Two of my four daughters are wrestling. It is fine at first, giggling and silly. They are enjoying themselves. Then it seems to get more violent and one sister doesn't want to wrestle anymore. She wants to go ask mom if she can have a cookie. "No," she says. "Enough," and "Stop!"
She should be allowed to say those words no matter how consensual the activity seemed when they started. AND they should still mean something because she hasn't already said them 5 times, giggling to show she really meant, "this is great!"
But even if she had done that, those words should still, should ALWAYS mean enough for her sister to stop, and say, "hey, should we see if mom will let us have cookies, or should we keep wrestling?"
Then the sister can answer, "Cookie!" or, "Keep wrestling, but not so rough. You were hurting me."
I think it should be easy to extrapolate that to an adult situation, although I literally wrote it as an example of what happens in my home. With my four young daughters.
Here's another one I used to see a lot around here, but doesn't happen as often anymore:
My oldest daughter standing motionless in the center of the room, seemingly helpless, sobbing - while her younger sister (for whatever reason?!) gleefully is hitting and punching her. Obviously I pull the younger one away, and she faces consequences. But it terrifies me what I saw the older one NOT doing, and I knew it was because I had taught her it was "not ok" to hit her sister. I had to retrain her.
It is NOT ok to hit your sister, that's why the younger one was in trouble at that moment. But if she comes along swinging at you, run away if you can! Come find me! Make. Her. Stop. You do not have to be a victim right here in this scenario. I try to get her to understand that sometimes you have to stand up for yourself because no one will be coming along to save you.
We have since come up with the following steps in our family for when someone won't respect your space/leave you alone physically:
1. Ask/Tell them to stop
2. Move yourself away from them
3. Find Mom, Dad, Teacher, or other safe adult and tell them what happened
4. Hit them as hard as you can
5. Bite, Kick, Scream
With each number increase is the responding action to an increase in the invasive behavior. This is the response in our home to be followed by minor irritations like a sister sitting too close on the couch, or repeatedly tapping your arm.
I have told my girls when in the car and I can't help them, and they have tried asking the person to stop (#1) and they can't move away (#2) to jump to #5 when and if it becomes necessary - using smart discretion for when that moment happens. In the car when possible I tell them just to look out the window and completely ignore the offending person. But depending on what that person is doing to them, there comes a time when #5 is necessary.
I have also told them to jump straight ahead in the list if they are ever scared, or uncomfortable with the way someone is touching them or talking to them - again, using their discretion for what is necessary. Moving away, coming to tell me, kicking and fighting back.
I also try to help them understand there are different levels of offense, that require different responses. A sister breathing your air and looking at the same book as you is different than a sister who sits on top of you and won't stop tickling you. There will come a day when the situations may be more severe with boyfriends or strangers or co-workers or whoever and they need to figure out appropriate actions. I can only hope I have given them the tools and made them brave enough to fight back when possible or speak up about it.
Another lesson I teach my girls who were on the other end of the irritating behavior is that it is NOT OK to ignore someone's requests when it comes to their own personal space and bodies. You do not get to touch other people if they do not want you to. This is something girls have to be taught, not just boys. In my research to know how to talk to and protect my girls from harassment/assault I have learned it is not always just that man on the corner of the street, or that boy at the party, or even the creepy older brother at the sleepover. Often, it comes from another girl at the sleepover, or on the playground, or in the locker room.
I tell my girls it doesn't matter WHO is touching them in ways they don't like - STOP means NOW and to always, always tell me about it. Even, and especially if, that person doesn't want you to tell anyone about it.
One last real scenario from my home: We have a loop of kitchen, hallway, front entrance, dining room, and back to kitchen. A frequent activity in my home is running laps of this loop. They count how many they can do, and sometimes in the cold of winter it's just running for the sake of running.
But sometimes, sometimes one sister finds herself being chased by another. Sometimes at first its a fun game, much like the wrestling, but eventually she gets tired and wants to stop. She should be allowed to. But what I see most often is the one being chased just continues to run, crying at the other to "Stop chasing me!" Sometimes I can tell the one sister being chased doesn't even know how she found herself running, afraid of what's coming behind. In both cases, the cries of "stop" are coming from a place of real distress.
