I am a feminist. I was raised by my parents and my school, Our Lady of the Elms, with the conviction that I am as equal and worthy as any man. I raise my 11-year-old daughter, Maggie, with the same views.
But, while we hold these views, we might be in the minority. Once my childhood naiveté disappeared and I emerged into adulthood, I was faced with the ugly reality of how some regard girls and women. It was always present, but due to my upbringing, I didn’t see it clearly.
The problem is, these convictions, however empowering and motivating, aren’t held by all of society. The proof surrounds us; girls and women are still discriminated against in all areas. Life as a U.S. female often plays out quite differently than it does for a U.S. male.
Before I’m written off as one of those “crazy, liberal, male-hating nut jobs,” consider the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl in Steubenville. While the alleged rape and arrest of the suspects occurred in August, the case exploded in the media recently.
Early this month, the group Anonymous released information on the Internet. Their posts document some of the events surrounding the night of the alleged rape, placing Steubenville in the national spotlight via the long reach of social media. Sadly, it seems we’ve reached the point in America we need hackers and groups such as this one to call attention to injustices that are not being addressed, or are mishandled, by our legal system.
I highly recommend parents dig deeper into this story. What happened isn’t uncommon. According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, 44 percent of sexual assaults and rape occur in children under the age of 18. Nine out of 10 reported rapes are perpetrated against women. The organization adds, “Girls ages 16-19 are four times more likely than the general population to be victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault” (http://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-victims). This is what I mean by life as a female in the United States can be much different than it is for a male.
My mind was sent into a tail spin. I was even more sickened and horrified after watching the 12-minute video on You Tube of Michael Nodianos, at the time a high school senior at Steubenville High, laughing and joking about the alleged rape.
I remembered my high school years, telling my parents I was overnight at a friend’s house and instead drinking elsewhere at a party. The alleged victim did the same. Just to be clear, I am not blaming her. Teens seem to believe they are untouchable and immortal — maybe a combination of too many hormones and not enough wisdom? It could have been me or my friends.
Page 2 of 2 - When I considered my daughter Maggie’s rapidly approaching teenage years, I wondered what I could do to prevent her from making the same choices I made as a teenager. How do I keep her safe in a society that still believes girls and women are expendable, sexual objects?
First, I told her about sexual assault and rape, how boys and men sometimes treat women and briefly explained the Steubenville event. I spoke about my teenage years and the situations I was in that might have ended in a similar tragedy.
I talked about her future as a teenager and that I would do everything in my power to keep her safe and help her make good choices, including confirming with other parents she was where she claimed and was safe, keeping her away from alcohol and drugs, and that if she uses either of them, she is to call me and I will come get her; if she feels unsafe or pressured to contact me immediately and I will be there; her phone will always have the GPS enabled; she must call me to check in and answer my calls or texts; if she is aware of anything “bad” happening, she must tell someone and not walk away from it. I talked about it ad nauseum.
Maggie didn’t want to hear it or talk about any of the issues. Neither did I.
I am disgusted I feel I must teach my daughter how to prevent sexual assault or rape. I am enraged Maggie is learning how ugly the world is, and when evil things occur, sometimes people will just stand by and let it happen, or even participate in or share it on social media. I am enraged that her “friends” might participate in it, that adults in authority might ignore what’s happening and let it continue, that a whole town might try to sweep it under the rug because a football team is more important than a girl’s safety and dignity.
This is the reality of being a girl and woman in the United States. It shouldn’t be.
I will always be a feminist, but I am a much more disheartened one than I was a week ago.