who don't agree with me. 

Let me back up. 

A couple of months ago this video went viral on YouTube.

 In this short video a young woman walked around New York for 10 hours and they recorded the catcalls and interactions of men around her. She was dressed modestly in plain old jeans and a t-shirt with a high neck. For the sake of the experiment she did not engage any of the cat-callers in substantial conversation (so no one could say she was encouraging them), and she simply walked around, minding her own business. Most of the things thrown at her are minor and easy to brush off, but one very disturbing part of the video is when a man walked beside her for five minutes, as she refused to speak to him. He just kept following her. As the time progresses, she became more and more visibly tense and scared. Even though there was someone right there who would have come to her aid if she was attacked, she was still afraid. That was very telling to me how she felt about what was happening.

This video got mixed reviews. Many people (of both genders) who viewed it didn't really see that much wrong with it. They felt that she should be flattered by, what they felt, were sincere "compliments" she was receiving. And some did seem sincere. Others saw what they felt was rude and oppressive behavior at best, and frightening harassment at worst. Some comments were nasty, plain and simple. And a couple of these guys were straight up scary. 

I had a conversation with a CHRISTIAN man who saw nothing wrong with the comments being made to this girl or the way that all these men viewed and treated her. I tried to find his comments (I couldn't. It was a couple months ago, like dog years on Facebook!) but I said something to the effect of:
The problem is that these men are treating her as if she is nothing more than a sexual object. They treat her as if she exists to meet sexual needs. That is what we women object to! That is what we are standing against! Here she is, going about her day, and is repeatedly reminded that the only thing all these men value her for is her body. They care nothing except what they can get out of her.

Do you know what this Christian man replied to me?  He said that all men are horndogs, that we women should expect it and accept it, and that all men should think of women as a sexual object from time to time -like in marriage.

I wish I could find my response. I was quite *snark* eloquent! It was a vision of verbal *gag* perfection rivaled only by *snort* Shakespeare himself! 
HA! Cant keep a straight face on that one! Did I mention what a terrible time I was having puting into words how I felt about this? I thought over his comment for weeks, and just felt I couldn't address what he said without anger. In fact, I wrote a couple of them out, but my phone malfunctioned and wouldn't post. I think God was just saving me from getting deeper into a discussion I didn't have either the time or the stomach for. And when I refer to my stomach on this issue, I really mean it. Because the thought of what this girl went through ties my belly in knots. Why, you ask? I will get to that.

This is a video response to the fallout from this social experience, this guy handles the issue with grace and humor (WARNING: Some comments are a little inappropriate. Not for children.)

There are a couple of things that I want to call your attention to in this video.

First of all, did you hear every single woman say that it happened to them daily? More than half had this weary, almost pained look on their faces as they described how it was DAILY, some ALL DAY. Constant. Never ending. Interjected on every day of their lives. They are exhausted by it.

Secondly, did you hear the things those women said they would like to do to the men who made catcalls to them? Lightening bolts to their private regions? Being branded? Does it sound to you as if these nasty comments meant nothing to them?

I also wanted to draw your attention to the guy that was fully convinced it was good to street harass women, and that it made their day "better". 

*eye roll*

The interviewer responds well, "I like a guy not confused by the facts."

So what does all this have to do with my shameful behavior today?

There I was, driving my van full of my five kids, and in the front seat was my oldest. Referred to on this page as Monkey See, she has grown so much and become so beautiful! I don't mean to brag. She is just a really lovely young woman.

Monkey See is completely ignorant of her own beauty. She has never been a primper or much of a fashionista -not since she was three! She goes for comfort in her clothing and shoes, she is blissfully unaware of her womanly curves or the magnetism of a lovely woman being unaware of her loveliness. She wants to be treated like "one of the guys" because she likes gaga-ball and science. She wants to be a doctor when she grows up. And not just a doctor, she wants to be a researcher. She wants to study the magnetic force fields of the human body and the cause and effect of mentality, nutrition and overall health on magnetic fields. Only my little geek who takes after her father! One Direction (the singing group) bores her and she isn't that into fashion and so she has a hard time with other girls her age. They just don't relate.

Today she got her hair cut, over a foot off.

And she had been feeling so light and so completely lovely in her own, oblivious way -completely ignorant of all other views of her beauty and not really caring! Unaware of her own radiance, and just thrilled to have all that weight off her! 

We were going down the road on the way to our next errand, and I am being careful to watch the traffic around me. Out of the corner of my eye I see this beige, full size, 15 passenger van pacing us on my right. And the driver turns towards the van and makes one of the most obscene gestures ever invented. Such a repulsive, obtrusive, sexual advance. Towards my TWELVE YEAR OLD daughter in the front seat. And suddenly I was back.

