Sticks and Stones

sticks-and-stonesDear Boys,

For some inexplicable reason I still can’t fathom, when I was in high school the term du jour for a pretty girl was muffin. At the top of this confectionary food chain, reserved for the prettiest of the pretty, the cheerleadiest of the cheerleaders, was blueberry muffin.

Even more inexplicable than the baked good rating system was the fact that I happened to be dating a football player. Not just any football player, mind you, the quarterback. In case we stay overseas and you never experience the popularity of American football, the idea of the quirky, kind-of-gawky smart girl (yes, your mom) dating the QB is the stuff of John Hughes films. If you don’t know who John Hughes is, I’ve failed you.

I digress. During some sweaty locker room conversation that later got back to me, in between towel snaps and jock itches, a teammate asked the QB–my QB–why he was going out with me. I wasn’t blueberry muffin material, he said. In fact, I wasn’t even muffin material. I was nothing more than…burnt toast.

As a grown up writer I’ll give the boy credit for sticking with the theme, for stringing along the metaphor. But as a teenage girl, I was devastated when his words found their way back to me. Few girls of fourteen or fifteen have the stamina, the strength or the confidence to withstand a direct assault on their looks. I certainly didn’t.

Most of us don’t. Not then anyway. Recently I had brunch with a group of smart, successful women. We got to talking about the sticks and stones slung at us during those long ago school days. And while we could, as adults, laugh them off, it was obvious those barbs sliced deep enough they left scars. They may not be visible to the naked eye, but they’re there all the same.

Grease Ball
Tit-less
Fat Ankles
Kitchen Lady
Stick Insect
Burnt Toast

It was a timely conversation. I had just read an excerpt from an interview with the actor Melissa McCarthy, who recalled how she responded to a journalist who body shamed her in print.

Stick-and-stones-may-break-YOUR-bones-but-words-will-always-hurt-ME

“Just know every time you write stuff,” she said, “every young girl in this country reads that and they just get a little bit chipped away.”

Boys, I love you dearly, I hope you know that. I will fight in your corner if and when you need me. I will advocate for you, I will be your voice, I will stand by you and behind you. But know this: If I ever find out you are taking pot shots at a girl’s weight or the size of her thighs, I will take you down. If I find out you were making fun of another student’s skin or her hair or the size or her breasts, I will take you down. If I find out you’ve insulted a girl because she was flat chested or big hipped or because she didn’t meet some crazy expectation of pretty or some unachievable ideal, I will take you down.

We remember. Over coffee and croissants, every single one of us remembered the name of that boy–the one who shamed us. Every single one of us could name, without a breath or a hesitation, the full name of that boy, the one who made a mark, left a scar.

And I don’t want either one of you to ever be that name.

As the proud feminist mother of boys, I’m in a unique position: I get a chance to raise the next generation of men. I feel like it’s my duty to raise you boys to respect all people–not to treat women differently because they are women, but to treat everyone respectfully. Frankly, I hope you’re holding the door open for whoever comes behind you, male or female. But there are things I can’t tolerate, can’t abide. Hurting girls with words that aren’t necessary or kind is one. Cutting someone with an insult sharp enough to leave a lasting scar, is another. Being that boy? Please don’t. Don’t be that boy.

You can’t keep a good woman down–not for long, not really. But you can leave her marked and pocked. And tweenage, teenage, young adult skin is a lot more susceptible to scarring than this forty-something woman’s. Your skin takes on teflon, repellent properties as you get older. But that takes time. It doesn’t take much to slice open the heart of a ten year old or a twelve, fourteen, sixteen year old girl.

beautifulBoys, if you call a girl ugly, you’re not commenting on her looks, you’re hiding the ugly thoughts in yourself. Be gentle in your actions, gentle in your words. When you call a girl fat, or tit-less or greasy or skank or slut, you are feeding your own emptiness by creating a little chunk of emptiness in her.

Just remember that. Remember that the scars fade, but they never go away completely. Remember that she will always keep your name on the tip of her tongue. Forever and always. I want you to be remembered, but not for that, never for that. Not for being that boy.

So be kind, be respectful, be aware.

Love,

(Your quirky, kind of gawky, mostly smart) Mom

 

 

 

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15 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones

  1. aviets May 24, 2015 / 11:34 am

    I had accidentally unfollowed you, and just discovered it. So glad to find your writing again!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A Simple Village Undertaker May 24, 2015 / 2:21 pm

    Sound advice, for sure. Having three daughters, now in their 20’s, I’ll give you an “Amen” on the column. I’ll also mention that it works both ways. Up through my high school years, I was always, yes always, the last last one picked for teams. Girls were often picked before me. At 55, I can still recall the names, see the faces and hear the slurs…and yes, they hurt back then… and they came from boys and girls alike, often questioning my sexual orientation, which has always been 100% hetero. I would often use the example for my daughters when they were the victim of “uncharitable comments”. They only knew me as a marathon running, competitive tennis playing, business owning, part-time firefighter dad who occasionally still played guitar in front of hundreds of people in a band. I used the example of “before you can become a gracious winner, it helps to have endured being a good loser”. I realize that we might be talking about different forms of “Bullying”, but if nothing else, they are first cousins…and they do leave scars. Thanks for a great article…RJV, the SVU

