I think I called it wrong. I assumed this interest in calling out men who sexually assault and/or harass women and girls would have a short time span, a month at most. And it continues as I’m sure some men are shaking in their boots or loafers or Nikes, wondering what they will do when they are called out. Times’s up.
I made my list of the times these unwanted advances have occurred to me — both assault and harassment — and it includes 16 names. If I am typical, there are many out there who have yet to be named. Further, I think many more women who indicate when asked that nothing has ever happened to them is beyond my ability to count. I think they believe the common mantra, “Denial will get you everywhere.” They have, after all, seen this denial of reality played out on national news virtually every day in a host of arenas.
The day after Christmas, my great-granddaughter, Parker, and my great-grandson, Cohl, both 13 months old, were taken to the Piqua mall to play, explore the mall, get out of the house for a bit. And it happened. Parker and Cohl, dressed in long-sleeved white shirts that said “Best Friends” were playing in a boat, and a little boy, about 2 or 3 years old, walked up to the boat and planted a kiss on Parker’s cheek. Now I’ll be the first to say she is really cute with a big smile and a little tuft of blonde hair. Reports are that she looked at him, with no smile, as if to say, “What’s that all about?’ He walked away, returned, and kissed her a second time.
The toddler’s dad was all over the miscreant, “Hey, buddy, you can’t go around giving people kisses. Maybe she didn’t want a kiss. You can go to jail for that.” The little boy just ran away.
With the understanding of the ways in which girls and women are damaged by sexual harassment and assault, Parker won’t be like I was the first time I was sexually assaulted at age 9 or 10 when the family doctor kissed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth. I said and did nothing. He was a respected authority figure; I was a skinny little kid, shy as a wild rabbit. How could I find the words for what had happened to me? And it happened more than once with him.
When I examine statistical data and see that more women than men are in college and graduating, I’m encouraged. When I look at the lack of females on corporate boards or in Congress, I know the importance of the movement for women to run and be elected to office.
When I see female journalists who are older or who are pregnant or who are dressed modestly and who are using their intellects and their communication skills to become assertive in pressing for honest responses from the politicians who have agreed to be interviewed but have no intention of telling the truth, I am encouraged.
As a young professor at Urbana College, I still remember the first time I was awakened to the need for so much work to be done in regard to the roles of women as I listened to a speech by Dr. Emily Taylor from the American Council on Education Office (ACE/Nip is now termed ACE Women’s Network). Later, I worked with Dr. Taylor when she organized Kentucky, and I headed the chapter there. In all the workshops I attended and the conferences I coordinated, never was there a program on sexual assault and harassment. We were busy with skill development and networking and allowed women to handle these unpleasant issues on their own — and with this tactic denied that they existed.
So as those issues appeared in my own career, I just muddled my way through them, using the power of my voice — I did learn to use it, first as a cheerleader and then under the tutelage of an American history/government teacher, Camilla Savage, at Toledo Woodward who taught me to see the world writ large and placed me in multiple places in Toledo as well as NYC and D.C. to turn the classroom lessons into action — to let men know that they could not trifle with me. As a college CEO for 15 years in places both small and huge, I worked long hours and was the consummate planner and problem solver, and I believed those characteristics factored in to protect me.
We can’t wait, however, until America changes to protect our daughters and granddaughters. We must be honest (Now isn’t that a wild concept?) about what has happened to us, and we must provide them with the tools to protect themselves, knowing that in spite of all our advice, our love, our desire to protect them, they will still need to protect themselves and at times may fail at that.
Educate ourselves and we change the world as we remember the saying, “Women hold up half the sky.” It’s been asserted that “The central moral challenge of the 21st century is the full emancipation of the world’s women.”
I invite the men and women who care about this issue , who want to be a part of this emancipation, to share with me your sense of how we can educate our daughters and granddaughters.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.