a peek inside the fishbowl

30 Oct, 2014

Three stories, and talking to our daughters about the creepy guys, AGAIN.

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life|parenting

I’ve already written about the issue of creepy guys before. Yet here I am again. You know why? Because the issue of the creepy guys will never go away, and it depresses the crap out of me.

One

Mark asked me whether I thought it was true that someone in authority could laugh at and/or be dismissive of a young woman’s story of sexual harassment or abuse.

When I was in university I worked at the Rideau Centre. I worked in retail, in menswear for the most part. The days were mostly fun, but long, and to decompress when I had a break I’d buy a pop and a chocolate bar and head up on the roof of the mall. There was a small stretch of lawn and some flower beds there. The entrance was near where the old movie theatres used to be, a publicly accessible spot that few people used or knew about because it was tucked away.

It was a warm summer day, and the rooftop garden was a welcome escape from the windowless box of recycled air we were working in. I took off my shoes, balled my sweater under my head, and stretched out on the grass to enjoy a few rays of sunshine and fresh air. The heat of the day made me drowsy, and I eventually nodded off.  I woke with a start, thinking I’d overslept. Or maybe it was the feeling that someone was watching me, but someone WAS watching me. Some dude on a bench right across the lawn had his pants down and was pointedly masterb@ting in my direction. At me. Looking at me. I felt nauseous. I pretended that I didn’t see him and slowly reached for my shoes and put them on. Later on I wish I’d confronted him, but I didn’t. I was disgusted, shocked, horrified. I carefully made my way back into the cool shelter of the mall, as calmly as I could. I was shaking. I had time before my shift started and went to find a security guard. The one I spotted happened to be a fellow I knew. It’s been so long I don’t even remember his name. He often came by the store, or would give us a friendly wave when he walked by. Sometimes he’d walk with one of us to do the bank deposits. This was the guy I told. I expected he’d run and try to find this creep, or at the very least, walkie-talkie his security guard friends. Maybe he did that later, I don’t know. What I do know is that he looked down at me carefully, with concern in his eyes. “So was he using his left hand or right,” he asked. I didn’t get the joke at first. My panic was clouding my response and I struggled to remember – was it left or right –  and then I realized he was kidding. He thought the whole thing was funny. And then he told me to take it as a compliment.

Two

About a month ago the girls and I were at the shoe store. The eldest was trying on a black pair of Doc Martens, which we eventually bought. During the trying on process I snapped this photo and posted it along with a “we’ve come full circle” line, since I was a Doc-wearing youth back in the day as well and was kind of enjoying the moment.

Miss Doc Marten

I had her permission to post it, which is something I always try to do.

A couple of weeks later I received a notification via Flickr that someone had favourited that photo. I normally don’t take much notice when this happens, but the user name was strange and it got my attention. I clicked to see this person’s photo stream. There were no photos uploaded to this account. I clicked around a bit more and found this person’s favourites (basically, other people’s photos that were highlighted). Mine was at the top of the pile. And then I noticed all of the photos were similar in some way. The photos were all of young girls in various undress, some more titillating so than others, and they were all wearing more or less the same thing. Clearly I had stumbled across the favourites of a flannel or plaid fet!shist. (I wish I was kidding.)

You can imagine the conversation I had with our eldest. (“You see, there are some men who see women as THINGS and …”)

Three

And here we are today, with the Jian story. So the question here is this: how do we talk to our daughters about it? To be honest, I was secretly hoping it wouldn’t come up, but there we were. Talking about it.

I decided to frame it as abuse and assault, and leave the bulk of the details out of it for the time being. A well-known and respected Canadian celebrity is being accused of assaulting women in a violent way, and he was fired from his job. We don’t know the whole story, and there’s a lot of speculation, but evidence is mounting as more people come forward. What we DO know is that the behaviour he is being accused of is awful.

I think this is a very good opportunity to talk to our children about sexual abuse in general.

