#metoo — A letter to my nieces

Dear Hannah, Autumn, Becca, Leah, Maya, Abby, Audrey, Emily, Zoe, Angelkay, Sophia, Lucy, Ava, Jane, and Kaileigh,

By now, those of you who are on social media have probably heard about the #metoo campaign and seen a fair amount of hashtags and maybe even people talking about sexual aggression and harassment. I’ve thought a lot about the conversation going on right now and want to write directly to you about it.

We live in a world where the worth of a man is valued more than the worth of a woman. Men are paid more for the same work, have greater value attached to their sexual well-being than women (Viagra is covered under health insurance while birth control is not), there are still countries where only men can vote or own property, and the list goes on and on. Women couldn’t open their own business bank account without a male co-signer until 1988! That might sound like forever ago, but it was only 3 years after I was born.

But, the reason I’m finally sitting down to write before the sun comes up on a Saturday morning is because of something that happened at church earlier this year. While doodling in my notebook during a talk, Rob leaned over and pointed out something on the stand. Looking up, I saw a man in his 60s sitting two seats away from one of the girls I taught in young women. The uncomfortable part was that he had his arm across the back of the seats next to him and was stretched out so far that the girl was visibly leaning away from him so as not to be touched. It struck me how he didn’t notice. He appeared completely oblivious to her clear discomfort.

How many of you have gotten a side hug or shoulder squeeze or other physical affection from an older man? If it’s anything like my experience, probably often from men you know well and those you hardly know at all. It might seem like it’s not that big of a deal. But it’s not ok for a man to take what affection he wants whenever he wants. Often regardless of whether or not the girl wants to give it. THIS attitude, that a man “deserves” a hug whenever he wants one, is an example of entitlement. When a man believes he deserves a hug or a kiss just because he exists.

Is it our responsibility to speak up for ourselves? Yes, but we cannot do this alone — which is why I’m sharing one small example of many of my #metoo stories.

When I was a freshman in high school I got to sing with my high school choir for a famous astronaut. (No, I’m not kidding. John Glenn was speaking at an event nearby where I went to school.) While waiting to go up on stage with the other people in the choir, the conversation drifted to sex. Since I was a virgin at the time, I didn’t have anything to offer to the conversation and felt really uncomfortable. Happy, to not be directly involved, I tried to disappear into the background. This seemed to be working fine until one of the senior boys pointed me out and started talking about what he wanted to do to me. With everyone else witnessing and laughing, in horrifying detail, he explained his fantasy. I was horrified and humiliated and my first thought was to wonder what I did to deserve this. The answer is nothing. I did nothing to deserve his verbal rape. His words undressed and assaulted me in a way I hope you never experience. Though he never touched me, I felt violated.

So many women and girls experience sexual harassment every day. Boys are let off the hook for their behavior every day, from the bishop that told a dear friend of mine that it was her fault that she was raped to the team of 7th grade teachers that turned a blind eye to the boys regularly masturbating in my classes. When a man talks to you in a way that makes you feel inferior or belittled, it’s wrong whether what they said was sexual or not. Sexual aggression from men is a symptom of a cancer that hasn’t been given a name. Misogyny gets close, but it’s too unrelatable of a word to have much power. And that’s part of the problem. How do we fight something that doesn’t have a name? Because this is more than just sexual harassment. This is about the worth of women. So let’s give it a name. I’ll call it #dicktrump.

Dicktrump is when a man uses his gender as a trump card. When a man tells his daughter or granddaughter: “What, don’t I get a hug?” That’s dicktrump. I hesitate to move forward from this fact, because it’s really important that you see that this is, in fact, a major problem. Some of you want to pursue your career others of you want to be stay-at-home moms. Whatever you choose to do, I can guarantee that you will face dicktrump regularly, both from those you know and from strangers.

Ever sat in a room and tried to say something only to be interrupted or talked over by a man? That’s dicktrump. Ever shared an idea only to have a man take it and say it was his own? That’s dicktrump (and it’s also called bropropritation). Ever tried to explain something only to have a man re-explain the very same thing you just said? That’s dicktrump (and also called mansplaining).

The problem is massive and overwhelming. So the question becomes, what do we do about it? We can sit on our hands and hope that the world will change and things will get better. I don’t think this is the answer. And though creating meaningful change is a group effort, there are still things we can do individually to make change.

Love Yourself

I know it probably sounds cliche at this point, but the fact still remains that a strong woman who believes in herself has great power. There are so many women throughout history that did just that. Read about them, learn from them, and every day in the mirror tell yourself how strong, brave, amazing, and capable you are and then go do that audacious, scary, amazing thing you’ve always wanted to. I promise you, by doing what truly matters to you, you will change the world.

Support women around you

Learn to say — like Amy Poehler from Parks and Rec — “good for you, not for me.” Understand that the women around you don’t have to look or act or make choices like you to deserve your love and support. Believe in the power of choice and support them as they make their choices, whatever they are. We all need people like this in our lives. Be that person.

Practice saying no

Men aren’t going to stop doing things they don’t see a problem with. When your boyfriend, parent, or sibling wants to give you a hug, practice saying no. Something as simple as: “I’m not feeling like it right now,” can go a long way to show yourself and the other person that giving hugs is as much a choice as it is an expression of love. I promise that the hugs you do give will mean more and, honestly, feel better. Besides, obligatory hugs suck.

Support friends in saying no

This one is often the easiest to do. It’s so much easier to say, “She said she didn’t want to do that,” in supporting a friend than to do it for ourselves. Let’s have each others’ backs so that saying no is easier to do. Everything is easier with support from friends.

Call out bad behavior

Did one of your guys friends make a sexual comment about another friend? Call him out. If he’s going to say stuff like that in public, call him out in public. If he says it in private, call him out in private. It’s not about purposeful embarrassment, but it is about saying: “hey, man, that’s not ok.” This is where change starts, with the people that are closest to us.

Avoid shaming

Making the men in your life feel less than just spreads the pain around. Not only that, but it adds to it. Telling a boy that they’re “too emotional” or to “man up” in reality only fuels the fire of dicktrump. It tells them that there is no space for their true selves or their feelings — which is just the flip side of #dicktrump. It shows them that making another person feel small is how we get our needs met. Hurting other people is a lose-lose situation. Every time.

Your voice matters. People will tell you otherwise, but that says more about them than it does about you. So when people tell you that your one voice doesn’t matter, you tell them that your right to vote as a woman in this country was determined by 1 vote and that they can suck it.

All my love,

Michelle