By Jessie Kanzer
#MeTooButNotMyGirls. That is my declaration today, on this blistery New York Sunday, after my three-year-old’s swim lesson, and before my one-year-old’s gym class. I’m not here to go into the sordid details of my own pain body: the minutia of inappropriate sexual contact when I was a wee girl, the play-by-play of getting seduced (date raped?) by my college internship supervisor. We can talk about our wounds until we are blue in the face—and we should—because change is happening as we speak. But, for me, an eternal self-help’er, it’s also important to look at the “Why.” Not why they harmed me — that’s their problem, and that will be their reckoning. But why I was the easiest of prey. Why I often relinquished my power before I was even asked. What messages did I absorb during my childhood and young-adulthood? I need to know. Because, #MeTooButNotMyGirls.
“Be nice.” “Be pretty.” “Know your place.”
My formative years took place in the Soviet Union. I was taught to obey authority from very early on (I still have an inexplicable fear of cops and principals). The strictness of a Soviet daycare center was just what you would imagine it to be. And then in school, we were further stripped of our individuality and self-esteem. I was a born people-pleaser to boot, and I worked very hard to please my young parents and stoic grandmother. My strict teachers, my relentless gymnastics coaches. The passersby who expected me to smile. The family friends who expected hugs and kisses. “I’m a good girl, a very good girl,” was my motto since the age of two. Polite? Check. Cute and neat? Check. Obedient? I bucked that one at times, but not without consequence.
America was different of course, but its culture had plenty of faults. I gobbled up endless teen mags, with their perfect models, and “How to Get Him to Like You” articles. The early, and often lewd, sexuality of my inner city Middle School both frightened and titillated me. By High School, I had changed my name, invested in makeup, and refused to wear anything that covered my naval. The formerly shunned immigrant had figured out how to disappear into Americana. I discarded my cocoon and never looked back.
A good girl gone “bad” (and crazy)
The mixed culture of my childhood, along with early abuse, left a mess in my head and a gaping need to be wanted. And, thus, a desperate “love” junkie was born.
Self-worth was not a concept to me; not yet. I managed to overcome an eating disorder that started in my teens…and swiftly threw myself into guy after guy after guy — or, rather, I let them throw themselves in me.
I was complicit time and time again in my own diminishment. I went to bed with men I was not attracted to, but whom I felt obliged to please. “Please touch it,” some begged. And so I did. Others domineered. And so I cowered. Sometimes, I was simply won over by their lust for me — I had read about it in those aforementioned teen mags. It was supposed to feel good. But it didn’t.
Then, I relentlessly chased men who were chronically unavailable. Musicians, for the most part. I longed for them like a desperate puppy and they passed me around like the ragdoll that I then was… I decided the pot-head across the street was the answer to all my problems, and each time he threw me away, I begged and pleaded for more.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t always give in. I didn’t just sleep with any old bum who came my way (not usually). But when I did resist, it wasn’t pretty. “Why did you even come here then?” raged an LA actor, referring to his apartment, when I told him I had my period. And instead of standing up for myself, I let him shame me.
I put up with plenty of harassment as a waitress and never said a thing — I needed the tips. I didn’t report that internship supervisor who tricked me into a night out alone with him, and then into his bed. I donned a terribly misogynistic costume for a TV pilot—basically, thongs and an apron—as men on set snapped photos of my butt. I wanted to be on TV, didn’t I? Who was I to say “No”?
Eventually, I stopped being a rag doll. Not through some brave act though. I simply married a good man. I wouldn’t have to deal with this crap anymore, I thought.
But then I gave birth to two girls. Two smart, strong, spectacular girls. And then, a sea of courageous women rose up to tell the truth.
Our stories vary in their intensity of trauma, but every single one of them matters. Because they make up a society of wounded women, who must piece themselves together for the sake of our daughters. And for our sons, who will be allowed, nay, encouraged to cry.
My story is the story of countless women. But let it not be the story of my daughters.
I will not rear my girls to be sweet, well-behaved, and small. To please others in spite of themselves. Or to value their looks over their brawn and brains — and yearn for adulation.
I will not rein them in.
May they stay fierce and fiery. Self-assured and free.
And if they’re not the most polite girls on the block, I don’t give a sh*t.
Jessie Kanzer is a stay-at-home mom of two little girls (and a cat) in Dobbs Ferry, NY. After years pursuing on-air dreams, writing for ad agencies, and goofing off, she’s finding her voice as an authentic writer and human. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @JessieKanzer.