Growing up as a little girl, there were many adjectives one could've used to describe me - cute, blonde, graceful, girly, talkative...
but strong probably wasn't one of them most people would associate with me. I've never been athletic, and was definitely on the gangly-side. I have an opinion, and usually feel free to state it, but I'm not one to shout it out loud.
Growing up in a bit of a fish bowl - as a missionary kid - being well-behaved was valued very highly. As a textbook compliant eldest, this was not too hard for me. Apart from a lying streak in middle school, I was always mild-mannered, and minded my p-s and q-s.
As girls, that is often what people expect from us. Be sweet, don't hurt anyone, and don't be too loud.
With these as our primary "virtues", it's not so hard to understand all of the headlines in the news recently.
Thankfully, I had parents who always taught me from a young age that I could say "no". My mom was one of those one-in-a-million moms who actually talked to her kids about their body parts - private or otherwise. My dad one day abruptly asked me on the way to school, "you know about parts of your body other people can't touch, right?" With my parents, no topic was off the table. They empowered me to own my body.
There was a boy at church. He was one of those boys who was always inappropriate, but since we were all still "kids" (about 10-11), no one seemed to think it was that big of a deal.
We were standing in line to go back into the adult service after Sunday school class, and we were standing on stairs.
I was standing higher than him, and he kept leaning back in such a way that his head was resting in my "lap".
I told him to stop.
He did it again.
I told him to stop again.
He did it a third time.
I kneed him in the head.
He went and told his mother.
I became afraid, knowing I would surely be in trouble for hurting him, and for being "mean". The boy and his mother came up to me and my mom. The mother demanded that I apologize.
Then my mom looked at me and asked me what happened, and I explained it to her. She asked me if I asked him to stop, and I said yes.
Then she said the most empowering thing. She told me I didn't have to apologize. So I didn't.
I had protected myself when I felt violated, and was justified in doing so.
I felt strong. I was strong. I am strong.
I am strong because I am encouraged to have a voice. I am strong because I matter. I am strong because I can say no.
That is the way I try to parent. It's hard when we are constantly meeting new people, on whom we have to make a good first impression. But we've always told our son that he doesn't have to give hugs, or things like that. We ALSO teach him, that he can't make anyone hug him, and that sometimes people don't want to be touched. That it is okay to say no, and also to be told no.
I hope that someday we have a little girl. I hope that she is sweet, kind, cute and talkative. But I will also teach her to be strong. To say no. I do understand that there are times that people aren't afforded the opportunity to say no, and they are taken advantage of. But I will teach her that it is her right.
There is no easy or quick fix to our world's problems. But empowering our kids is a good start.