Those who have been abused have finally broken their silence. Men cannot unsee what they have been shown. They are being held to a higher standard of action and accountability. They are being forced to learn empathy. We as females, are done placating and allowing inequities to dictate our safety and security. We have given ourselves permission to say, “Times Up!” The question becomes, how do we show this in action?
Enter, Cardi B.
Cardi B is a rapper. Her song, “Bodak Yellow,” is about how she used to make her money as a stripper and garner things of value by giving herself over to men but that now, she has become a success by her own merits, and can buy herself expensive shoes and pays not only her bills, but her mother’s too.
The song was released in the summer of 2017 and hit #1 on the charts, surpassing Taylor Swift, by September 2017. It unintentionally seemed to foreshadow the earthquake that was about to shift the tectonic plates of inequality, as the lyrics represent the story of a woman who was both the product of sexual discrimination and a partial solution for how to stop it.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in early October 2017.
The decade old #metoo movement picked up a new resurgence a few weeks later when Tarana Burke wore a shirt that read, “me too.”
Cardi B’s song kept playing on the radio. “Bodak Yellow” was a growing soundtrack behind the swift change of tide in which men were being called out and women were finally being heard.
In the two years leading up to this historic awakening of perpetuated abuses of power that women typically endure throughout their entire lives (and some men as well), I was searching for answers and ways to prevent my own daughter from having to go through this. Cardi B lyrics would come to be one of the most surprising ways of possible prevention.
By age ten, every public place had become a minefield for my daughter, as she carefully side stepped lascivious stares from men. In the span of one week, she had to dodge inappropriate behavior from men of all ages, on a daily basis. It didn’t matter where we were. I had to literally step in front of her and at times say something or scurry away—from the grocery market, library, Target, Walmart, or the beach, just to provide her support in being comfortable in her own skin.
The man at the library was elderly, and he actually followed my daughter no matter where she went, while shamelessly pitching a tent. We had to move tables twice, and I positioned myself between her and his salacious campground as much as possible. I stared him down, but not once did I say anything. Too ingrained in me was the message to respect and protect the comfort of my elders, even if they be strangers, than it was to protect my own child’s comfort.
The guys at the beach were a gang of teenagers. It didn’t matter to them that my daughter was present with both her parents, they still made “pssst” and kissing sounds when she walked by and commented on her body, proving to me that they had not been indoctrinated and expected to respect their elders as I was. In fact, they seemed to taunt for enjoyment.
I wanted to scream, “She’s a 10-year-old child, you pubescent perverts!” But instead I feared retaliation. As a disabled woman, walking with a cane that day, and a husband approaching retirement age, I felt too weak and vulnerable to risk defending anyone.
But as the harassment, all pre-Weinstein, began to build like a snowball gaining momentum, so too my anger and desperation grew. Like a presidential secret service agent, I found myself standing in front of my child, ready to take a bullet for her when the middle-aged guy at Target wouldn’t stop staring at her chest. I stood tall with clenched fists just knowing that I was capable of going off on him if he took one step closer. I imagined myself at an arraignment in front of a judge declaring PTSD and pleading, “What choice did I have? Do you even understand the relentless nature of sexual objectification? It’s constant like the second hand, always there, always present, always ticking. It’s a foregone conclusion that all women will eventually fight back and defend themselves and each other.”
The smarmy guy at Walmart, in his young 20s, grabbed my daughter’s hand as if to shake it while he slid his other hand all the way up to her arm pit, sideswiping her breast in the process. I was just a few feet away, having pushed the cart through checkout when I realized my little shadow wasn’t following behind me. When I turned to see what was going on, the best I could do was to raise my voice and say, “Hey!” Which embarrassed my daughter who wasn’t sure who I was shouting at: her or the Walmart guy.
She thought at first that he was just being friendly but later replayed some of the things (grooming techniques) he had said to her that set off her own alarm bells. This while I was busy loading the cart, paying for stuff, and not paying attention to yet another act of ubiquitous harassment.
My daughter was a ball of mixed emotion: afraid she had done something to encourage this man by being the smiley, happy, and engaging child that she is—embarrassed by, and a little put out with her mother for raising a voice to a store employee, and feeling that her own nature to be kind had betrayed her and made her vulnerable and unable to trust her intuition before it was too late.
I was kicking myself for not saying something more to him like, “WTF? You don’t touch girls in that way! What’s wrong with you?!” Instead, I called the store manager from the car and told him what had happened.
I spent the next several weeks trying to balance making sure my daughter knew it wasn’t her fault while also trying to help her be more comfortable standing up for herself versus standing down for a male.
The guy in his 30s, at the local Pavilions grocery market, would incessantly speak to my daughter of her looks and even follow us out to our car. It became so uncomfortable that my daughter didn’t want to shop their anymore.
I knew that if we avoided every place where lecherous males congregated, we might as well rent space in Rapunzel’s tower.
I was tired, so tired, of appeasing men with nervous laughter and a plastered smile—all largely unconscious, inborn techniques for defusing situations. I asked both my male and female friends what I could do. What could I teach my child to do or say to men in those types of instances that would stop the aggressive intimidation and yet not escalate it and make the situation worse?
When I was venting to a mom friend about it, she asked me why I didn’t make my ten-year-old wear a bra. I said, “First of all, bras are uncomfortable (it’s the first thing many women take off as soon as we get home) and second, I don’t want to make her feel more self-conscious than she already is.”
She replied, “But it’s distracting to men if she doesn’t wear a bra.”
I was steamed.
