*Warning: This post contains vulgar language… You know, the type of language women and girls are subjected to every day, several times a day.
Occasionally, women’s magazines, glossy journals and quirky BuzzFeed videos address the issue of gender-based harassment and violence against women using provocative imagery and devastating statistics that it sets concerned tongues wagging…for a while…until we all move on to the next thing. Suddenly, the bone chilling cover stories about a university student’s gang rape an public bus by a group of strangers are replaced with ‘How to Get Sexy Hair and Fab Boots NOW!’. Or worse, stories about depraved, serial raping police officers never make the covers or headlines at all.
If the editors of these publications were truly reporting the actual realities of the average woman’s life, those glossy covers, the women who grace them and the lead stories that hook readers in would look incredibly different:
Female Physicist Passed up for Promotion Thanks to Patriarchy
Mom of 5 Overlooked for Team Lead Position Based on Assumptions About her Availability and Dedication
High School Student Cornered, Groped and Molested by her Classmates
9-Year-Old Girl Gets Called ‘Bitch’ for the First Time in Her Life… And It Won’t be the Last
But headlines such as these don’t sell magazines or garner clicks. No one wants to be reminded of or confronted with the harshness of those realities – in print or otherwise – while they’re going about their daily activities: While they’re on the train, or ordering a sandwich at Burger King, or waiting for the spin cycle to finish at the laundry mat, or at any of the other places that women and girls are likely to be harassed, assaulted or violated.
You want to escape.
So you plunk down $1.50 for this week’s edition of US Weekly and pretend you didn’t hear the guy on the other end of the tram tell you what a “fat ass” you have and how he’d love to “tear that thang up”. You bury your head deeper into your magazine and pray that this is just male bravado talking and that carry out his sinister threat when you get off at the next stop. You know the statistics about violence against women and you’re just hoping that you won’t become another faceless “one in three”. You just want to get home/to work/to the movies in peace.
If you’re like me, at some point you have to wonder: When and how did these obnoxious, vulgar men develop this persona? And what makes them turn physically violent when a verbal assault isn’t enough? Is it something that switches on in their brains around 18-22 that turns them into such monsters? Do external factors like work, or the lack of it, contribute to this?
For a long time, that’s what I believed: That so many of the dudes who harass(ed) me and other women learn to become douche bags after some post-pubescent crisis they suffer as a species. Prior to puberty, ALL boys are gassy and dusty, but overall pretty sweet, right? Well, I believed that until two little boys did the inconceivable on two separate occasions.
The first incident took place about two years ago. Nadjah was 9 at the time and some little dreadlocked boy named Rafiq* from down the road used to come up and play with these two bad-behind-no-home-training girls who lived in our cul-de-sac. Eventually, Rafiq started playing with my kids too. He was about 12 at the time, and I wasn’t comfortable with so large a boy interacting with my children, but I reluctantly allowed it and would monitor their play from my window until everyone dispersed at the end of the night. This went on for a few weeks until I eventually got comfortable enough to step away from my post. How many of you know you should never leave your post?
One day, Nadjah burst into the house and tore into my room, breathless with eyes wide in disbelief.
“Rafiq said that I’m brown because when I was born I was covered in the ‘s-word’ and that I have a fat fragina! What’s a fragina?”
I wasn’t prepared for this. I explained what a ‘vagina’ was and watched her recoil in disgust that he had mad reference to its girth.
“What do you mean “the s word”. Go ahead and tell me what he said. You won’t get in trouble.”
“Shit,” she replied simply.
The impudence! Visions of my emergency C-section and Nadjah’s frail 3 lbs preterm, newborn body shot through my head like lightening. I was incensed!
Marshall was already out the door by this time as Nadjah had spoken to him first before coming to make her report to me. He informed me that he had spoken to Rafiq – respectfully – and advised him on how he should speak to women or some such other nonsense. This was not good enough for me. I raced out of the house in my boubou, afro askew and told the other kids to call Rafiq back to me. He was already making his way down the road back to his house. I gave him the tongue lashing of life before asking why he would talk about my daughter’s vagina.
The boy became a mouse, squeaking his humble entreaty.
“No…no! I can never use such language. I am a Muslim…”
Saa? This boy doesn’t know I was also a Muslim once? I told him to clear out of my area and not come back until he’s learned some decency. I haven’t seen him since 2014.
