“Mom, something happened today,” my daughter said as she looked across the kitchen at me.
I was chatting with my 12 yr. old daughter about her day when she shared with me her first experience (at least to my knowledge) with male aggression.
M is in grade 7 and she takes public transit to school. We live in a safe neighbourhood and the commute takes her 20 mins with one quick transfer at the mall to get her to school. This foray into being responsible for her own transportation has been great for her. She has blossomed with this newfound freedom and her dad and I have felt confident that she is competent and mature enough that we don’t worry about her daily commute to and from school.
But yesterday something happened. When M was getting off the bus at the mall yesterday she was knocked over by an older grade 9 boy who was fooling around with his friends. He was pushing his way through the crowded bus to get off sooner. No big deal really. Shit happens and young people can be thoughtless. A simple apology would have been enough to absolve him in this situation. But none came. And M was pissed. So she let it be known.
“Hey! If you’re going to knock someone over, the least you can do is apologize” my daughter called out to him. And he turned around, looked at her, and said, “Seriously? You’re such a bitch!”
M was still trying to process her feelings about what had happened when she shared this story. I asked her how it had made her feel. She knew she was mad and she said that she wasn’t going to let what he had called her ruin her day but it was definitely still bothering her. I asked her how her friend, who was with her at the time, felt about it. She said her friend had looked really ‘uncomfortable’ but they didn’t really talk about it after.
I had so many conflicting emotions whirling around in my head. My first thought was that maybe she should have kept her mouth shut and not called out the bad behaviour. I worried that she had put herself into a situation that could have escalated and put herself at risk for an act of violence. I also felt badly that the incident had made her friend uncomfortable and I thought that this might negatively impact a new friendship. As soon as these thoughts entered into my mind I was disgusted by my initial reaction. Why was it so easy for my mind to go to a place of victim shaming? I was saddened by the realization that M was navigating a world where she needed to worry about being a victim of this kind of violence.
We are so conditioned as women, to play nice, to not ruffle any feathers and never to rock the boat. But this kind of aggression against females needs to be called out and that is exactly what M had done. My daughter is at the age where our culture starts excusing male aggression against females. It is the age where some boys are learning that it is okay to treat girls as less than, as objects, and not as equals. And she is also at the age where culture is teaching her to shut up, swallow her hurt and be nice. And this is absolute bullshit. And right now my daughter still knows this.
So I talked through what had happened with her. I explained the boy’s behaviour as sexist and pointed out that this scenario would have played out so differently if their roles had been reversed. We talked about the meaning of the word bitch and how it has been used as a way to ‘put women in their place’ or to belittle strong and determined female leaders. I applauded her tenacity and her unwillingness to back down when she was treated poorly. And I explained to her some of the reasons why her friend might have looked uncomfortable. I told her that she had done exactly the right thing in sticking up for herself.
I’m proud of the fact that she knows that she deserves to be treated better but I worry that, as time goes on, she will forget this. That she will learn to play the nice girl, to placate, to make herself smaller to avoid male aggression. But for now, all I can do is remind her that it is okay to be a bitch.
And in time, I can only hope that she grows up to be a nasty bitch.