Small Contributions to a Very Large Problem

The girl was minding her own business in the library after school, taking advantage of the quiet in the homework center. Her older brother was doing the same at another table. A boy in her grade came by and asked her for a hug. She said NO. He asked to shake her hand. She said NO. He then turned to her friend and asked to shake her hand. The friend rolled her eyes at him and stuck out her hand with the hope he would shake her hand and move on. Instead he grabbed her hand and pulled it to his mouth and kissed it. She called him a creepy jerk as she pulled her hand away. Both girls told him to leave them alone.

Two weeks later, the girl was again studying in the library. Her brother was again at the table next to hers. The boy in her grade came back and walked up behind her. He reached out and carefully pinched the corner of her hijab and began to lift it up so that he could expose her hair. He never heard her older brother behind him until he snarled in his ear in the gravest and most serious voice that one can use inside the library. “You leave her alone! Do NOT touch her again!” The boy asked if it was because they were of the same religion. Her brother said, “No. Because she is my sister and I’m not going to warn you again.”  The boy left the girl alone for the rest of the year.

In June, the older brother graduated and then he went off to college. The girl returned to the same high school as a sophomore. She went to lunch and stood in line with her friends. The boy confronted her in the lunch line. He said hi to her. She just glared at him. He asked for a hug. She said NO. He asked to shake her hand. She said NO. He stepped closer and said, “Your brother graduated, right? I guess he can’t protect you now.” The girl didn’t miss a step when she told him that this year she had TWO brothers in school with her. The boy stepped closer still, but the girl’s friends stepped in front of her.  One of them called him a creep and a stalker. The other told him to get lost. The boy left.

A few weeks went by and the girl forgot about the boy. Then he surprised her by stepping in front of her outside of one of her classes. He asked for a hug. She said NO. He asked again. She said NO again. He told her, “I know you want to hug me. I can tell by the way you paused before you said NO.”  The girl glared angrily at him. She told him to get away from her. He said, “I guess I’ll just walk you to class.” She told him NO. But her male teacher, standing a few feet away, overheard the exchange. He told the girl, “Just let him walk you to class.” The girl glared at the teacher and walked the 10 feet to the classroom, while the boy, who had received permission from the teacher that vetoed the girl’s protest, walked beside her. The boy, emboldened, then announced, “Now I’ll walk you to your seat.”

The girl turned and shouted, “I SAID NO! NOW GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME!” The boy left. The girl flushed with embarrassment as her classmates stared at her. She did not answer questions or participate in class. The day crawled. The bus ride lasted days. She held back her tears until she made it to the front porch where her mother sat on the swing. She sobbed as she poured out her story to her mother. The mother held her and reassured her that she DOES have a voice and that she HAS the right to say NO and have that NO respected. She did not tell her that it was okay, because it wasn’t. And the mother feared for her daughter’s safety.

The mother went to the school the following day. She formally complained about the boy’s sexual harassment of her daughter. She discussed with the administration that this boy is dangerous and seemingly a stalker. She demanded to know why a teacher who heard a girl tell a boy NO would insist that she allow him to walk her to class. The administrator said that while the teacher was out of line, “he was probably trying to be kind to the boy” and that “since the classroom was only a few steps away, he probably thought that it wouldn’t be a big deal.”  The mother explained that what the teacher actually had done, was to further reinforce the rape culture today. He taught the boy that NO doesn’t always mean NO.

What the girl heard from the teacher was, “You said NO but that doesn’t matter because what the boy wants is more important. You have no voice and no right to decide who touches you, hugs you, or walks you to class.”

What the boy heard from the teacher was, “When girls say NO, they really mean YES.”

The administrator agreed with the mother and followed the proper protocol in place to protect sexually harassed students from those that sexually harass. He also reprimanded the teacher. And the mother and daughter were relieved and lived happily ever after.

The moral of this true story is this:  NO means NO. We know this intellectually. Now we need to employ it and make sure that our sons know and fully understand what this means.

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2 thoughts on “Small Contributions to a Very Large Problem

  1. […] I’ve written about this seemingly overlooked issue in the past that contributes to many boys learning that “she says NO but she really means YES.”  (In attempting to call up that old post in order to link it here, Google sent me to the post that followed that one and not the post itself. Bing didn’t find it at all. Apparently, even search engines don’t give a shit about our women having the right to tell me not to touch us.) […]

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