Why We Are Failing Our Young Women

Failing Young Women

#MeToo and #TimesUp are supposed to empower women, to give hope to a generation of young women that they will never suffer the indignities that we have. In many ways, I see hope in this movement. Then I spend time around middle school kids and realize we might be missing the mark.

Will vengeance make any of this better? Is there any amount of money that can ease the pain or heal the wounds on our souls? I don’t think so. Let us strip everything away from those who have harmed us and we still feel the pain. We still resent the loss of innocence, the betrayal. So, I ask you, would it not be more prudent to address the issue in our young people? Would we not do the most good by affecting change in the younger generations?

Sometimes, I forget how early it started for me. I admit to being lucky that I could play baseball with the boys at the end of the street and join my Dad for football games at Notre Dame – traditionally a guy’s trip. There were still definitive gender roles, colors, and expectations. I conformed for too long, a truth that leaves me ashamed. By the time I found myself, my voice, I found it the hard way.

There’s no point in sharing what the “hard way” was for me, I’m sure you have your own story. But, I made changes and I vowed to raise my daughter to be strong from a young age. My daughter wore very little pink. She watched football with her dad and I.

It was, obviously, no surprise when Autumn asked to play football. I did not refuse her. Of course, her dad had to coach because the men did not want a girl to play. Some parents (and coaches) yelled for their boys to “get the girl” and had their players target her. She did not give up. The second year Autumn played, another girl joined the league. Just two girls in a league of boys at an age where girls tended to be bigger than their counterparts. Still, it was “wrong” and people were appalled that I allowed my “little girl” to play football.

Autumn quit football, not by her choice, and she misses it every day. She allowed her dad to talk her out of it when the league she played in would no longer allow her because she didn’t attend school there. This decision is one that will haunt Autumn forever but it has driven her to fight harder in everything else she does. Ultimately, Autumn knows that while she loved football, she has softball in her soul. When given the chance to try football again, she did not want to risk injury that would keep her out of softball.

I wrote a piece not long ago about the importance of sports for girls. I still maintain that sports are important to girls for many reasons and we are failing them miserably despite Title IX. You can read my post and Autumn will be expanding on this issue soon so I don’t want to rain on her parade. But, sports are not the only way we are failing our young women. We fail them every day by turning a blind eye, by laughing off behaviors that should be denounced. In this way, we do our boys a disservice too. We should be teaching them right from wrong.

Just last week, a man told me “boys don’t know what they are saying” when I expressed outrage that a 12-year-old male asked a 12-year-old female (in the middle of class) if he could “pop her cherry.”

Do you know how many people have dismissed a boy’s comment that if said by a man would be considered sexual harassment? Just last week, a man told me “boys don’t know what they are saying” when I expressed outrage that a 12-year-old male asked a 12-year-old female (in the middle of class) if he could “pop her cherry.” I don’t give a shit whether that kid knows what he is saying or not. Somebody tell him it is not okay, tell him what it means and that it is sexual harassment, plain and simple. It should not be permissible in school or anywhere.

Autumn came home one day, shortly after Harvey Weinstein entered “rehab” to tell me that a boy walked around lunch with a petition to “free Harvey Weinstein.” The reactions ranged from disgust to dismissal but never addressed by an adult.

Bra snapping, inappropriate lists, inappropriate pictures, and the surge of social media contribute to low self esteem, bullying, and harassment. The boys learn this behavior somewhere. Girls learn to be objectified. This behavior is accepted and ingrained like a sick, twisted tradition.

How can we expect women, especially young women, to break out of the old ways if we do not empower them, if we do not teach them to do so? ┬áThere is more at stake than self respect and self esteem. We need to give our young people the tools to treat each other as equals. Of course, it is about more than gender, but for argument’s sake, I’m talking gender.

The boys learn this behavior somewhere. Girls learn to be objectified. This behavior is accepted and ingrained like a sick, twisted tradition.

We need to teach our young people that the genders are different but equal. A good start would be leveling the playing field in sports and extracurriculars. When we hear inappropriate conversations among young people, we should discuss it with them. We need to call out what is wrong and instruct why it is wrong.

Draw attention to adults who exhibit the behaviors sparked by #MeToo and #TimesUp. Stop glorifying those who detract from the efforts. I realize the difficulty of this effort given the current leader of America, but surely if enough people join in we can drown it out.

I truly hope things change. Not just for my daughter but for my son, for the grandchildren I hope to have some day.

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