Today I met with a friend for tea. We discussed the recent sexual abuse trial of Dr. Larry Nassar, a pedophile who for over twenty-five years abused not only Olympians, but also young children of friends. We discussed being riveted by the testimony of these brave young women who decided to hold USA Gymnastics and our greater societal culture of silence about sexual abuse accountable for their abuse. We discussed our passionate support for Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, who received criticism for creating “drama” in her courtroom by allowing 156 of Nassar’s victims to have a voice by confronting their perpetrator, Aly Raisman receiving criticism for suing the US Olympic Committee over the Nassar abuse, and we concluded that there is still a steep road for women to climb when it comes to speaking out.
My friend teared up. I became angrier. Such are the responses of women around the world. This unmasking of men in trusted positions who have systematically abused young girls, teens, and adult women is an emotional roller coaster for all of us.
How Could He Get Away With It?
Predators like Larry Nassar, MD, cloak themselves with respectability, something that other adults see and admire. Nassar was supposed to be the best, a doctor who was there to heal the injuries of our Olympian gymnasts, our teenage heroines who torque and push themselves into beautiful forms. But finding him guilty bumped up against another societal standard: if something happens, say something or else you are somehow complicit.
Speaking up is important and may work for many groups who feel they have a voice, but often not for women, who society has rendered silent in many ways—until now. The answer to the question Why didn’t they speak out sooner? is imbedded deep within our cultural expectations—our girly thoughts.
Your Girly Thoughts—Why You Don’t Speak Up
Children are so vulnerable because they want to believe the best in the adults around them. But female children carry an additional, special burden. All girls receive an important societal message that being the good girl—sweet, passive, attractive, quiet, pure—is important if they are to be valued.
I’ve named these toxic societal messages that girls receive. I call them girly thoughts, which is an obnoxious but memorable name for how teens and women learn to do to themselves what society does to them: hold themselves to impossible standards where they need to be all the above plus being responsible for everything negative that happens to them.
What the Nassar trial clearly demonstrated through the testimony of these brave athletes and Olympians is that these early messages do not evaporate when girls reach their teens, or even when they reach adulthood, or even if they receive a medal.
Your Girly Thoughts Blame You!
As women, we know that to speak up we need to confront the blame women have been conditioned to feel for any untoward response that comes their way. Whether it’s a cat call while walking to work, or, as is this case, not having the ability as an elementary school girl to confront a doctor who she was told was there to help her, this blame for “bringing it on ourselves” is ubiquitous.
Let’s take a moment and look at how feeling the blame contained in your girly thoughts keeps you silent.
- You blame yourself for not preventing the sexual abuse—yes, even if you were a child. The girly thought here is I should have known it was wrong.
- You blame yourself for somehow being responsible for the sexual abuse, as in what did you do to make this person do this? The girly thought here is I have responsibility for being abused. I should have made it stop.
- You fear that to speak up means to be judged by others as somehow complicit in what occurred—even if you were a child or someone of lesser power in a relationship. The girly thought here is that if you mention anything, it was somehow your responsibility to have stopped it.
- You are judged as a bad girl. The girly thought here is I can’t live with the shame of others knowing that I was sullied; what will they think of me?
Healing Yourself Begins with Outing Your Girly Thoughts
Healing yourself from sexual abuse is a journey that begins with stopping your participation in the blame game, where the only result is that you feel totally responsible. Doing this involves some concrete steps you can begin to take today:
- Don’t drink away your frustrations and try to numb your hurt. That will just lead to feeling bad later, making you less likely to take positive action.
- Don’t eat away your frustration and pain. This will only give more reason to be angry with yourself.
- And don’t keep listening to your toxic girly thoughts!
- Challenge how peers, family members, neighbors, and others speak about women.
- Support people in government who support women.
- Confront the culture that teaches girls and women to blame themselves by identifying the sources that reinforce this thinking
- in advertisements of photoshopped perfect bodies,
- in storylines in the movies and on TV, and
- in how women are forced to dress in some news shows.
- Stop feeling ashamed of yourself—share your girly thoughts with your family and friends.
- Change how you speak about yourself. Move from being a victim and needing to be rescued to someone who thrives.
- Gain support from other sexual abuse survivors at https://metoomvmt.org.
- Learn more about supporting women who don’t have a voice at https://www.timesupnow.com.
Don’t get frustrated, stay up for the challenge, and know that from here we’re not going back, because we are learning to support each other.
To quote Oprah: I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!” And to this I add, a day with no girly thoughts.
Email your stories about how your girly thoughts led you in the problematic direction: firstname.lastname@example.org
Remember, you’ll find more ideas for getting rid of your negative self-talk in my two latest books, The Girly Thoughts 10-Day Detox Plan: The Resilient Woman’s Guide to Saying NO to Negative Self-Talk and YES to Personal Power and The Resilient Woman: Mastering The 7 Steps to Personal Power.