Since when is it a child’s job to be responsible for the male’s sexual focus?
And why is that? Because females are raised to be people pleasers, to always be nice and polite and cater to the male ego, for fear of retaliation.
Every news story, television show or film that features a domestic violence headline has ingrained into the collective conscious of women that speaking up to a man could lead to broken parts of the body, mind, and spirit.
That’s why, when I heard the Cardi B song lyric,
“If I see you and I don’t speak
That means I don’t *uck with you”
I had to pull the car over.
I had always taught my daughter that her body belonged to her and that no one was allowed to touch her if she didn’t want to be touched. I never forced her to hug and kiss or be tickled by relatives and friends. I’d even seen her put her hand up like a stop sign as if to say, “Back off,” and say to a little boy at a play structure when she was just three years old, “You are in my personal space.”
We had practiced these things when she was younger. But that was while she was a child and not a girl dancing on the outskirts of puberty, the gateway to perpetual sexual vulnerability. Somewhere during that transition of growth and change, she became more afraid to stand up for herself.
I quickly googled Cardi B and played the song over and over. Each time I head that lyric,
“If I see you and I don’t speak
That means I don’t *uck with you”
I felt empowered.
Too many times I held my tongue when what I really wanted to say was what Cardi B said. Those lyrics spoke to me and for me. I wanted to be able to say them not just to men, but deserving women too (mean girls & power mama dramas); but instead, I either said nothing or not enough. Why? Because I worried that saying something like that would be seen as brash and aggressive, the antithesis of what I wanted to project which was refinement and composure. Because I feared recrimination and abandonment from others if I spoke up. Because I value kindness and want to put positive energy into the world, not the coarse vibes of the “F word.”
I had to check myself and wonder, why do I feel it’s a negative reflection on me to tell a creep to back off and stop talking to me or my child? Am I not still a kind and loving person if I stand up for myself and others? It wasn’t as if I had never spoken up before, it was more so that once you start, it seems to perpetuate itself and battles appear everywhere and seem never ending.
I had learned to pick my battles and walk away. I was a peacemaker at heart. I had already spent years of my life being angry about social injustice. I was tired of fighting; and when I did allow myself to be confrontational, it was met by being shamed by a man who called me “bitter and belligerent” for doing so.
This is how an abuse of power is used to manipulate and control women: through shame, antiquated standards, and guilt. A list of ways we are to, and not to, behave in order to be accepted. What about their lists? Shouldn’t they be held to standards of appropriateness?
Men, women, religion, social standards, all have the potential to shame us into feeling less-than, small, and wrong for standing up for ourselves and having the audacity to demand equality.
This is why Cardi B, her story, and her lyrics are important. Hearing, a woman make the statement, “If I see you and I don’t speak, that means I don’t *uck with you” normalizes speaking up for oneself. Girls have to hear and see their mothers defend themselves so that they know how.
It’s important to be the example needed, to let our daughters see us telling men that their behavior is inappropriate, as a way of standardizing the act of calling creeps out, so that they too will feel comfortable doing the same.
I found myself role-playing with my daughter and her dolls and encouraging “Empowered Barbie” to say to “Creepy Ken,” “You are being inappropriate! Stop speaking to me!” Just so that we could both be comfortable hearing and saying that.
We practice safety drills at work and schools for fires, shootings, lock-downs, tornadoes, earthquakes, even nuclear threat. When do we as females practice protecting ourselves against the most pervasive of all threats: abuses of power, sexual assaults, harassment, and inequality?
We don’t practice anything with the sole purpose of just being “better,” but rather, to make whatever it is we practice easier, to make it second nature. The more we practice what to say and the more we hear others say it, the less power of hesitation it has over us and the less timid we will be in protecting and defending ourselves and our daughters.
I know that Cardi B may be an unconventional feminist role model, but maybe unconventional is what we need today. Being conventional has gotten and kept us silent for too long.
The first step to being unconventional is to be less nice and more kind.
Nice can prevent us from getting our needs met (asking for a raise, getting medical attention, sending mixed messages in sexual contexts); but kind comes from a place of empathy versus politeness and it includes oneself in that kindness and consideration.
Niceness can be an off shoot of kindness, but more often it is generated from fear and a desire to be liked, accepted, approved of, and as a means of managing the emotions of others. Kind but authentic and strong can get the same job done with less complications.
Women are bred to be nice and polite at all costs partly out of a necessity to survive. For when a woman rejects a man, he can spiral into rage and retaliation.
Being nice and seemingly complicit has provided women with much needed jobs and kept them safe from death, but it’s come at a price that women are no longer willing to pay.
We have to stop being nice and teaching our daughters to be nice to the detriment of equality. Teach them instead to be kind to themselves and others, to be empowered. To say what they need to say, when they need to say it with the same level of bluntness men have been using with women since time memorial.
Memorize and practice these phrases with self-defense body language:
“Stop! You are being inappropriate!”
“Stop speaking to me, Now!”
Sign them up for self-defense classes (The Joyful Child Foundation has a wonderful program called BRAVE). Carry pepper spray. Check in with yourself if you feel unsettled- take a time out to go within, if you can, and say what you need to say to protect yourself.
We do not need to be nice or polite to anyone who is disrespecting our personal boundaries, who is not listening when we say we are uncomfortable, who is in our personal space, or harassing us in any way or who is stripping us from our inherent right to equality! We have a right to expect respect and to stop speaking to whomever disregards that right.
It’s time to give ourselves permission to appropriate a line from Cardi B and say, “If I see you and I don’t speak, that means I don’t *uck with you!”