To my dearest Belle, I would never have guessed that at only 10 months I would have to tell you this, but you are not safe. More specifically, your body is not safe. And since your body is the house for your soul, all that you are perches dangerously close to jeopardy.
You live in one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to women’s rights. Moreover, you live in one of the most progressive states in that progressive country. Yet, yesterday, the California Court of Appeal relied on an 1847 law to say that a man who snuck into the room of an unmarried woman and had sex with her, while pretending to be her boyfriend, did not rape her. Because she was unmarried and Victorian law was like that, the court said she was not raped. And because no one cared enough to revisit this law, no one cared enough about the rights of an unmarried woman to the sanctity of her own body, the law was not changed.
Yes, this woman was tricked into letting a man into her in the most personal way. Yes, that man intended to deceive her. Yes, what he did would be criminal if she was a married woman. Yes, the court noted it was reprehensible and should be punishable. But, she wasn’t married and so, under the law, what this man did was legal. And that’s how far we’ve come in 2013.
The lack of outrage about this situation disturbs me the most. I should expect it since no one thought enough of a single woman’s right to be safe in her own skin to change the law. But, of the very few responses I’ve seen to this news, and there have been far fewer than responses to the news some celebrity is pregnant, many contained the word “sigh”. No. NO. Not “sigh”. “Sigh” signals resignation, signals acceptance that the law treats us as second-class citizens and that’s just how it is. “Sigh” says, “I’ve been beaten down and I’m not so sure I can get up on this one.” And that, even more than this hopefully isolated incident of rape (and it IS rape) – places you directly in harm’s way.
You are my heart. I cannot express how much I adore you, what steps I would take for you to ensure your safety. Writing this and posting it publicly, as well as posting a link to the article on my Facebook page, have put my employment at risk. This is what it means to me that you, and every young girl, young woman, and old crone, hear that at least one woman has had enough. I will not allow this to happen to you. And, I most definitely will not allow the government to sanction it.
I have immense gratitude to the women who came before us, the ones who have afforded me the opportunity to not only work, but to have a career. Because of their efforts, we can vote, divorce, drive cars, fly planes, and enter the halls of academia. We can walk on the street alone. But, some will tell you that it’s not wise to do so, especially at night. So, we’ve come a long way, but we’re still not safe. And what does it matter to have a career or a passport if we aren’t safe in our own bodies?
Sadly, the danger to you goes beyond the overt acts of violence too many women experience. There exist more subtle means of wearing you down, of keeping you in “your place”. Your place, my dear, is in the sun, or as the brightest star in the night sky. Your place, your role, is to shine and to bring as much beauty, healing, and love to this planet as you can.
So, for future reference, the following waste your time, endanger you, and diminish you. Do not allow them space in your life. Do not become them.
– Any man who believes he is entitled to your body. Your body belongs only to you. You have the choice of whom to share it with, when to share it, and in what capacity. Any person’s affections you lose over the failure to share your body on his (or her) timetable hates you and hates him(her)self. Do not hate yourself also. As I said before, your body houses your soul. Don’t allow someone to trespass on it. Now, if someone does break in, it is NOT your fault. It could take decades to recover, and I, and many other survivors, will hold your hand while you do it. But, you will recover.
– Any man or woman who makes derisive comments about your appearance. You are beautiful. Each creature on this planet is beautiful. Some women have been forced to forget their beauty and they hide it, some also attack other women as a way of bringing them down into a forgetful place as well. Do not forget it. You are beautiful, gorgeous, breathtaking. And some of that is your body. Ninety-nine percent, though, is who you are. I can tell already that you are incredibly intelligent, kind, loving, and compassionate. Those are the features that make you light up from the inside out. You can never light up the inside from the outside. So, if your internal star isn’t shining, there is no way to fake it. People can see damage and despair from a mile away. The problem is, our society tricks us into believing it is beauty. It is not. Maintain your own inner compass and you’ll be able to navigate the thicket of lies better.
– Any man who looks at other women’s bodies regularly when he is in front of you. Yes, it is natural to appreciate physical beauty in another person. We are creatures driven by biological impulses. And women do this, too (though we tend to be better at being discreet). That said, it is not permissible to view women solely as sex objects and to leer at them as they pass by, as though they are some exhibit in a zoo. This habit degrades women and it degrades the relationship. We are creatures driven by biological impulses, but we are also creatures who have overcome those impulses and created an unbelievable society. If a person can graduate from not biting and hitting every time something they want is taken away or denied, a person can graduate to respecting his or her partner and the female species in general. If someone tells you he can’t, and that it’s natural, move on. Do not look back.
– Any woman who sells you out to look more attractive to a man. If men who disrespect women are rattlesnakes, warning you with their terrible behavior, women can be like asps, silent killers. These women do not respect themselves, do not see their own inherent value and beauty. Therefore, the more you shine and the more notice you get, the more they set about tearing you down because they believe it makes them look better. It doesn’t. It looks exactly like what it is – catty and petty. But, it happens more times than any woman cares to think about. We have all been victim to it. Worse, we have all done it. Be mindful and kind in your dealings with other women. We will work on how to handle it when it comes up, but try not to let it change who you are. And do not do it yourself. It hurts worse than any damage a man can do.
– Anybody who derides you for your female qualities. Sensitivity, compassion, and caution have kept this world from blowing itself up entirely. I once got a review from an elderly male boss who basically told me I wasn’t being masculine enough. I performed well above most of my peers and I caught many more important details by listening than the males did through their blustering and posturing. And male adversaries made admissions to me they shouldn’t have because they mistook my quiet for ineptitude or stupidity. You do not need to change who you are. It will serve you – and this planet – well. Society needs to change.
– Anybody who says, “That’s just the way it is.” We have gotten lazy. I have gotten lazy. We live a great life and compared to much of the rest of the world, our women have it good. But that does not mean we should stop and say, “I’ll settle for enough.” As noted above, it’s not really enough because we need to be safe, we need to know that our “no” will be heard and respected. Our “yes” should also be heard and respected. Why would we ever accept life as something less than what we are – equals. It’s time to take up the mantle again.
Do not let this long list and comments about personal insecurity frighten you. We WILL change this. We will. But, as of right now, we have to take a stand, and we have to work through our female jealousy issues with our sisters so we can all stand together. Moreover, there are MANY good men out there, men who will stand alongside us and celebrate us. My hope is that by the time you are old enough to read this and understand what it means that you will simply nod and smile, accepting the way things were in the recent past as exactly that, the past.
I love you.