"A Letter to my Graduated Female Students"
To my much-loved former female students.
You sat in my room talking about books for two years, but we didn’t just talk about books. We talked about prom dresses, and rules, and the future, and music, and boys. We laughed sometimes, and then I snotty-cried when you graduated, because I have the best job in the whole world, which is getting to invest in you.
Gosh, I’m proud of you. I mean that. And I’m going to miss the heck out of you.
Honestly, by the time you graduate, I love you as if you were a part of my own family. You know I do. So I'm not going to talk to you like a teacher right now, I’m going to talk to you like an aunt, which means I want you to listen as if you were my nieces.
Parties in college. That’s the topic.
1. First off, if someone in college (or anywhere else) ever takes advantage of your body, I want you to call me and tell me who he is, because I want to find that @#$)(@#$*()(*@#$ and rip his face off.
That’s probably not what I should say, but it’s how I feel. I never want you to go through that kind of pain. Ever.
And (God forbid) if it does happen, you call me. (I gave you my number. Use it.) I’ll pick you up, if you need me to. We can cry about it together and make a plan for recovery.
If that awful day comes, I’ll hand you Kleenex and listen to whatever you want to say. And I will tell you then what I’m telling you now, which is that a sexual assault is never, ever the woman’s fault. Never.
I don't care what you were wearing.
I don't care what you were drinking.
I don't care where you were.
I don't care who you trusted.
I don’t care how much you regret the choices you made the night before it happened. I don’t care if you knew better than to do whatever ends up seeming like the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.
If he used you, the blame is on him. End of story.
2. Secondly, I also want you to be shrewd.
This one is harder to talk about because it’s important (so important) for you to know that a sexual assault is never your fault. No matter what.
So this second part isn’t about blame. We’ve already determined blame. This is about strategy. Strategy for surviving a busted up, unfair world.
There are some feminists who argue that a woman should be able to wear whatever she wants, do whatever she wants, go wherever she wants without fear of men. I absolutely agree with them. 100%.
But what should be isn’t. At least not right now.
And I don’t want to risk YOUR body on somebody else’s idealism. I don’t want activists to pump you so full of ideas about your rights that you end up in a harmful situation.
Yes, I think you should be able to do whatever you want without fear. And yes, if something happens, it’s his fault, not yours.
But I’m not helping you very much if I tell you that you should be able to live like you please, and urge you to go claim that right, and then you end up getting hurt.
That would be like me telling you that you should be able to walk through a dangerous part of town carrying two fistfuls of $100 bills, because it wouldn’t be immoral for you to do that. Of course it wouldn’t be immoral. But whether it is moral or not, it’s not good life strategy. I couldn’t love you and urge you to go give it a try.
So here’s my advice.
If I could push a magic button to keep you away from all parties where college students get drunk, I’d slam that baby right now.
That’s not because I think all alcohol is evil, it’s because excess alcohol tends to lead to decisions that people regret later.
I know that frat parties are glamorized in a small, safe private school. They seem wild, and dangerous, and exciting. But you don’t know how many former students come back and talk to me after trying a few of those parties, saying they were boring, pointless, and stupid. Music so loud you can’t talk. Music so loud you couldn’t be heard if you were screaming for help.
I don’t expect any of you to graduate college enamored with that kind of experience. You’re too smart for that. But on your journey toward finding this out, I want you to be safe. There are thousands of ways to have fun on a campus, and if you can manage to find people who aren't so insecure that they need to get drunk to be social, hang out with them. You'll be happier in the long run, I think.
If I could push a second magic button to keep you from drinking alcohol in mixed groups, I’d slam that, too. That’s not because you drinking alcohol (at the legal age) is evil, it’s because if there is danger anywhere around you, I want you to be super alert so you can try to fight it off.
That blurry, relaxed feeling that is so nice about alcohol also makes it harder for you to notice signs that a threat is approaching. You want to be at the top of your game in a situation like that.
Thirdly, I want you to think carefully about who you trust and who you don’t. Ask your closest girlfriends if you are the sort of person who trusts other people too easily. If they say yes, ask them to help you judge character.
Ask them about the people you are thinking about going out with on the weekend. Ask them about who you are thinking about partying with. Ask them about any potential guys you are interested in. They love you, and they know you, so let them in on that process. If they see red flags, listen to them.
Now let’s talk about what you wear. I read the other day that something like 215 percent of all males look at porn. OK, hyperbole. But seriously, so much money is being made off porn right now, and too many men are infected with it until they think a random woman’s body is theirs to just take.
I’m weary of the argument that it’s a woman’s job to make sure men never lust. That’s ridiculous. I want you to be kind, of course. I don’t want you to run around half naked and pretending like you don’t know that’s powerful. That’s just selfish. But you aren't going to do this anyway, because you aren't selfish people. I know you. I've seen how bright you shine.
And no matter what anybody does, a man’s thought life is HIS thought life. His lust is on him. It’s his responsibility to manage it.
So here’s my angle on clothes. I want you to wear things that are flexible and practical. Would the clothes you have on be a hindrance if someone tried to take an advantage of you? Would they help you get out of a situation where you felt threatened?
Are your strappy heels so high you would have trouble running? Is your skirt so tight you would have trouble getting over some kind of barrier?
I had to run from an attacker once, and I’m telling you, I was so glad that I had on clothes that were suited to getting out of there. (I had to jump over a bush. I couldn’t have done that in heels or a short pencil skirt.) So keep that in the back of your mind, too.
Fifthly, wherever you enter, think about how you could exit. My grandfather worked in coal mine safety, and he trained us all to look for an escape route, no matter what room we were in.
As you enter places in college, think about how you could leave those places if you needed to. Are you getting in a car with someone? Are you walking into a frat house? Are you going over to a new guy’s place to watch movies? What if you start to feel uncomfortable? How will you get out of there? What barriers exist?
I don’t mean that you need to be constantly paranoid, but you do need to just take a few minutes to consider how you would exit a place you've entered, especially in unfamiliar surroundings.
Finally, make yourselves strong. Sign up for some martial arts classes. (Seriously. Do this.) Get used to fighting a man back. Find out where his weak spots are and how to leverage your body to do damage. You will walk with more confidence if you understand what your own strength can do, and that will be good for you lots of reasons.
If you don’t do any of this, and if something happens, the abuse is not your fault. The blame will never be yours. Ever.
Also, you could do all of this stuff I'm telling you and still get hurt. I wish I could take that possibility away, but I can’t.
But if you read this over the summer, maybe a few things on this list could at least help a few of you avoid some pain. There are no guarantees in a world like ours, but I am all for being as strategic as possible as we go through it.
I love you so stinking much. Even if you make mistakes in college I love you. Don't forget that.
You can always call me, no matter what. And you never need to be ashamed, because you've given me a chance to see the big picture of who you really are. I'm so proud of you.