Dear Scott Baio,
This is not the letter I thought I’d be writing you when I was 15 and my girlfriends were betting their first-born children over the color of the shirt you’d worn on the previous night’s “Happy Days” episode. Funny how things turn out, huh?
I saw you recently on television defending your friend’s observations about women. (Move over, Voldemort — there’s a new “He Who Must Not Be Named”!) What you said essentially (and verbatim) is that this is simply the way men talk, and that we women should “grow up” and get over it.
Hey! Isn’t this like the time Jesus told the grieving widow of Nain, “Your son’s dead. Grow up and deal with it”? Or the famous Sermon on the Mount, when he told the peacemakers, “You’re never going to achieve world peace. Grow up”? Wait a second. That never happened! That’s because Jesus couldn’t stay quiet in the face of injustice. He stands for the marginalized and abused. And that’s why I can’t take your advice either, I’m afraid.
My faith compels me to speak out — and act out — against injustice, just as Jesus did. When women are treated as things, as commodities for the use of men — that is unjust. You say that all men talk this way. You also believe that women talk about men this way, maybe over a glass of white wine. Maybe some do. I’ve just never met them. Oh sure, my friends and I kept a “Sexy Men” list in college. But with entries as varied as John Taylor from Duran Duran and Shaggy from Scooby Doo (my friend Kathy was so besotted, she claimed she’d never make him shave his peach fuzz or change his green T-shirt), it was largely played for laughs. And we never, ever spoke about violating anyone’s space, let alone assaulting them. Maybe I’ve always hung out with prudes. But I don’t think so.
Your buddy’s comments got women talking, though…mostly about their first sexual assaults. One of my friends was six years old the first time a man put his hands on her. Is that normal? I’m asking. Because I guess I don’t know what “normal” people do “all the time.”
I was tempted to talk about my own experiences here. But I saw the backlash in the Twitterverse toward women who came forward. Some people said they should just “grow up and get over it.” That talking about it doesn’t help. That it should be kept quiet. I’m pretty sure every woman has heard that before, from male police officers, deans of students, campus security guards, even family members. So I’ll keep my example “light.” Those lewd phone calls didn’t hurt me, after all. It’s just that…how did he know my name? And which dorm I lived in and on what floor? Didn’t he have to be someone I knew? Why did he make it a point to call every Valentine’s Day? Why did he stop when I told him I had a boyfriend who would find him? Again, I’m asking.
If “growing up” means accepting that it’s okay for one person to assault, intimidate, humiliate or hurt someone else, I guess I’ll never grow up. But you know, I think that’s okay. I can name a great number of people, saints and otherwise, who take after Peter Pan in this regard. They won’t grow up and accept racism, bigotry, poverty, unequal opportunity, war, violence…any number of things. I look up to them for this.
Because the other thing my faith gives me is hope. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, hope. It’s hope that keeps a person from “growing up” and growing accustomed to things that are not right. And it’s hope that makes me believe — wrongly or not — that the way your friend talks is not the way all men (or all women) talk. That the world is a better place than that.
I guess that makes me a wide-eyed kid, huh? Maybe I haven’t changed that much since I was 15.
I’m cool with that.