Within recent months, I’ve encountered men—complete strangers—who have compared my looks to that of a porcelain doll, honked their horn and stared at me while I stood at the bus stop, and physically stopped me on a walk back from the store to insist on getting a hug. Most recently, a man that I met and briefly communicated with, and whose obsequious messages I quickly went on to ignore, reached out to me on a social media platform after three and half years with no communication. Of course, I find these experiences frightening, but I also find them exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing.
I am angered by the fact that I do not live in a world where I can stand at a bus stop or walk to a store without the risk of receiving unwanted attention. I am angered by the short-sightedness and lack of empathy exuded by the men in the situations revealed above. How do they not know that they might make me feel threatened? Why don’t they care? Why does their urge supersede showing respect—not for women, but for fellow human beings? It’s one thing to see me and think I’m attractive; it’s another thing to invade my physical and/or emotional space. And while I may not expect everybody to be able to talk extensively and theoretically about the “the male gaze” or even to acknowledge the presence and pervasiveness of sexism, I do expect people to think about how their actions might be experienced by others.
I, therefore, cannot excuse behaviors like those I’ve recently encountered; at some point, it becomes an individual responsibility to educate oneself and act accordingly. That said, I recognize a dire need to begin educating children at a young age about empathy, subject positions, and personal responsibility. Below, I offer some resources for taking up these issues with children and adolescents. While most of them are focused on inappropriate interactions carried out by men against women—because these are the experiences I feel compelled to write about at this particular moment—there are also more general sources that we can use in personal, and perhaps professional, spaces. At the very least, these resources may give us a response to our experiences other than just feeling frightened, exhausted, frustrated, and demoralized.
“Raising boys who respect women” from The Chicago Tribune
“One in Ten Girls is Catcalled Before Her 11th Birthday. Here are 6 Things Parents Can Do About It” from the Girl Scouts organization website
“How to Talk to Your Son about Toxic Masculinity” from The Advocate organization website
“Teens & Stalking-Like Behaviors” from the Psychology Today website.
“For Families: 5 Tips for Cultivating Empathy” from the Harvard Graduate School of Education