who knows what kind of world we will be living in by the time you read this post. Every parent has hopes and dreams for their kids. They involve education, values, love, health, success …and unfortunately, safety…More so if you have a daughter than a son, they involve safety from sexual assault and violence.
As a write this to you, I am torn between wanting to shelter you from the world’s evils, from family members, from teachers, from friends and their parents, from strangers, who may speak to you or touch you in an inappropriate way. I feel sick to my stomach by the idea that one day you will in all likelihood be made to feel as if you have no power over your own body.
Do I have the conversation with you about how this your body and nobody has the right to touch it without your permission? Do I tell you that while you sit with your group of friends playing barbies, that half of you will without a doubt experience harassment or abuse..that possibly one or two of you already have and you are only four years old! Do I try and tell you what steps to take when this happens to you, knowing full well, that you will be so confused when it happens you will in all likelihood just shut down and not say a word?
How is it that I do not know the right words to say or not to say, especially when having so much experience in this department? I know that my parents and my school drummed it into me when I was your age, that nobody had the right to touch my body without my permission. I know that a few years later when I experienced my first sexual assault, those lessons only made me feel more guilty and shameful and I blamed myself. Please know it is never, ever your fault, no matter how dirty you feel!
I see you watching your Disney movies, they all involve a princess waiting to be saved by a prince who holds with him an everlasting kiss of happiness. I see you role-play those scenes with your dolls and I know how this narrative will impact you. I know that like me, and my mom, you will come to believe that your happiness and love lies in the hands of a boy and chase that feeling at all costs, even at the cost of your dignity. I know that even if I get that right and manage to raise you to be a strong, independent woman with solid values and self-love, that one unrequested conversation or touch can unravel all of that hard work and for that, I feel so helpless. My only wish here is that I can lay a strong enough foundation for you that you will be able to slowly work through the hurt and pain so that it does not define you.
The reality is that your very first sexual encounter as a young girl or woman is likely to be one that you did not ask for. This was the case with me as well as my mother. The reality is that by the time you actually have a consensual sexual experience, there will be so many experiences before that, that were not consensual, that your hangups and baggage will weigh this relationship down. My only hope here is that you and your partner will be able to work through that baggage and trauma together.
To my son, Hamza.
We focus so much on keeping our daughters safe from men, that we hope that our boys will learn right and wrong via osmosis. We sometimes think that just because our boys are not being exposed to inappropriate examples that they will naturally grow up with a solid understanding of a woman’s body and who it belongs to. This just is not the case. You are watching the same Disney movies as Hana and just while she is at risk, you are too.
My hope for you is that you will understand that a woman is not a prize you get at the end of a story, her body is not something that you are entitled to for good behavior, a good date or because you feel like it. I hope that your dad and I can be more active in showing you how a woman should be treated and that you have a duty to protect and cherish all women. I hope you will come to understand the concept of consent in its entirety. That no means no, that silence is not consent, that a stiff, frozen body is not consent, that an unconscious body is not consent. Consent is her saying ‘yes’ and you should always ask and always be okay with no as an answer. Please make her know in her core that you are okay with no!
I want you to know that just because you may be stronger or more powerful you are not entitled to anything. Just because you are her boss, her boyfriend, her husband you are not entitled to her body. I hope you will not only be the man who shy’s away from cat calls and wolf whistles and ‘slut shaming’, but that you will have the courage to stop and correct men who behave this way. I want you to know that a woman is not a ‘slut’ or a ‘bitch’ for not giving it up for you or one of your friends. She is also neither of those things if she did. And lastly, please know that no women needs to prove her love or commitment to you through any kind of sexual act.
Social media is a powerful tool and while hashtags are the easiest and laziest form of protest, they carry with them a digital footprint that you can reference whenever you feel you need to. Hana and Hamza, if you are ever unsure about this letter or its meaning, please search #metoo in Twitter or on Facebook or in Instagram, on in Google. You will see millions of stories of sexual assault (mine are there too) and I hope that this will be a reminder to both of you to be and do better.