I grew up in the late seventies and eighties, when a child actress like Brooke Shields was a man’s secret and where such bands as Motely Crew, Def Leppard, AC/DC and Judas Priest dominated the airwaves. The theme was simple: if you were a female, you were a toy to be bought and sold. The goal was to get high and get laid, and the advent of music videos on MTV, the creation of the VHS player allowed me, as a boy, to see endless pics of topless women, for no particular reason. I saw more inn 80s movies, sexual innuendoes in music videos, where a tween daughter and mom got to watch in awe a pubescent boy’s phallic soda bottle explode as a result of him watching them watching him get excited.
I still wish it only happened in music and the movies, but I recall that on the school bus, boys snapped girls’ bras, pulled up skirts and clamored to the stairs with the wish of seeing any school girls’ panties. We’d get brushed away by the teachers sometimes. “Boys will be boys.” Girls faced constant harassment from boys and from men. My male teacher, at over fifty, would hit on the 15-year old girl in front of me every day, and when I got out on the field to play football, my coaches would refer to us boys with an encyclopedia-full of derogatory words and phrases that referred to the female anatomy. One minute, we were our grandmothers, then we were pussy “cats,” then we were our mothers, and he finished off calling us “girls” because girls are, you know, pathetic.
At sixteen, I was mad. I could not understand why men would put down girls. Yet, when I got home, I’d witness my father’s sexism, where my mother had to serve him and take care of his every whim, while she got nothing but criticism. He hated the ERA so much that we could not buy ERA detergent.
That was the least of it. My father molested several girls, and my mother was raped three times. At sixteen, she and her sisters had a band, a possible label, and an invitation from Elvis Presley’s agent to come to Tennessee. Her father did not have the money to send them, and he was too afraid to send the girls that far. She went with a local producer. That producer told her and her sisters that if she wanted the record deal to go on, she’d have to sleep with him. All the sisters would. She said, “Go to hell.” He was in his forties, they, mid-teens.
The rest of her life would be hell. That’s the price a girl pays. My mother only had the dream of singing left, but I watched her slowly deteriorate with a lost smile on her face. I kicked my father out of the house at seventeen, quit school, and lived on French fries and hot dogs for two years. She was free and miserably poor but too afraid to go out of the house.
She was not pretty anymore.
She was already dead.
Now, I have a son and daughter, and at moments, when I look at my daughter’s face, I see sisters, my niece—dead at 27, and my late mother, all looking at me. I see strong but broken women and girls destined to be a moment of pleasure that inherits a lifetime of struggle and sorrow. I see the hope that my family heritage could have been, through the eyes of a child. I see my son at seven that now thinks girls are better than boys, and my daughter, at seven, and recall my nearly ten years as a bus driver.
Many male drivers would spend their lunch break talking about how “hot” some schoolgirls were. I heard it, never joined in, but I did nothing. Maybe I, too, liked it. In fact, the men would fight over who would get the all-girl run to the “lake” because all the girls had to change in the bus, all seventy of them, from 6-17. We’d fight over the girl scout run. One driver got busted for dating a kid on the bus for two years. Many knew it and said nothing. The parents found out when she told them he proposed to her. She was 15. We all laughed at that over break.
Then, one day, my bus mate, a 19-year old, told me that all the girls were getting molested in the past by the local doctor when he did school examinations. She said every girl, from elementary to high school, was being groped by him. I asked her if she reported it to the school. She laughed and said that she and some other girls reported him and were told that he is just and old man. She also said that this behavior was common. Her other teacher was a “drunk” and was constantly touching girls. They were told to shut up.
The doctor is long dead now.
Why didn’t I report that?
I know; it was reported. Maybe I was afraid I’d lose my job. The police chief was a bus driver, and, you know, small town politics. In this town, one was either a cop or a corrections officer. Abuse seemed all over. There are many, many secrets waiting to come out. They are everywhere.
As an alter boy for the Roman Catholic Church, I got to skip school if I served at funerals during the day. I got to help bury eight people in two years, two of them little girls, both 8. I remember approaching the father of one of them, me wearing black and white, and he … I only recalled his face. When I grabbed his hand, I will never forget the grief I saw in that face, the intense pain. Here I was, alive, a few years older, and she was dead. I felt that feeling, his thoughts. I wondered what she looked like, what she was like. I thought about the little blonde girl I had a crush on in the fourth grade, the one with a red scarf and small checkered skirt but was terrified to look in on an open casket.
I stopped skipping school for little girls’ funerals.
Then a childhood friend, later on, was tragically killed on her way home from college. The red lights of a school bus came on too soon, the tractor trailer jackknifed. At 19, she was gone on the very road my bus crossed to take her to Six Flags for work. I was paralyzed with grief for nearly a year.
Girlhood became a fleeting flash … Nabokov’s butterflies, and womanhood became regret, like the forced smile of Trump’s beauty queens upon knowing they had lost.
Now, at middle age, I end with some advice for men.
Help every girl be what you want your daughter to be.
Despite sometimes dirty thoughts, protect girls and advocate for women, in your real-world and virtual-world communities.
Call immature and harassing men out … flag them.
See every woman as a loving mother when they mother.
See women and girls as equal partners in life.
And think this, what if God was a woman?
That feeling …
Work on it.
If God was your mother?