Looking back on it, I’m not sure if I was planting a premature seed of fear or if I was actually helping them.
But in that moment, walking past the open door as my nieces, Amari and Khila, then five and seven-years-old, innocently used the bathroom, I did what any caring auntie would do – I scolded them.
“Girls, you gotta close the bathroom door when you’re using it.”
Confused by the alarm in my voice, Khila asked every child’s favorite question:
“Because there’s a man in the house, baby, and young ladies always close the bathroom door when there’s a man in the house.”
Amari, washing her hands, stopped.
“But why? We don’t close the door at home with Daddy…”
“Well, you should.”
“Just do it. OK, ‘Mari?”
And that’s when I saw it — A flicker of innocence evaporating from my oldest niece’s face.
She lowered her head, mumbled.
A Girl Child in A Man’s World
My heart breaks telling this story. Because I remember the day I, too, learned I was a girl child in a man’s world.
I was seven or so, I think, and I hated wearing clothes. Every chance I got to be naked and free, I relished in. Then one day, I shed my clothes without closing my bedroom door and my dad walked by. He pulled the door close before speaking.
“Put your clothes on, Monie.”
Scurrying, I snatched on my favorite t-shirt and shorts as my dad lobbed a question at me through the door.
I had no idea what ‘decent’ meant, but I answered back “Uh huh” anyway. He pushed open the door and said to me what I repeated years later to my nieces almost verbatim.
“Close your bedroom door when you’re changing, Monie.”
Confused by the sternness of his voice, you know what question I asked next.
“Because there’s a man in the house, baby, and young ladies always close their bedroom door to change when there’s a man in the house.”
My little mind raced, rolling though all the men in my tiny world like a Rolodex.
“Yes, Baby, with your cousins, your uncles, your grandfathers and even with me. Understand?”
I didn’t understand. But looking at my dad, the man I felt the safest with in the world, I knew the answer I had to give.
I lowered my head and mumbled.
Protect Yourself At All Times
I tell both of these stories, because this is a conversation that most little girls have at some point in their young lives. As girl children, women are taught that they must be responsible for their own bodies and like a boxer in the ring, it’s their job to protect themselves from men at all times.
We’re not taught why.
We’re not taught that men are predators because of their unchecked, testosterone driven and socially accepted sexual urges. We’re only taught that by the sheer nature of being born female, we are prey responsible for our own bodies and we are to blame and/or in control of how our bodies can turn men – yes, even the men in our own families – on.
That’s why my father told me to close my bedroom door when I change. And that’s why I told my nieces not to pee with the bathroom door open.
Because men are animals and can’t control themselves. Right?
Or is it that, men don’t have to control themselves?
I, of course, know that they do. But, what if, for instance, a man experiences a moment of weakness and….
Grabs a woman by her pussy or comments about pubic hair on a coke can or masturbates in front of you on a tour bus or pees on you on a cell phone video or assaults you while you’re in a drug induced coma at the Playboy Mansion or rapes you in a hotel room or runs a train on you at frat party or violates you while you’re watching your favorite TV show…
Then, boys and men are given a pass. And the women in their lives – their mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, teachers, co-workers, bosses – blame the girl child or woman for enticing them.
Boys Will Be Boys
Why? Because if we, girl children and women, get catcalled, cyber bullied, touched, assaulted or raped by a boy or a man, it’s our fault.
We’re to blame, because we, as girl children, are taught to protect ourselves from men at all times. To control natural urges to run naked and be free, to sit with our legs open instead of crossed at the ankles and yes, to pee on the toilet with the bathroom door open.
We, as girl children, are trained to stay away from handsy, dirty-old-men uncles.
We, as girl children, think twice about wearing a skirt too short or blouse cut too low to school or work.
We, as girl children, go with a girl friend to public bathrooms and make sure we don’t go to parties alone.
We, as girl children, grow up and go out on dates with men we don’t know well in public spaces and we’re conscious to avoid solo time with our manicured, well dressed bosses, because we know that underneath that tailored suit he’s just a man with sexual urges that he may or may not be able to control.
This is the reality we, as women, face every day.
It’s the sobering truth drilled into us as innocent little girls by our mothers, aunts and grandmothers to make us responsible for our bodies in the face of them not making our brothers, cousins, uncles, classmates, neighbors, teachers, bosses, fathers do the same.
Maybe if we socialized boys the same way we do girls…
Maybe if we taught boys to take responsibility for their bodies instead of empowering them with the prime directive that it’s their birthright to populate the world and dominate women sexually…
Maybe if mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, teachers and coaches, bosses, the government and the court system didn’t cripple boys with the excuse that “boys will be boys,” we could raise healthier males and produce better men.
Buried underneath the avalanche of #MeToos and all the other testimonies yet untold, I think it’s past time we try.
Monice Mitchell Simms is a LA based sociolinguist storyteller, a published authorpreneur and an award-winning screenwriter-filmmaker. You can purchase her books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Monice-Mitchell-Simms/e/B003CW3LAO, Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & read more of her essays on her website, www.monicemitchellsimms.com.
Yes! This scene with your niece resonates with my every day experiences with children. What are other conversations that could take place instead?
Thanx for chiming in, Rachel! Re: your question — I think we could start by changing the social dynamic we raise our boys with regarding sex and by placing responsibility on them for their bodies as well. We’ve got to change this boys will be boys mentality of our culture. It’s damaging.
This is a wicked smart piece. For millennium, wise aunties and protective papas and wary mamas have taught the young girls in their lives to watch themselves. And until the human animal finally crosses that line from beast to angel, it’s what the female half must live with.
Not fair, not right, my friend. But true.