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dina Honour May 24, 2015 / 3:57 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful comment. As I was writing this, I knew it would bring up a lot of memories for people, and I knew that some of those would be scarring at the hands of girls or girls toward boys or boys toward other boys. It’s always easier to write from your own experiences and while I am sure that there were girls who gave me a hard time growing up for me, it was the comments about my looks that burned deep enough to scar, as I would imagine they still do for many a young girl trying to find her feet (or boy!). I think I probably have a similar story, I don’t think anyone who knows me today (or perhaps even back then) would have though that a random comment could sting–but those things are always sharper than they appear. In my case, I do think that having been on the receiving end of comments like that made me a stronger woman. So I am able to use it in my work, and to teach my boys what not to do. Hopefully. As for the QB–while we weren’t together for very long, he turned out to be the kind of guy that you hope your sons are: sweet and caring and just a nice guy.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. LifestyleswithLia May 24, 2015 / 2:49 pm

    What a powerful post! Thank you for sharing your story with us…I can completely relate! And sometimes the hurtful words didn’t come from boys but from other girl classmates, in my case…It’s all so sad how we as adults keep those words hidden deep within us, that still fester like some molten lava inside a volcano’s core…and something years down the road can trigger the hurt again…
    Thank you for raising the next generation of this earth to be more respectful and kind to one another…it is a chain reaction that can change the way the world looks at one another.
    Thanks for writing this…it really hit home for me…
    And yes, I know and love John Hughes’ movies 🙂
    Happy Sunday to you…and PS I love the name of your blog!
    Greetings from NYC,
    *Lia

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour May 24, 2015 / 3:49 pm

      Thank you, on all accounts. Childhood can be a vicious time–it always amazes me how much of a spin we put on it as adults–all that magic. And girls are awful to other girls and of course, boys and girls are terrible to boys as well. I guess just sitting around and listening to smart, accomplished women it did amaze me a little bit how much staying power these words have. Not enough in these cases to influence our lives, but enough to leave a mark if you will. My oldest is not quite ready for John Hughes oeuvre…but soon ;-). Thanks again. x

      Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour May 25, 2015 / 7:46 am

      Thank you. I think it’s a lesson for all kids in the end, but I think sometimes boys may not realize how a casual insult cuts so deeply.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. South of the Strait May 26, 2015 / 3:17 pm

    If we could only remember the kind things said to us over the years as well as we remember the insults. (Or is it just me? Am I weird?) There is something cruel about how our memories work, my most vivid memories of junior high were all the mean things done to me, I don’t know if I can think of too many great times, but I’m sure they were there. It is a damn shame I didn’t discover The Smiths until I was well passed my years of inward shame.

    This post was a great reminder to be kind. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour May 26, 2015 / 6:32 pm

      It just amazed me how these smart women (women who have been through medical school!) and we can so vividly recall these offhand comments that someone probably didn’t even think twice about. I am lucky, I remember the good stuff too–maybe not the words, but certainly the deeds. The Smiths were basically made for the teenage years. The Cure, Siouxsie, Love & Rockets, The Jesus and Mary Chain–all of those definitely helped me in those early years. We all need reminders to be kind every now and again. Even as adults.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Elyse May 27, 2015 / 1:28 am

    You’re a good mom.

    I think a lot of the taunting — especially the really hurtful stuff, is the teenage boy’s inability to handle attraction.

    I was tortured by a guy named David throughout jr. High. He was horrible — the worst was that he grabbed my boobs all the time. He sat in front of me in every class as our names followed alphabetically. A few years after we graduated high school, it ended up that we had summer jobs in the same place. I had become fairly pretty, and David announced to everyone that we had dated for years.

    “No, David,” I said at a staff meeting, “we didn’t. In fact, you were a complete ass.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dina Honour May 27, 2015 / 8:58 pm

      Brilliant reply, Elyse! At the end of the day, most of us don’t take as much care as we can or should with other people. Whether we’re too caught up in our own dramas or ourselves or we don’t pay enough attention or a thousand other reasons. I’m sorry about your experience, no one should have to deal with boob grabbing ;-). (I know it’s not funny!)

      Like

  6. advocare distributor June 3, 2015 / 11:53 pm

    With any attack, verbal or non-verbal, there needs to be a counter and learning that has been the best medicine to any bullying. It is the feeling of helplessness an vulnerability that allows that scar to continue to cause pain.

    As an we have learned to stand up and retaliate that really makes the difference between then and now. So get healthier and teach children the same. Get stronger and teacher children the same. Get wittier and it will amaze everyone to see how you are able to deal with adversity.

    Regards,
    Clifford T Mitchem
    Advocare Distributor
    Nutrition + Fitness = Health
    http://www.AdvoCare.com/13087657

    Like

    • Dina Honour June 4, 2015 / 11:04 am

      Good advice. But I would add we need to continue teaching kids that making others feel bad is never the answer to making themselves feel better as well–and sometimes for young kids, those off the cuff remarks are hard to deflect.

      Liked by 1 person

      • advocare distributor June 4, 2015 / 2:05 pm

        I completely agree. The intent is not to make others feel bad, in fact to someone who is just learning to stand up for themself it probably would not make the bully feel bad. What it does do is put up resistance and bullies do not like resistance. Typically they begin to leave someone alone when they defend and befriend them when the defend effectively.

        Regards,
        Clifford T Mitchem
        Advocare Distributor
        Nutrition + Fitness = Health
        http://www.AdvoCare.com/13087657

        Liked by 1 person

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