 I was back at the first time I ever noticed being followed in the store. It was about a month before either my 14th or 15th birthday. Every December, my parents and five siblings would go on our annual Christmas shopping outing. We would dress up a little, pile in the car and head to Souix City, IA and hit the malls, see all the lights and maybe have pizza after. It was a wonderful bit of holiday fun for our whole family. I was with my parents and all my siblings, I was CLEARLY young. And this guy, maybe mid 20s, kept trying to catch my eye. Every store we went in to he was there. I didn't feel afraid because my buff army dad and 6ft tall older brother were there and I knew I was safe. But that was just the start of what would become the norm in my life. Once I moved to Michigan, I was followed around the store nearly every time I went in. Constantly being hit on. Smiling and being polite.

But always wishing I had a wicked right hook, and wishing I had the courage to use it. 

I was back at the days working at a fast food place where it was as if I had a neon sign over my head begging for sleazy old men to hit on me. And if I shut them down they got belligerent and mean. There was a gay guy I worked with who was the most human man there. When he saw any of us girls dealing with a nasty customer who wouldn't leave us alone, he would come and pretend to relieve us for our break and take over ringing the guy up and get his order. He was a Godsend! 

I was back at the techs on the line snickering and pointing in full view. I knew what the faces they made meant. I knew the lewd intentions behind them. They didn't care that I knew. They wanted my body and had not a single thought for my mind or anything else. 

My mind was back at "the look" I would get over and over. Taking in my body. Lust. It makes me want to gag. Even now.

I was suddenly thrown back to the day I heard a knock on the door of my upstairs apartment and looked through the peephole. It looked like the son of the people downstairs, so I opened the door. He had a bouquet in his hand. I thought maybe some flowers had been delivered or something while I was out and he was there to hand it off to me. It wasn't. The night before a guy had asked for directions in the parking lot of the grocery store. 

He followed me home. 


No matter how I say it, I still can hardly believe it. Because that doesn't yell "STALKER" at all! (Where is that sarcasm font when you need it?)

I didn't sleep another night in that house.

For months I was always looking in my rear-view mirror, and if anyone turned more than once after me, I went into panic mode. I haunted me for over a year.

I couldn't make this stuff up.

I wasn't always mother to five amazing monkeys. I wasn't always 700lbs (not really) and had to be rolled down the sidewalk (not even CLOSE).
 But my physic is quite different than it used to be. I was very curvy and perfectly endowed. Not "model pretty", but street pretty.

To be perfectly honest, my drastic weight gain is almost a relief. I don't have to deal with this stuff on a daily basis. Now icky men don't oogle or drool. They just go about their business and leave me to mine. No lewd comments. No unwanted advances. Relief. Well, at least for the most part.

  But that is a topic for another day.

And all this stuff is going through my head, and all the terror of all the scary moments combined is hitting me in wave after wave. I had no idea what these guys were going to do. They were pacing us, hanging on my right.  Would they ram us? Force us into the ditch?  Was I going to have to attempt to fight off at least four men trying to abduct my daughter?

More obscene gestures.

And... I actually flipped the bird. 
*more embarrassed burning of the cheeks*
 In that split second, I couldn't think of a single other thing that could so clearly convey my extreme displeasure and make clear their advances were not wanted and not tolerated.

If I had a rock or brick, I would have thrown it. 
It is a good thing I didn't have a gun. I may have opened fire. 
If I had a bat, I am fully convinced I could have jumped through the window, beat both the guys in the front seat, and made it back to my spot in the seat the van before needing a steering correction. I was that angry and scared.

 Well, maybe not that much.
Truthfully I was terrified. 
Terrified for my daughter and my other kids also in the car. Willing to do anything to protect her and them. Not knowing what they would do next.

Monkey See grabbed a paper and scrawled in bold letters:
"I am 12"
and held it up to the window.

They kept making the gestures and hanging right on my right flank. I gunned the engine and got ahead of them (my exit was coming up). They headed to the left lane and paced us from the left, making more gestures and creating a sign of their own, which they held to the window. I won't tell you what it said, but it makes my whole face feel as if it is burning. At that point it was clear they were talking to me and the heat was off  her. I wish I could say I was relieved, but I wasn't. It was a horrifying, ugly exchange. Without any notice I suddenly took the exit (at the last moment). By the time they realized what I had done, they had no choice but to move on down the road.

You may wonder why I was so scared. Why? What could be so terrifying? It is just fingers and mouths and obscene gestures, after all. Why terror? Why such protective rage? 

Now here is the part to wake up to. 

Awake yet? Here it is.

They were treating my beautiful daughter and I as if we were objects. They were CLEARLY thinking of us as objects and not people. There is no doubt. Why else would you single out someone on the HYWAY to make sexual gestures at?

