BY JERRY WITKOVSKY
I don’t want my granddaughters to be #Metoo women; I do want my grandsons to say “me too” to ending sexual harassment and standing up for women.
I love my weekly calls with my grandson Ethan, a Rabbi at the Park Synagogue in Manhattan. During one call last fall, I opened the topic by asking for advice for an upcoming meeting I had planned with a local high school. “How can I ask the high school what they are doing about sexual harassment at school?” I asked my grandson. He shared that this topic was on his mind as well. In fact, he said he was working on a sermon triggered by the revelations and accusations in the news about sexual harassment by a growing number of well-known, public figures.
I was very interested. My fellow grandpas in my weekly “men’s group meet-up” had been asking me, “how do we talk to our grandkids about this?” Indeed. Especially when we ourselves are finding this to be new territory. Especially when we came from a generation that propagated this behavior, even if we didn’t in our own personal and professional lives.
How to get started with difficult conversations.
Ethan shared that he began thinking about the subject by discussing it with women close to him. I thought to do the same. I talked to my granddaughter Katie and her boyfriend. “Why do women dress provocatively if they don’t want attention?” I asked her. She answered sternly. “Women have a right to dress any way they want to,” I asked what, if anything, they had been taught about relationships in high school. Lance shared that it was mostly about abstinence, which he didn’t think was a worthwhile approach.
I also spoke to my daughter, who is the COO at a Los Angeles based social-service agency. She often feels the impulse to hug people when congratulating them on a job well done, to convey her deep gratitude and appreciation. “I always ask permission,” she says, before hugging anyone.
It just wasn’t something you talked about. But if you can’t talk about something, if you can’t name it, then you can never fix it.
And before anyone thinks this is not happening in their grandchild’s school, ask. A conversation with my 18-year-old granddaughter, a senior in high school, revealed that a football player at her school had been accused of raping another student. She was sickened and angry after overhearing two fellow teammates talking about the alleged incident, saying it was her fault, she was “asking for it.” How do we change the dialogue so that students are sticking up for, watching out for, each other?
How do we teach about healthy relationships?
The question about respect when related to sexual harassment seemed to be caught in the “sex” part. But maybe that’s where it starts (but how do you have conversations that have the word sex in them without it being sexual harassment?). And for us older folks, there are big generational differences. My parents never told me anything. It just wasn’t something you talked about. But if you can’t talk about something, if you can’t name it, then you can never fix it.
Preventing harassment starts with respect for yourself and respect for the other person.
The big difference is healthy relationships which are consensual and mutually respectful and unwanted sexual harassment. With harassment, it’s unwanted and there’s often a power imbalance. But there’s a connection. Preventing harassment starts with respect for yourself and respect for the other person.
Luckily, the conversations about sex and being the boss of one’s own body continue to grow. It’s often in response to big news stories like the Harvey Weinstein Sexual Harassment scandal. Kids today are told at very young ages about “stranger danger” and what constitutes “appropriate touch,” possibly as a result of more and more news coverage of child abuse cases. Pre-pubescent adolescents are having conversations with their parents and doctors earlier now that the HPV vaccine is becoming more common.
Coast to Coast Family Group Discussions
My question is what is taught, when, where and by whom? How are young people, both boys, and girls, taught about healthy relationships? Can you ever suggest to a girl or woman that she dresses less provocatively? How are schools responding to accusations and keeping students safe?
I can’t be silent when I see things that harm others in the world. I must use the power I have to make a change.
It was closed doors and a hush-hush culture that allowed sexual harassment and rape culture to continue for so long in the first place. So maybe just the fact that I am asking is a start. I am asking at my local school. I am asking at my synagogue. And I am asking my family. How can we all be better?
I am asking about this topic as well as other hard topics: racism; growing divisive politics; being an upstander. I often start with sharing my ideas in an email that I send to my children, grandchildren, and spouses. Sometimes an email conversation ensues as everyone shares there their thoughts, opinions, and links to related articles. Sometimes it’s sharing grandson Ethan’s sermon that gets the discussion rolling. And sometimes I bring it up in person when we are together for holidays.
I can’t be silent when I see things that harm others in the world. I must use the power I have to make a change. I am starting with me, my family, my community.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JERRY WITKOVSKY
A long-time social work professional, grandparenting activist, and passionate grandpa, author Jerry Witkovsky offers fresh approaches to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world, to leave values, not just valuables, and create a living legacy. Over the past year, he has undertaken extensive research and evaluation to support the transformative effect grandparents can have on families and communities when they enter their grandchild’s world via a Grandparent Connection School Program. Learn.