Imagine the stark contrasts for a middle school girl in the news this week. History was made when Hillary Clinton became the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic party. And during this same week, she heard awful stories about the absurdly short sentence Stanford rapist Brock Turner got.
What’s a girl to make of all this happening at the same time?
A very thick glass ceiling broke, showing her and all of us that a woman could soon be elected the most powerful political leader in the world.
And in the same week, an unbroken rape culture shows her that a man convicted of sexually assaulting a woman is treated by both his father and the judge/legal system as if the assault was a small, insignificant “mistake.”
I feel whiplash myself, this week, and have heard from other parents that they do, too.
The best way we can help girls with it all is to encourage them to talk about both things. To listen deeply to their feelings about these diametrically opposite events.
We must help them feel and express excitement and joy about the expanding opportunities in front of them that are symbolized by Hillary Clinton’s achievement.
And we must help them feel and verbalize the anger, fear, resentment and other difficult feelings caused by our culture’s criminally inadequate responses to sexual assault. Help them hear and honor the courage of the woman who was assaulted. Help them see the light from her lighthouse of honest outrage.
It’s not easy to stand with our girls when they face the horrible dangers of being female. As a mom, my strongest desire is to shield my daughters from the cruelty of rape culture. I don’t want to go into any details, for sure. I’d prefer to reassure myself and them that such an awful thing will never happen to them or anyone else.
But that’s a lie. It doesn’t help our daughters when we minimize the reality, unfairness and horror of rape culture.
We need to dig deep and find the courage to be honest in talking with her and be open in listening to her. We need to stand by her side and help her process what she’s been hearing. Because she has been hearing it, even if not in our family.
Our girls need us especially at a time like this. They need us to openly show them how we feel and express our deep feelings, both positive and negative, as we handle good and bad on a huge scale in the very same week.
Then, after she’s had plenty of time to fully express her feelings and ask all the questions she has about your feelings, which may take repeated conversations over time, offer to do two things:
Help her take advantage of expanding opportunities for girls and women that interest her.
Help her find ways to advocate against rape culture in ways that feel powerful to her and connect her to other girls and women.
That’s what our daughters need most of all as they grow into women. The feeling of inner strength and resilience when facing both opportunity and horror.