Why is this such a problem? 
Because objects are things that can be used and it doesn't matter what you do to them. Things don't matter. We drive on roads, walk on doormats, use utensils, throw away unwanted items when we are done with them. We cannot harm them because they are THINGS. It doesn't matter if we use them up or throw them away. They have no souls, no feelings. It doesn't matter what happens after that because things are just things. 

Those men think my daughter and I are things. They don't care what happens to us, they don't care how we feel, they don't care if we hurt, they don't care if our needs are met. We are objects to be enjoyed and thrown away. 
We have no idea just what lengths they would go to for their "good time." Would they rape? Murder? Torture? What lengths would they go to? I have zero information about their character, except a highly negative exchange that speaks absolutely NOTHING to good character or any kind of restraint.
 You see, it is a very short step between treating someone as if they are an object and losing all sense of a person's humanity altogether.

Let me say that again.

You see, it is a very short step between treating someone as if they are an object and losing all sense of a person's humanity altogether.

 If a woman is not a person, then torture doesn't matter. If a woman is not human, then it doesn't matter if she lives or dies. If a woman isn't a person, then any abuse she endures doesn't matter. 
That is why objectifying women is so dangerous. That is why men of honor and faith should not turn a blind eye to other men who treat women as nothing but an object. That is why men of substance should stand for women and call for an end to this horrifying way of thinking.
It matters when men view raunchy materials and porn. Why? Because there is a fine line. Because it lacks humanity. And most women have this sense that there is something very wrong with porn, but they cant quite put their finger on it. They are considered by society to be "prudes" and treated with a bit of contempt and a "get over yourself" attitude. But this is WHY. We women know that the margin is very, very narrow. Even if we can't quite express it  in words.

Men with a backbone should revolt against the way that society has treated the image of women. Constant, unending objectification. I think many Christian men secretly like it. They love that sin more than their wives and daughters -as they help perpetuate the culture that will harm these loved ones their whole lives. How narrow is the margin between the dehumanizing of women -enough to make catcalls or kidnap and rape? How far is it really?

And as for married men sometimes needing to think of their wives as sexual objects, I haven't really decided what exactly I think about that. I would much rather that men think of their wives a intensely sexual people, with needs and desires that matter and should be met in mutually unselfish ways towards each other. In my marriage I find that intense, unselfish love incredibly effective. If a married man thinks of his wife as an object, how would that effect the way would he treat her? Would he value her opinions and input? Would he be respectful of and to her? How would he work through -or not work through- problems? Would that be the kind of marriage I would want to be a part of? Is that what I would want?

This next part makes me want to cry:

I am beyond grieved that my daughter has to deal with this. For over a year, as I have watched her physically blossom into the body of a woman, I have dreaded what I know she will have to deal with. I have struggled with how to prepare her for this, to both keep her humble and also impress on her the effect of her physical appearance. I have wondered how to prepare her. How do I prepare her? How do I prepare her for a world that is dangerous to her because she is physically beautiful? How do I raise her to send her out to a world of men who have been fed a steady diet of images and attitudes that portray and encourage objectifying women. How do I teach her to look over her shoulder at all times without scaring her to death? How do I help her navigate through all the innuendos, forceful invitations, treatment as sub-human, thought to be stupid (since she is pretty) and relentless lewd comments. 
This is the world my daughter has to live in. She looks 16, but is actually 12, and struggles with her changing physic. She is so young, and dealing with such grown-up problems. 

Today she saw things she shouldn't have had to see. She is being forced to grow up ahead of her time. And as a mom, it is really heartbreaking. This is the world she has to live in -even worse than the one that robbed me of so much peace of mind.

And there are no resources. I can't find a single book or parenting course that shows me how to prepare my daughter for this. there are tons of resources for nearly every other problem, but what about this? Why is it ignored? You would think that at least one Christian author would have thought of this and helped parents work through this with their daughters. Maybe the world has actually changed so quickly that they cannot keep up. Right now I do the only thing I can do: pray and trust God. I know that He loves my Monkey Girls even more than I do, and He will only allow what is for their ultimate good. And yet I know what they are going to face. And it makes me sad.

There is an attitude that has permeated the church; boys will be boys.


Boys will be what you expect and teach them to be.

And some of you may read this blog and feel that I am overreacting to all of this, but I want you to keep something in mind:


How many nights after that sit he sit outside my house waiting for me to come home? I didn't sleep there another night. Did he wait for me? Was this guy a rapist? Murderer? Did he have violent fantasies he desired to fill? I will never know, but I am painfully aware of the world my lovely girl is walking into.

And I have three more girls, all rapidly hitting all their height markers. My heart aches for each one of them and the world they are going into, and for all the young women. Very soon they will be navigating difficult waters.

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