On Friday as I walked the girls home from school, Callie said she had something to talk about later. She resisted my prodding to talk about it right then, and in the after-school shuffle and Friday-night pizza making, I completely forgot about it. I asked Avery to say the prayer over our dinner, and then Tom started asking the kids about their day. A few months ago he instituted a system where we each take turns talking, shining the spotlight a little, formalizing what sometimes still descends into chaos as everyone babbles eagerly.
Callie’s turn came and she reminded me that she had something to tell us. Her deskmate at school, a boy called M– has been telling his friends to tell Callie, on the playground, that he is going to have sex with her. Callie is eight years old. All my attention, all the focus around the table centered on her in an instant, though Lucy and Molly and even Callie don’t really know what that means.
Callie was awkward and mumbly as I interrogated her as gently as I could. Has he touched you? (yes, but only on the arm) Has anyone else touched you? (not like that) Have you told anyone? Does he bully anyone else? (Yes, though as far as she knows she’s the only one offered that specific threat).
Our transition to California has been smoother and happier than I anticipated, and a large part of it is how welcoming an responsive the schools have been. This was a bit of a shock, but I know what elementary schools are like. When I was in kindergarten, I told the kids, a boy named Jim Leavitz had his friends tell me he had something to show me and then he ran towards me, unzipped his pants and showed me his penis.
I’ve never forgotten that, I told Callie, when she said she thought she would never be able to stop worrying about that boy, but I don’t have to think about it any more. You might not forget it, either, I said, but you don’t have to think about it.
I promised to talk to the teacher and we reminded the kids of our family rules: you can tell mom and dad anything; even if a trusted adult warns you you won’t be believed, or you’ll get in trouble, you won’t. You will be believed, and that person making bad choices will be the one who gets in trouble. And if you’re threatened, run away, or fight back if you can’t. Fight loud and hard, throw a tantrum, make as much noise as you can. Don’t be quiet. Scream no. You don’t have to please anyone. Ever.
This is why I’m a feminist, I told the kids, because boys and men are not allowed to say these kinds of things to women and girls. We are going to talk to the teacher and try to get this boy the help he needs to understand that that kind of behavior is completely inappropriate.
I am a feminist because I want a better world for my daughters. A world where rape culture doesn’t tell elementary school kids that sexual harassment is just boys being boys. Or worse, across the world, where girls get acid thrown in their face for even daring to go to school. Because while I want my daughters to know I will fight for them to be one hundred percent safe and comfortable in their environments, I also want them to be aware how many girls around the world face much worse.
Feminism allows me to care about every little thing threatening my daughters’ peace and each huge tragedy threatening the peace of our world. Feminism allows me to make pizza from scratch, from flour I have ground myself, if I want to, or to get in my car and drive to Little Caesars. But wherever our pizza comes from, on Friday nights we’ll be eating it together, around the family dinner table.