Trigger warning: Mama, please defend your daughters

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I was eleven years old. I know it was summer because I was wearing a black one-piece bathing suit and my hair was wet. We’d spent the day at the lake with my cousins, my aunts and uncles. It was so hot the ground burned our feet so we had to scramble to find our chanklas as we jumped out of the truck and ran into the pizza parlor. I crowded around the candy machines with my cousins. I bent over to put my quarter in when I noticed a slight commotion happening outside. My two uncles were arguing with a stranger. I didn’t know what was happening, all I could think about was candy and pizza and the cool air of the pizza parlor.

Later, I found out my uncles had watched a man make an obscene gesture behind me as I was bent over the candy machine. My cousins were whispering about it. I remember my cheeks burning in shame.

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Me. I was 11 years old in those yellow shorts that I couldn’t even button up.

Little Girl, Womanly Curves

I was that little girl who developed early. When all the other girls in my class still had skinny legs and a flat chest like a boy, I sprouted breasts and round hips. My thighs were plentiful, as was my backside. It made me want to shrink inside myself. Boys pointed out my size. Some teased me. So did the girls. When you are the same height as your fifth-grade teacher — about 5’4″ — I guess it’s hard not to.

Everyone felt the right to make comments about my blossoming body, including my family. My uncles teased me about my weight (when a young girl develops early, it’s easy to call her “chubby” instead of curvy). My cousins teased me about being “the biggest” of us all. My mother subconsciously controlled my burgeoning femininity and sexuality by clouding the air with fear. When I got my period at the age of ten, my Nana winked at me and called me a señorita. I didn’t feel like one. I was still a little girl who liked to play with Barbies. Then there were the stares, the smiles, the whistles, the long looks from men. Men much older than me.

When you are a young girl with womanly curves that you have no idea what to do with, it’s confusing. Uncomfortable. Embarrassing. Even shameful.

Excuse me, ma’am, your daughter is lying to you

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Xixi — almost 12 and sassy as can be in her overalls and jelly sandals — and I were sitting in the car sharing a chocolate bar. It was hot outside so we were enjoying the a/c before we had to get back on the road. I told her to take the messy candy wrapper outside to the trash can. My car that drives six kids around is messy enough. When she came back she had a disturbed look on her face.

“What’s wrong?” I asked her, my brows knit together in concern.

“That man over there whistled at me. Then he stared at me walk across the parking lot. Mama, I felt so uncomfortable!” she said.

My neck whipped around to see a 40-something man sitting in a work truck about three spaces down. He had a smirky smile on his face.

“Are you sure? Was there anyone else in the parking lot?” I could feel my blood start pumping in my chest.

“No, it was just me. And he stared at me walking, too. And he whistled like this.” She proceeded to whistle.

I didn’t even think, I just I threw my car in reverse and backed up right in front of the man’s work truck. The smirk on his face dissolved. Xixi’s face went white and she slid down in her seat so he couldn’t see her. What are you doing, mama?

I rolled down the window and stared him in the face.

“The little girl that just walked across the parking lot. The one wearing overalls. Did you whistle at her? She is only eleven! You were staring and whistling at an eleven-year-old girl?”

The man played dumb, of course. I can’t remember what choice words I said to him after that (I hope I called him a sick bastard or a lying pervert — probably not) but I was infuriated. The way my daughter shrunk in her seat made me even more so. Why should she be afraid? Why should she feel ashamed? She did nothing wrong. If I wasn’t already angry enough, the next thing he said to me nearly sent me over the edge.

“Excuse me, ma’am but your daughter is lying to you.” He leaned forward and repeated himself emphatically, “She is lying!

With shaking hands, I drove home. It took me about thirty minutes of traffic to calm down. We went to eat fish tacos. I guess I was hoping that would help me forget it all.

Thank you for sticking up for me, mama, Xixi said, snuggling up close to me. I felt like I had done something right by her.  I felt like I had done something right by the little girl in me, too.

Maybe It Was Your Fault

The next day I talked to a guy friend about it. I was not prepared for the trigger of emotions. The first thing he did, in my opinion, was pass off what the man did.

Maybe he was whistling at someone else.
He probably had a friend across the parking lot.
Maybe he thought she was someone he knew.

Then…he passed the onus over to me.

You shouldn’t have pulled your car in front of his. That’s dangerous. (Even though I didn’t get out, I merely rolled down my window)
Maybe you should’ve taken a photo of him and his license plate instead.
Why didn’t you call another person for help?

and…

You shouldn’t have let her walk to the trash can all by herself.

