A new park was created around the corner from our home last year, and my daughter couldn’t wait to explore once it opened. An avid climber, it had a viewing post from a pirate ship, flying fox and much more. She spent many a happy hour there with local kids, mostly girls. Friendships were formed, secrets told, and fun was had. Oh, to be a kid again! Just before her eleventh birthday, she came to me, and incredulously stated that a boy had asked her out, not once, but three times. He wanted her to be his girlfriend! She was astonished and said that she had no intention of being anyone’s girlfriend, but that she was happy to be his friend. At that, his buddies put the pressure on. “Why wont you go out with him? C’mon!” She ignored the wheedling and came home. The next day, one of this boy’s friends sidled up to her (he was 11), and said that she wasn’t a pretty nor sexy eleven year old, and how dare she turn down his pal. He waited for a reaction, hoping for tears, shame or even anger. My incredible daughter just shrugged, said she didn’t give a flying fig what he thought, and left him gob-smacked.
I was outraged when she relayed the reason why she doesn’t want to return to the park. She has many friends that are boys; good respectful young fellas, who wouldn’t dream of treating any girl in such a manner. It made this behaviour all the more shocking; neither she nor I had any prior experience with her being harassed. She asserted herself at the time, but these encounters made the park feel unsafe and she hasn’t returned. It has made me sad and incredibly angry. We are talking ten and eleven year old boys! Asking girls out, and if they are turned down, turning nasty. It sends shivers through my bones, the thought of their behaviour escalating as they get older. I had to talk to my daughter about harassment, and how boys and men behave at times. I hated that I had to talk to my girl, still so young, about the dangers out there, as close as her local park. I told her I had been through it, cat-called, harassed, and put down when I asserted myself. I explained that when people put you down, it’s because they have nothing inside to lift them up. Thus, they attempt to demean you. She understood, and we talked into the night. We came up with action plans and action steps if she ever encounters this again. Little girls should be able to climb to the apex of viewing towers, and zoom through the air on flying foxes unabated. She worries for her friends, the girls she used to meet at the park, some of whom may not be able to stand up to these boys as she did. It is a conundrum she shouldn’t have to face at eleven. It is a conundrum she shouldn’t have to face ever.