- Posted April 3, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Confessions from imperfect parents
Reliving Sexual Harassment Through My Daughter’s Shame
She read my account, published on CNN, on her phone together with other girls at their lunch break. She didn’t tell me how many girls were there. Or who all read. Or what all they talked about. But she wanted me to know, and in no uncertain terms, that dating is unsafe. That’s what her friends had discussed after reading my blog and one more story on date-rape. “My friend thought yours was a visual…of the visual sort,” my child said, her eyes downcast to avoid my eyes. And she left it there. Rape is a big word for her and in her mother’s context practically unspeakable.
Instead she complains of nightmares. Recently, she told me that she dreamt of a stranger who had pinned me down and even when she repeatedly pleaded on my behalf, the man refused to let me go. And when she punched the man to rescue me, I escaped, but she tripped and got trapped. At that time she got up…
In some ways, I feel diminished with this role-reversal between us where she fears for my safety just as much as I fear for hers, or when she warns me against dating. But that’s the price I am paying – though I cannot tell if it is the price of truth or of hiding the truth from her all these years.
But then it was nearly impossible to tell my stories to a child, to my child. It was too soulless, brutal and cowardly. Frankly, I had been groped and touched so often growing up that I reached a saturation point - my body could not be shamed or humiliated any more. Yet I never wanted anyone, not even my parents, to know about my experiences. Instead I drew comfort from the fact that it was as random as much as it was rampant - sexual harassment was every other girl’s story.
Try telling this to your girl-child?
However the New Delhi rape incident forced us into a conversation. My daughter was twelve at the time, and she was always ready with her questions about India, ranging from the Hindu caste system to Bollywood to India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and if at all we were related (due to our common last names). Of course in between there were sex and boy talks too. But the Delhi incident took the sheen off of boys; it introduced her to fatality and gore in sex.
“Mom, is it that common in Delhi?” My daughter asked one night on hearing the Delhi story, avoiding the word rape.
“More common than you think,” I replied and left it at that; I didn’t want that story to dominate our conversations.
“How common?” My daughter pressed on. She knew enough about Delhi through her mother’s stories.
New Delhi is not really my hometown but close enough, I had told my daughter. What I hadn’t told her was that the city, with its explosive mix of frustrations, anger, money inequalities, and poverty always made me fear the worst. That it had to be a divine intervention that we got off the city’s crowded buses unscathed, untouched, without being pinched, I never mentioned. Because I didn’t want her to know that the city I loved, I ultimately dreaded the most and always prayed that it would spare me its worst.
Well Delhi spared me; the city of Lucknow didn’t.
But neither the Delhi rape incident nor my own personal experiences on a train journey in Lucknow, India, had any relevance to my daughter, or to me anymore. They were stories from another world, another time with no bearing on our everyday struggles in an American suburb. Yet she felt scared and didn’t want to go to toilet alone at night. She slept with lights on. And even then bad people tormented her in her sleep. I decided to un-follow the story completely. Those Hindi channels that obsessed over that news endlessly – and at times irresponsibly – were switched-off.
Slowly normalcy returned to our lives even as Delhi burnt. I brushed-off her small inquiries on that rape incident. Not all boys are evil, I wanted her to know when she asked me if god made boys somewhat evil. Within weeks, staying alone at home wasn’t as scary to her. The ghosts in our bathrooms and living room vanished, or so I thought.
However sexual violence has far more staying power, and that too on impressionable young minds. You just cannot leave those minds with dangling questions, I realized when I found out that behind me my daughter had searched on “rapes in houston.” The search returns enough stories to scare most women, let alone a child.
I knew it was time for me to explain to her why Houston could never be Delhi, or for that matter, Lucknow, except that I didn’t stop at explaining to her alone. I wrote my story, too.
My daughter doesn’t want to talk about my CNN story. I am scared to bring it up to. We talk about her French and math, biology and English. She replies in yeses and nos. She has always been economical with answers. In the past, it was when I changed the topic to her friends, boys, her crushes, their flings that she got excited, animated as though not only did she revel in all the attentions, but she only trusted me with those little secrets.
“Does Raghav (name changed) still blushes when he talks to you?” I inquired as my usual warm-up question.
“It doesn’t matter,” my daughter replied without as much as looking at me.
“It does,” I protested.
“Mom, I don’t trust boys anymore…”