I sat there in tears. But not sad tears. Tears of anger (how dare he question what I did to protect my daughter). Frustration (he will never know what it feels like to feel vulnerable as a woman). Disappointment (I thought he had my back). And finally, rage (all the women who have been victimized in small ways and big ways and how they are made to feel like it is their fault).

It took me all day to process through the emotions. So many things came bubbling to the surface. I finally understand the meaning of “triggered”.

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Despite the anger and the emotions that came with this life experience, I am choosing to hold on to one thing: I listened to my daughter. I didn’t question her. I didn’t blame her. I didn’t shame her (she shamed herself enough). I listened to her. And she thanked me.

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There are 19 comments

  1. Rebel yell mel

    You’re a good mom and did the right thing. I would have done the same and then some lol. I will always believe my babies! God gives you the wisdom no man can.. love you lady!!

    1. Letitia G. Vaughan

      You are a good mom. I wish my mom had been so proactive. Not the same thing, but I was five when an older man, son of a visiting evangelist, fondled me and my four-year-old friend in the basement of the new church building. My mom and her mom chose to do nothing when we told them what happened. I always felt betrayed. Of course, this was in the late forties, so I should give them some slack, but I do not!

      1. Denise Cortes

        I’m so sorry that happened to you. You don’t have to cut anybody slack — it happened a really long time ago but you still carry the trauma with you. <3

  2. Ana Flores

    You did the right thing and followed your gut. We need to honor our girls’ beauty and allow them to feel comfort in it.

  3. Christy Gomez

    Thank you for this. You did the right thing! I share your story, as well. Always felt so ashamed of my body for the exact same reasons.
    Almost 45…. and I still have anxieties over whether or not my breasts look to “obnoxious” in a certain dress/blouse. Or how wide my butt looks in certain skinny jeans- all this anxiety, because I hate perverted stares from men or even the dirty looks of women who either think I’m “seeking” attention or think I’m a “hoe”… all these emotions, STILL, from scars created from experiences that started from the time I was 10-11 years old.
    We should know our bodies are what they are- sacred vessels, and NO ONE has the right to make us feel ashamed of them. Men need to be put in check, the way you did that jerk and women need to stand for, not against each other!

    1. Denise Cortes

      So true. I never realized how much of this judgment and shame I was carrying around with me all these years. We have to let it go and teach our daughters to do the same. You are beautiful, Christy, inside and out!

  4. MJ

    I’m sorry that your daughter and you had to go through that. I think you reacted the same way I would’ve. The fact that your daughter trusted you and told you what happened just shows that she’s aware that you got her back! Good job, mama!

  5. Mary Ann

    I was the little girl whose mother made her wear a panty girdle under her shorts at 12… the one who started her period at 11… the one whom all the classmate boys smirked at because my breasts wobbled when I walked… I can still hear them. Well done, MAMA! Well done for defending your chick! I don’t know how you kept from getting out of your car and challenging that man, but I’m glad you didn’t, because it could have escalated into something dangerous. Well done!

  6. Amanda Simmons

    Yes!!! To all of this!!! I was also that girl whose body blossomed early. I had thick thighs and breasts at age 10-the same year I started my period & had to walk to school everyday. And what seems like everyday I had much older men drive passed me and honk,whistle or saying vulgar things out the window. I was TEN!! And I felt too embarrassed to say anything to anyone because it felt like it was my fault. I worry about my toddler growing up having to deal with that same thing because she already has mama’s hips/thighs. Thank you for sharing this, I will not hesitate to stand up for my daughter the same way you did. You’re a brave mama and I thank you for standing up for your girl and showing the strength of a woman. Bless you!! 💜

  7. Carla

    You are such a wonderful mother. She will walk thru life knowing you are a safe place to turn. I blossomed early and grew up in a culture where cat calling was normal. I learned at a young age to put on a mean face and tell guys off. I definitely can see now how that shaped my sexuality and ideas about the male/female dynamic. I’m raising my girls in a much different environment but I’m still hyper vigilant. I’m sure they think I’m crazy sometimes but I can’t and won’t help it. Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Denise Cortes

      I totally know what you mean about the mean face — I do it all the time, too! This is probably where RBF originated from. Trying to keep unwanted stares and advances away. Wow! Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Melissa

    I wish I could hug you and tell you what a GOOD Mama you are – You absolutely did the right thing.

  9. hope

    You did right. You did what so many of us wish our parents had done. And she will remember that.

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