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It starts in childhood. Not wanting to frighten, but still trying to explain, parents begin gently, if they are smart, to let a child know there is a limit to trust.

Unless children have been introduced early to abuse, they see adults as guardians and givers. Having to maintain that good view, while introducing the opposite possibility that adults can also do them great harm, is a balancing act for which few of us find the right words. I know it was torturous for me personally when I decided I needed to inform my 7-year-old daughter what rape is. Descriptions of stranger danger and how bad people sometimes lure children into their clutches or cars with candy, toys, or stories of family emergencies starts a child's education about the dark side of life. Even trust of known family members or friends has to be coupled with definitions of what inappropriate behavior, especially touching, means.

As girls age, the teaching of what their own appropriate behavior should be also changes. They are told what good girls do and don't do, and how they can give the wrong impression if they wear suggestive clothes, or use rough language, or show too much skin, or wiggle when they walk, or go heavy on the make-up, or get wild and loose with booze and drugs, or walk down a dark street alone, or dance with abandon, or tell dirty jokes, or flirt and tease, or go places nice girls don't go, etc. But the ultimate judgment of them, of course, has to do with their sexual behavior. So, as girls begin morphing into women, they've got a lot to remember.

For teens beginning to learn how to earn a few dollars, babysitting has long been an entry-level job. Yet, this is when many young girls also discover that sometimes the kiddies' daddies are all hands. Likely they have also heard the phrase, "she was asking for it," but have no idea what they did or said to provoke being touched or kissed, yet somehow feel it is their fault that it happened.

In high school and college, girls begin to recognize they walk a razor's edge in sports and academics where being vulnerable to adult power can affect being selected for a team or making a grade that could change their future. And when they enter the work place, depending on their career paths or economic restraints, they once again might have to deal with grabbing, groping and grinding (or worse) from people who can alter their lives. Undermining self-image and self-confidence, instilling guilt, doubt and blame in girls and women keeps them down, sometimes denying them the chance to succeed at studies or develop careers. That is theft, whether it occurred today or 40 years ago, and it is never forgotten.

Before men make their unasked-for moves, they need to comprehend that what they are doing is not considered a compliment, but a threat. A woman doesn't know what the next move might be and has to live with a fear of that unknown. Over time the unknowns can pack a lot of resentment baggage. Women, and probably most men, want to be treated as human beings equal in value to each other, not used as some relief valve for someone else's sexual proclivities.

Society is experiencing a tipping point about what constitutes physical, mental, economic, academic and emotional power and its abuse. Revelations of actions ranging from copping a feel to feeling a grope to violent rapes and beatings are toppling men from high positions. As women's grievances are at last being validated, men have begun to get acquainted with vulnerability and what it's like to face the unknown next move someone might make. Women are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore, but they are also at a precarious turning point. Their challenge now will be to not condone false or unfair claims against men, which will unravel and weaken the progress they've made so far on this issue.

So what guidelines will help us out of this mess? People have to check their power at the door and approach human interactions using mutual respect, and not tolerate a pecking order of sexual and economic manipulation. A retired grade school teacher said it best when describing an easy classroom rule as the first step children take toward getting along together, "If it's not yours, don't touch it." That is great wisdom from the mouths of babes.

Commentary on 12/26/2017

Print Headline: The perilous lives of girls

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