Look away…just look away. Maybe if I don’t look him in the eyes his visual groping will stop. My smile fades into blankness, heartbeat quickens, anxiety increases and that overall demoralizing feeling of violation takes over. My pace quickens as if speed will help me escape this unwanted feeling. I glance over what I’m wearing, now second guessing my choice. Where was a large onesie or tarp when you need one? Sometimes a quick, cold glance can deter them, but this one was different. It was too much, too raw… it felt like being undressed without permission. Oh, Matt.
The funny thing about eyes is it’s hard to escape their presence. A window to the soul; revealing what’s on the inside. One look can say so much. A person’s look can put the heart on display. What someone spends their time doing, watching, reading, and listening to cannot stay hidden…at least not forever. Eventually the eyes are an open book..showing disciplined focus or extreme laziness coupled with desire. Oh, Lauer.
An early flight to Charleston has me sitting next to an outstanding twenty-seven year old woman named Cathy. A member of the Air Force since high school, she once again packed her bags to serve our Country in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She mentions that her crew will be removing all the gear from the area with a complete exit by January. We chat about where we grew up, both natives of the best City ever…Columbus! I asked if she heard about the Matt Lauer story and she quickly responds with an eye roll. “What is happening with the world of men?” I ask. “All of these high profile, public figures are going down in flames! How is it for women in the United States Air Force?” Her look said it all and her response confirmed my suspicions. “It is bad…nothing has happened to me yet, but it is rough for military women. This ‘stuff’ is everywhere”.
Stuff? When women refer to “stuff” what do they mean? Let me get right to it. Unwanted looks, sexual innuendo, crass humor, propositions or advances from any man regardless of race, socio-economic status, position or religion. Since when did all of this behavior become acceptable? Maybe the better question is: why have generations of our gender group been keeping these crimes hidden…as if they never happened. I typically do not engage in eye contact with most men. Sure an occasional glance, but I am typically not chatty with guys I do not know. I remember growing up riding my bike in Clintonville and being whistled at, thirteen years of age, by a group of guys or construction workers. I hated it. I loathed how it made me feel. Who do they think they are? Why can’t I ride my bike without feeling like I am being preyed on by men? Since that day, and after countless uncomfortable, inappropriate interactions later, my passion has grown to see young girls and women be free of it all. We deserve to be treated with dignity. I am not a big fan of entitlement, but in this case, women are entitled to respectful treatment and equality. Every woman, at any age, has a story of mistreatment from a boy or man; some are more serious than others and painfully hard to hear. The standard in our great Country has been to keep quiet. No one wants to hear your drama. After all, confrontation is uncomfortable and should be avoided. *Sigh* Discreetness about this subject is exactly what feeds our societal acceptance of it. The past few months have uncovered some extremely courageous women who are beginning to talk. Finally! Like my new friend Cathy said,”that stuff” happens everywhere; corporations, politics, the military and even in churches. Women may be a minority group, given the right to vote far too long after men, but finding our voice is empowering.
Now, not all men are pigs. Some are simply amazing. These guys are not sheltered or out of touch with culture; they’re the smart ones. They understand the dangers and realistically challenge everyday norms. They refuse to tolerate exploitation of women, personally develop life-long disciplines, and support equal opportunity for women in the workplace. They provide safe environments for growth and promotion based on competency and performance. Growing up with a loving, respectful father who raised his three daughters to speak their mind, be comfortable in our own skin and never be with a disrespectful man, means more to me now than ever. My daughter is Generation Z, until they find a better name for it. Setting her up to succeed with a strong mindset regarding where her value lies is my top priority. I am beyond grateful to my husband, who is the sweetest father to my girl. She is smitten with him and will grow up with the expectation that any boy in her life has to treat her the same way; with kindness, purity, grace and encouragement.
So Where in the World is Matt Lauer? I actually don’t care…do you? What I do care about is men like him getting what they deserve. Call it karma or justice, but it brings a sweet smile to my face. He let power get to his head for too long and underestimated the resolve of a woman. We are speaking up quicker and faster, and no job, promotion, or corner office is worth sacrificing intelligence, beauty, destiny or character. Ladies! You were created to fulfill a purpose beyond your wildest dreams; never let a guy take that away from you. No one is allowed to make you feel threatened, intimidated, or anything less than respected. If someone is, then please talk to a parent, small group leader, coach, close friend, teacher or someone who will listen and help you figure out what to do. You may feel alone, but there are good people in this world that will help you do the right thing. The best stories are not the perfect ones, but the ones with characters who show resilience and find their way through impossibility.
**One of my favorite illustrative books last year is by Kate T. Parker, author of the national bestseller, Strong is the New Pretty. If you haven’t already, grab a copy and spend a few moments treasuring how uniquely exceptional every young woman has been created to be. The book is a celebration of young women being themselves with the most insane photography capturing each girl doing her thing.