Mothering Teenage Daughters

I was a college freshman in October of 1991 when Anita Hill testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegations of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Never, in my wildest dreams, did I imagine that 27 years later as a mother of teenage daughters I would watch a similar horror unfold on the national stage.  

Based on my social media feeds, I know I was not alone in my rage and indignation at the treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The glib dismissal of her credible allegations and the thinly veiled irritation by Republican Senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee that they would “have” to let Dr. Ford testify were maddening.

On Thursday, September 27th, I woke with a pit in my stomach and nausea that lasted all day while watching Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testify.  As a woman, I was (and still am) enraged that we have apparently not made any progress since 1991. I should have known after the election of Donald Trump that women don’t matter to the Republican Party, but I was naive and optimistic once again.

As a mother of two daughters, aged 12 and 16, I had hoped that their formative years wouldn’t be marred by the rampant misogyny and sexism that defined the 80s and 90s.  I was (and still am) devastated to be so wrong. My girls are in the most dangerous part of their young lives, in terms of sexual assault risk. According to RAINN, 16-19 year old women are 4 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population.  There’s the nausea again.

Within days of my daughters’ 12th birthdays, I witnessed first hand a shift in the male gaze toward my daughters.  I can feel a change in the energy when certain men enter a space with us. I see men’s eyes travel up and down their young bodies, lingering too long.  This is what men do with their mother standing right next to them. What the fuck are they doing when I’m not there?

This week, Donald Trump said that this is a scary time for young men.  He postulated that poor young men across America would come to their mothers, their lives ruined because of false accusations of sexual misconduct.  Guess what?  I have a teenage son too.  Would you like to speculate how much time I have spent worrying that he would be falsely accused of sexual assault? Zero time, that’s how much.  Now, how much time do you think I’ve spent worried that my daughters will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes? Countless hours. Countless. In fact, I’ve spent more time worried that my son would be a victim of sexual assault by a trusted adult than worried that he would be falsely accused of it himself.

That’s because sexual assault is rampant and a statistically relevant risk for young people, especially young women.  Again, according to RAINN, One in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys under the age of 18 experience sexual abuse or assault at the hands of an adult. When women are victims, there are numerous barriers in place for reporting.  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center estimates that 63% of rapes go unreported. False accusations, on the other hand are rare, with an estimated 2-7% of reported cases being false or unfounded.

So, no.  As a mother of a teenage son, I do not consider the #MeToo movement to be a scary time for him. There are lots of things about being a teenage boy that are hard and scary, but false accusations of sexual violence are not one of them.  My daughters, on the other hand, face a whole new generation of Donald Trumps and Brock Turners and Harvey Weinsteins and Brett Kavanaughs, who are told that their businesses and scholarships and careers and judicial appointments are more important than the bodily safety of girls and women.  That is not just scary, it’s terrifying.

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