Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Did I Just Teach My Daughter to Blame the Victim?

I love the expression, “It floored me.” That’s probably because parenting floors me. All the time. One moment my daughter floors me by saying the wisest thing I can imagine. The next she floors me again by following it with a stunningly childish refusal to eat (anything, ever). Or so it seems.

A few months ago, she floored me when she responded exactly as I imagine my father would have. She reminds me of the sense of right and fairness my father taught me. I have long since buried that sense under a cynical brand of pragmatism that doubles as a shield to any blow the world hands me.

About a boy in her class she said, “He pinches me when we line up and I don’t like that.”

“So what can you do about it? What choices do you have?”


“None? You could step out of line. You can tell him to stop. Use your words.”

“Mommy, I tried using words. He doesn’t stop.”

“Why do you stand near him?”

“Well, I like to be at the front of the line. So does he.” A very clear picture of The US Congress immediately comes across my mind.

“Is being at the front of the line worth getting pinched? You could stand somewhere else.” When I was a child, this solution would have been obvious to me. The front is a battle not worth fighting.

“Mommy, that’s not fair. I should be allowed to stand anywhere in line without worrying about being pinched.” In her words, I heard echoes of my father, for whom the time and place for for justice were always right now and right here. At first, I worried that she will never manage in a world constantly demanding compromise.

What message am I sending her?

Should a woman have to worry about what she wears when she goes out, lest she ask to be raped? Should a woman endure catcalls on the sidewalk simply for walking? Should a woman fear walking under a street light with a blown bulb? Should a girl walk through a high school hallway wearing a backpack so her bra strap isn’t snapped? Should a child hand over her lunch money to a bully?

Anyone should be allowed to wear what they want to, when they want to, wherever they want to. Moreover, no woman should worry that someone will blame her if some harm befalls her when she does.

At five, Ellie knows that her safety in the world is a basic human right and expectation. I hope I never teach her that the victim should have or could have anticipated their treatment. What’s more terrifying is that I think I almost did.