There’s a boy in Millie’s kindergarten class that pinches her bottom. The pinching began in August, shortly after the school year started. They’re six. Not nearly old enough for the action to be considered perverse. Still, Millie was bothered by it enough to mention it to me. I promptly contacted her teacher and they took all appropriate and necessary action. They were responsive and apologetic. I met the boy at a classroom party not too long after and as I helped him make a puppet from a paper lunch bag, he leaned over and embraced me at least ten times. He is a hugger. A toucher. A pincher.
While Millie was home sick last week, she brought up this boy again. He was back at it. Pinching her bottom. She still didn’t want him to. “But don’t worry, mom. As long as I remember not to sit next to him, he can’t pinch me.”
Her words stopped me short. I paused from my work and looked with a weary resignation at my daughter.
How we learn. Learn at such an early age to navigate the unwanted attention and behavior of others. We make accommodations. We change seats or classes or sides of the street or busses or phone numbers or ourselves. Sometimes, we change ourselves. We gently and strategically and sophisticatedly and expertly maneuver around a problem. Like a boulder blocking our path, we learn how to carefully make our way around the problem instead of jackhammering right through it.
We had the entire family at a big social function recently. We had a fantastic time and made some lovely new friends. At the end of the evening, as we made our way to leave, one of them stooped down and asked Millie for a hug goodbye after shaking hands with Henry and Charlie. He was kind and jovial and he meant absolutely no harm but I wasn’t surprised when Millie quietly and respectfully declined his offer.
While I fumbled with my coat, I heard him reply, “Well, I’ll just have to take it then,” as he swooped down and embraced my daughter in a bear hug she had not wanted to receive.
My God, those words. Why did he say those words?
We learn early on to pleasantly decline. To demurely defer. To softly and deftly say no thank you. To carefully choose our words and actions and emotions when our path is blocked. We accept and tolerate and withstand when instead we should be screaming and kicking and fighting.
And, sometimes, we learn early on that saying no doesn’t even matter.
Every woman has a story. Every single one can tell you tales of unwanted attention or harassment or mistreatment or inexcusable advances or unconscionable behavior. I am so amazed at the women brave enough to finally tell their stories. I’m not at all surprised there are so many.
I had wished a future for my daughter that was different. That didn’t include any of these stories. I am dismayed that, in fact, she already has some.