#MyKidToo — Stop Sexualizing My 3-Year-Old

He leaned down to her, looked her in the eye and, just above a whisper, said, “Don’t tell my wife; she wouldn’t like that. I’m a one-woman man.”

He said this to my 3-year-old. The guy giving out smoothie samples at the co-op said this to my 3-year-old.

Why? Because she told him she remembered him from last time. She said, “Hey Smoothie Guy, I remember you!”

No, really, why? Because, apparently, some men think it’s normal to flirt with preschoolers, and I need to shove my head in a pillow and scream right now.

My little dragon

Thank goodness we’re all talking about our #MeToo stories. I’m starting to wonder, do we also all have #MyKidToo stories? How many of us have witnessed our little ones being sexualized by (supposedly) grown men? And not just men with mustaches and windowless vans and candy, but socially acceptable men just trying to be nice.

My friend was walking with her 4-year-old on the sidewalk, to pick big brother up from elementary school, and a man drove up from behind, stopped the car beside them and rolled down his window, just to say, “Take it from this great-grandpa, she’s gorgeous!” Just from seeing the back of this 4-year-old’s head, he felt the need to catcall her.

Are these men straight-up pedophiles who are risking outing themselves, or do they just think they’re being sweet? And what does it say about me that, when Smoothie Guy insinuated that my silly kiddo was a homewrecker, I barely mumbled out any response at all? What do you even say to that? What do you say when someone talks that way to you, and how does it change when they’re doing it to your kid?

The culture’s not great when it comes to little boys either. How many times have you heard someone say, “He’s gonna be a little heartbreaker”? But if a little boy had said, “Hey Smoothie Guy, I remember you!” I doubt Smoothie Guy would’ve replied, “Don’t tell my wife…” (not that being an equal-opportunity child-sexualizer would’ve made it okay).

So if this happens while I’m right there, what are grown men saying to my kid when I can’t hear them? I’m not usually one to think in terms of Stranger Danger (I mean, everyone’s a stranger until you get to know them), but then something like this happens and reminds me that, actually, people are sort of the worst.

I remember that mainstream depictions of What Men Want involve removing all body hair, petiteness, and “Daddy, I’ve been a very bad girl” talk. I remember that we need Mayim Bialik to explain (in her video that actually gets through to people!) what’s wrong with calling women “girls” and that I still get called a girl on the daily. So if, when I’m just being my regular sexy woman self, men want to infantilize me, and when my kiddo’s being her little twirl-around-in-spaghetti-stained-pajamas self, people want to sexualize her, what do we do?

My daughter and I on a camping trip

I’m at a point where my armpit hair feels like a moral imperative, like I’m screaming out to the world, to my husband, to my daughter, “I’M A GROWN-ASS MAMMAL WOMAN!” I shave it every few months as a treat for my husband, but then I just get pissed off at him, at the world, for the fact that he likes my pits hairless. When I told my husband the smoothie story, he also didn’t really get it. He agreed it was weird/awkward, but didn’t think it was “a big deal.”

In this case, my kiddo didn’t understand what Smoothie Guy was whispering to her, so I’m going to put off a little longer telling her that men will probably speak to her this way her entire life, that they will feel entitled to her uncomfortable smiles, that they will tell themselves that the smiles aren’t uncomfortable at all, that we will bear the discomfort, all of it, and will hide it from them. Okay, no. No, no, no! I want to tell her something different.

My daughter and I talk all the time about touching, about how no one can touch her without her consent. We practice saying, “No, I don’t want to be touched right now.” “No! It’s my body, and I said no!” It’s already useful in her day-to-day preschooler life, with hand-holding and playground wrestling. But the things men will say to her?

So what should I have said to Smoothie Guy?

I tell myself my silence was for her own good, because she didn’t understand him. If she didn’t understand, then it wasn’t doing damage (to anyone but me). So there’s no damage unless I make it “a thing.” So I didn’t make it a thing. I bear the discomfort, and I share it with you, and we bear it together.