In this case, I usually talk to the sister being chased first. "Stop running!" I tell her. "She can't chase you if you aren't running!" What my girls sometimes forget is that it isn't always a lion chasing a gazelle. She is, in this moment, safe in her home with her mother nearby. If she stops running, that sister will have no one left to chase.
What I want my girls to know as they get older is that they are NOT things to be chased. Not by anyone, not by boys, unless they want to and it is a mutually agreed upon enjoyable activity. And whatever that "chasing" means, whether it is a literal frolicking in the park, or flirtations, flowers, gifts, phone calls, etc., she should be allowed to decide if she wants them to continue, or not. And when she wants it to stop, she needs to be brave enough to turn, look the person in the eye and say, "please stop chasing me."
I realize that sometimes out in the cold, mean world in the ugly hearts of humanity there really are lions who think of girls as gazelles and will enjoy terrifying them in a cruel chase. I don't know exactly how to protect my girls from people like that. But I think most of the people they encounter will, I hope, be those that have been taught all of these same lessons by their mothers, fathers, teachers, and can recognize boundaries and communication. And if it is a lion that ever comes after one of my girls, I want her to either fight hard, so that whoever is hurting her has no easy conscience - they will know that she was not compliant - OR I want her to be brave enough afterward to speak about her truth, to give the collective gazelles a chance to hunt down that lion once and for all.
Just this morning I had an upset daughter because she decided she wanted the same sunglasses that another sister was wearing. She kept squealing, "But I wanted them! I really wanted them!" It reminded me of when they had a new baby sister come home and it would be about not sunglasses, but giving baby sister hugs and kisses. A sister would start to kiss baby, but she would want to give too many, and baby would be done with all that. Or she would want to give hugs, but hug too roughly and baby would be done being squeezed. They would tell me, "But I want to keep hugging/kissing her!"
This morning in the car with the sunglasses chaos I heard myself saying what I know I have said a hundred times, and will probably continue to say - but I hope and pray eventually it will sink into their minds.
"It's fine for you to want those sunglasses (to hug her and kiss her). Wanting that is not the problem. But just because you want that, doesn't mean you get to have them."
"(and in the past, I would have continued with: With baby, crying and squirming is her only way of telling us that she doesn't like what is happening to her. We have to watch and listen to understand what she needs. You don't get to keep kissing her just because you want to.")
And last but not least, is the way we talk about what we have done to other people. "I hit her because she made me so mad!" "She wouldn't give me what I wanted, so that's why I hit her!" As adults, we say these things too, putting the blame on someone else, because their actions were such that we were forced to feel and do something that we now regret. I tell my girls that when they do that, they are giving power away - they are giving away their power to choose how they feel and what they do. I know this is something I am working on too, taking ownership of my actions, even my thoughts and feelings.
"I'm sorry for what I said, but the dress she was wearing..." or, "I know I shouldn't have, but she looked..." need to be replaced by, "I'm sorry I disrespected you..." or, "I know I shouldn't have said that, I'm sorry..." and I think we need to teach our children that language when they are young, by our examples, by teaching them accountability for their actions. We all, children and adults alike need to own up to our actions and not shirk from it by hiding behind what someone else has done or said.
My girls are not a thing to be chased. They have ownership of their own bodies. People get to change their minds and should not be shamed for doing so. Let's watch and listen more carefully to understand what people want and need. What someone else WANTS never trumps what you NEED when it comes to your own body. We are responsible for our own actions and words. Not anyone else, no matter how they are dressed, what they have said, what they have done. What someone else says or does to my daughters only makes a statement about THAT person. It says nothing about who my daughters are.
My last thoughts on this topic come from the words of this song:
"Walk tall, you're a daughter, a child of God
Be strong, please remember who you are.
Try to understand,
You're part of His great plan.
He's closer than you know
Reach up, He'll take your hand."