Foolishly, I thought I could shield my girls from this sort of treatment by monitoring who they play with, but the devil is always busy and sometimes his agents slip through the nets.
My son, Stone, who is 6 has been playing with an 11 year old boy named Curtis* since last summer. Curtis shows him how to dribble a ball and they talk about Legos with Castillo from ‘Cross the Street (age 5). Something about Curtis has always seemed off to me, but I let Stone play with him because there are hardly any boys his age in our neighborhood. I don’t care too much for Curtis, but I never had a reason not to like him…until Sunday night.
Aya and her friend Carmen were riding their bikes and chattering incessantly about nothing, as 8 and 9 year old girls are wont to do. Curtis was staring at them, so much so that it made them uncomfortable. They said something to him about it.
“You’re both snitches and bitches and I’m going to call the cops on you,” he spat.
Aya and Carmen came into the house to report it to me, informing me that Curtis had called them the b-word. Again, I asked the girls what they meant by the ‘b-word’.
“Bitch,” Carmen said, her 8-year-old mouth forcing the word out of her face like it was a hot coal.
Oh…Oh, NO. Oh heeeeck no!
By this time, Curtis was long gone from the scene. You think that saved him? I knocked on every door in the neighborhood until I found his house; my husband, Carmen’s step-dad and Carmen’s uncle in tow. I felt some way about how it looked for two Colombian men forming part of my search posse for a little Black boy, but the kid called my daughter a bitch. There’s consequences.
I was like a woman possessed. I didn’t care that it was cold or that I was still in my church attire or that I was tired. I needed to find this boys parents. He is 11, for holiness’ sake! Just as we were about to give up, Marshall knocked on a final door and was greeted by a sinewy man in red basketball shorts, black socks and beach shoes who confirmed he was Curtis’ dad, a hard looking man. He had the appearance of the type of dude would blink at a 5-10 sentence and serve it with the ease of a woodland elf running through a mountain pass. Just unfazed by what he was hearing – that is, until Marshall said these words:
“We’ve been looking for your son throughout the whole neighborhood, and now everyone knows that your boy…”
It was like he didn’t hear anything else after that. What? The whole neighborhood knows about this? A fire lit behind Mr. Red Shorts eyes. He promised to get on Curtis later on that ni-… No. Matter of fact, he was going to find Curtis right now!
I recognized that unique parental glare and momentarily felt bad for Curtis… but the boy called my 9 year-old daughter and her 8 year old friend a bitch. There’s consequences!
Y’all. Guess who came strolling up the street in the midst of all this discussion and wandered into a waiting wall of aggravated adults? Curtis. And guess what this misguided soul had the audacity to do? You guessed it. Lie, lie, lie! Oh, he was wailing.
“No, Daddy! THEY were the ones who called me a bad word. I didn’t do anything!”
Aya’s face broke. She was on the verge of hysterics, explaining that the girls had told him he as acting like a ‘hacker’ (I believe they meant ‘stalker’) and that neither ever cursed at him. She couldn’t believe it! Here she was the victim – who had been victimized in her own space – and Curtis commenced to falsely accuse her of initiating a verbal attack against him in order to escape punishment? Does any of this sound familiar?
Eventually he was made to apologize to the girls before his daddy hauled him off to face his fate.
Yet again, I was left reeling with anger and disappointment. The die has been cast. I know now that Rafiq and Curtis are just the tip of the iceberg. They represent the first link in a long, oily chain of eventual men and boys who will feel they have the right and privilege to slur or verbally assault my girls and then shirk responsibility for it like cowards.
I’d hoped we were raising a generation with better mores and sensibilities than the one I grew up in; one that would think harder about violating others’ freedoms and whose first instinct would be to treat everyone with fairness and respect. But giving participation badges and trophies for attendance to these kids has done nothing to alter or address the real cancer in our society: the grotesque way women and girls are spoken to, regarded and often treated. And apparently, that psychosis starts hella early.
How do the young men and boys in your life treat or speak to girls? Have you spoken to them about it? Are we doing a good job of guiding them, or are we leaving the job up to Li’l Wayne n’ dem and hoping for the best in the end? Discuss!