There are some good tips on this website. I’m no expert, but I think that if we as parents start talking to our kids about this stuff early, we’re (hopefully) giving them the strength and knowledge they may need later on. As they say in the article, “Educating children on sexual abuse won’t reduce the number of child assaults but hopefully will make your child less likely to become a victim …. because predators are looking for kids who will keep their secret.”

This is not just about talking to little girls about protecting themselves, but little boys too. It’s important for all kids to understand what a healthy relationship looks like, and how we all need to treat each other with respect, no matter how old we are.

Sidebar: for some perspective on the whole Jian story, you could start by reading this post over at Cunting Linguist and this one at Nothing in Winnipeg.


6 Responses to "Three stories, and talking to our daughters about the creepy guys, AGAIN."

1 | Tudor

October 30th, 2014 at 2:00 pm

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So, I’m actually using the Jian thing as a chance to talk to my son about consent. There’s been a lot of talk lately about positive consent, ever since legislation passed in California – http://bit.ly/1yJUKkd. I think this is a big step forward from the standard of my university days, which was “no means no.” Don’t get me wrong – I still think no means no, but I think it’s even better to start from a point of yes.

I spoke to my son about how nothing is really fun if both people don’t actively want to be doing it, and how it’s always worth taking the time to make sure that’s the case.

I don’t like to think of my children as needing to learn these lessons yet, however, it starts young, with things that seem as innocent as spin the bottle, truth or dare, or two minutes in the closet – games we played in intermediate school.

Did every person participating in these games WANT to be doing so? Likely not. I think starting as you mean to go on is incredibly valuable. I’d like my son to start from a place of seeking positive consent with his partners, and grow from there.

2 | lacoop

October 30th, 2014 at 5:15 pm

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sigh…Sometimes I think things are getting better…and then other times I just wonder. This is a concern for us as well, with both a son and a daughter. I think a big part of the solution is education: on the home-front, and, in the public arena. Marketing and media in general are terrible with regard to creating these mind-sets…when we finally reach the stage where we can voluntarily say, as consumers, I’m not buying any more of your sexist (and violent) movies and songs…then the market will disappear…and people will begin to realize that if the concept “we are what we eat” is true, then “we think what we see/hear/read” is true also.

3 | Stacey K

October 30th, 2014 at 11:55 pm

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I think that we need to start conversations about consent with our kids as early as possible (not in a sexual context, but in a” its your body, you have the right to choose” kind of way). Right now, we have conversations about consent with our 4 year old daily – You have to ask your sister/mom/dad before you jump on them; You need to ask if it is OK before you hug your friend; Your sister needs to respect your body and ask you before she tackles you; etc.

We also need to make sure that our own actions reflect what we are saying about consent. We can’t say to our kids that they get to choose who touches their body, but then make them hug and kiss Great Aunt Gretchen when they really don’t want to. Or sit on Santa’s knee at the mall when it makes them feel uncomfortable.

4 | Lynn

October 31st, 2014 at 12:17 pm

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I’ve been feeling very sad about the Jian story, combined with some other stories on CBC lately (did you hear about the hockey boys in BC who traded nude pictures of girls like trading cards? SIGH). I just wonder what kind of world we live in where guys can think this is okay – and worse, that girls are too ashamed or nervous or afraid of being “impolite” to say anything about it, giving the boys the feeling that it’s a-okay to carry on as-is. I’m just as much a part of the problem – I see myself in every woman who ever didn’t say anything out of awkwardness/weirdness.

It has me really thinking about what I want to teach both my son and my daughters. No good conclusions yet. I do really like what Tudor said, though, about affirmative consent. It seems like a great place to start the conversation.

5 | Safe and Sound

October 31st, 2014 at 4:33 pm

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Totally agree with lacoop. We’re all trying to send positive discussions and examples while youtube/movies/advertising are full of absolutely vile, backwards messages. And it’s getting worse. So depressing.

6 | skigurl

November 1st, 2014 at 6:51 am

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Hi Andrea. First off, thanks for sharing so
openly and honestly in your post. I’m sorry for what happened to you. I’m glad you are having these conversations with your girls. The conversations and shift are part of the gifts of incidents like these.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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