My kids were playing in our backyard while I sat in a lawn chair nearby, making to-do lists and studying our calendar of obligations.
Without warning, I felt fingers on my neck and a low voice in my ear gruffly said, “Gimme all your money!”
I screamed and sprang to my feet, ready to go viral with fighting skills I didn’t know I had.
Even after I whirled around, arms swinging, it took me a couple of beats to process what I was looking at.
It wasn’t the burly assailant I’d imagined. It was my son’s friend, 14 years old, wide-eyed and suddenly looking very small and frightened.
“What are you thinking?” I yelled. “You can’t do that to me! You can’t do that to anybody! You especially can’t do that to a woman!”
His eyes got even wider. I started to catch my breath and feel bad. He didn’t know. He thought he was playing an amusing prank, and we’d all have a laugh.
I apologized for yelling, and assured him I wasn’t mad at him.
He apologized for scaring me and promised never to startle anyone again.
As he went off to play, I pondered the incident. The video footage of that scene would have been funny — but the feelings it brought up were not.
My son’s friend is a kid. “Respecting women” means holding the door for the ladies at church, and obeying his mother. He knows nothing of the #metoo movement, and he certainly doesn’t realize that when it comes to disrespectful, inappropriate and even scary interactions with men, literally, Me Too.
I can say I’m over it, I’ve forgiven, whatever — but the reality is I’ll never be able to put down that baggage completely. It has left me permanently on edge — just a little bit, but always intuitively aware of my surroundings and cautious about who stands too close to me or interacts with my children too long. I think most women move through life this way, with a learned defensiveness.
Honorable men should know we are often guarding our safety in ways they are not. Honorable men should not make light of nor add to that burden, even in jest.
I mulled over the times when I was naïve but should have been tipped off. Where is the balance between not judging or gossiping, but not allowing people to walk into potentially dangerous situations? Why is the reputation of those who would hurt others so often prioritized over the safety of those who would be their victims?
At church, when we talk of respecting women, it’s important to recognize their contributions of service and steadfast devotion.
But it’s equally important to set aside the gushy accolades and emphasize what the daily, practical reality of respecting women and girls should look like.
To the women of the LDS Church, President Russell M. Nelson said, “We, your brethren, need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom and your voices. Whatever your calling, whatever your circumstances, we need your impressions, your insights, and your inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out in ward and stake councils.”
If women are urged to “speak up and speak out,” then surely it is just as pressing that the rest of us listen and believe them when they do.