Make Little Girls’ Voices Carry

Girls, power, voices, politics, lean in
Our daughters’ voices must carry. We can help.


By Estelle Sobel Erasmus

So I was an advocate for my daughter the other day. And how I acted made a difference in her experience of being heard, I believe.

About a month ago, my nearly four-year-old daughter  came home from pre-school telling me about a boy, who touched her on the nose and kissed her hand. She didn’t like it.

“He kissed my hand mommy and touched my nose, and I said no,” she told me. She also told me that he was from another country and didn’t speak English, yet.

Aside from thinking, ‘oh, how sweet that a little boy is showing his appreciation for my daughter by employing the courtly tradition of hand-kissing,’ I thought nothing more about it. That is, until she mentioned it to me again later that week, when I went to pick her up at school.

“He kissed my hand mommy and touched my nose, and I said no,” she repeated when I greeted her at the door. The director of the school happened to be there.

“He kissed her hand and touched her nose,” and she didn’t like it,” I told the director, who I should mention, I like very much, and does a good job.

“Oh, he is new to the school, and is affectionate, but he wouldn’t hurt a fly, he’s so sweet,” was her calm response.

I told my daughter again, “just tell him No. No touching, and tell the teacher.”

Then, I moved on and didn’t think twice about it.

Until last week. Last week, my daughter again mentioned this boy’s name and said he was touching and poking her. Thinking, ‘oh, the teacher said it was no big deal,’ I didn’t make a fuss.

Then she said this.

“Mommy, you have to get me bandaids. Five bandaids. Because (boy’s name) hit me and touched me and poked my face and hurt me.”

Now, she had my full attention (finally).

“When did this happen?” I  asked.

“While the teachers were cleaning the tables.”

“Did you tell the teacher?”

She nodded.

“Did you tell the boy NO”?


“Why not”?

“Because he won’t stop. He won’t stop touching me. He’ll never stop.”

“Do you want me to call the teacher?”

“Yes, I do, mommy!”

So I called the teacher and explained the situation. I was fairly calm , until the teacher said, “I wasn’t aware that this was happening; she didn’t tell me, but this boy likes to be affectionate with his friends. He likes to touch friends but he’s harmless.”

It was then that I felt the fire fill my soul.

I responded as my daughter’s advocate. The advocate she wanted and needed and the advocate all mothers must be for their daughters to give them the voices they need.

So here’s what I said to the very sweet teacher.

“I don’t care that this boy ‘wouldn’t hurt a fly,’ and likes to touch his friends. It is hurting my daughter because when a person’s experience is invalidated or ignored it teaches them to be victims. I will not allow that to happen.”

The teacher was silent, and I continued.

“My daughter’s boundaries are being abused, and if nobody does anything, including the teachers than they are complicit in it, and I won’t allow that.”

Then,  I put my daughter on the phone with the teacher and the teacher told her to please tell a teacher if this happens again with him or anyone, and to tell the person No.”

I said, “the teacher will make sure you are protected, but you have to speak up.”

The teacher suggested to me that my daughter and the child be separated. I said, yes, but only if my daughter is not made to feel uncomfortable. That’s when I learned that the child was already separated from some of his “friends” during circle time. The teacher said, “we’re working with him.”

My response: “That’s not my problem, and it will not become my daughter’s problem either.

So maybe some people believe the boy is sweet and he wouldn’t hurt a fly.

But he did hurt my daughter. He hurt her by making her think it was ok for him to broach her boundaries and touch her and that everybody was ok with it (he’s so harmless), and so nothing would happen to him, so why even bother speaking up. That’s the message my daughter received.

And that. That is just not acceptable!!

That’s how you get to a Steubenville.

Because what happens when boundaries are ignored; when a girl speaks up and is ignored?

What happens is that society is teaching her that her voice won’t be heard. And I am determined that will NOT be my daughter’s experience.

Not while I can give her the voice she needs, and the power to use it.

And now I know something else. Our daughters must start having a voice that is heard early. Like in pre-school.

If we wait for a person like Sheryl Sandburg to tell them to lean in and ask for their rightful place at the table when our daughter’s are in their 20s, or even in their teens, well, then it’s just too late.

I was named a 2014 BlogHer Voice of the Year for this post.

How can we continue to give girls a voice so they are not made to feel like they can’t be heard? The more I see and hear and the more Steubenville’s there are, the more I believe that our earliest work of empowerment needs to start with young girls, not teenagers, not young women, but young girls. 


30 thoughts on “Make Little Girls’ Voices Carry”

  1. Good for you! I am appalled that the teachers were so comfortable brushing your daughter’s discomfort under the rug like that. While I’m impressed that you spoke up, I’m even more impressed that your daughter was self-assured enough to be clear that she was uncomfortable and to keep saying so until you advocated for her. So important for girls to find their voices early!

    1. Thanks Jessica. I’ve tried to teach her that her voice matters; and so I am very glad she persevered until she got my attention.

  2. Such a great post! Congratulations for putting into words abuse starts with this kind of behavior….we, as women, seem to have been taught to ignore our instinct…ignore our discomfort…ignore our vulnerability. We seem to think we need to continue to widen our boundaries for “acceptable behavior”…and before we know it, there are no boundaries. I’m old enough to be your mom…I’m not….but I’m still proud of you.

    1. Thanks so much Barbara. I’m happy to share that my daughter feels that the situation is under control now, and that she WILL be listened to.

  3. I was told by my son’s teacher last week that I am his biggest advocate. It’s the greatest thing we can do for our children. Kudos to you!

    1. That’s beautiful Holly. You are a force to be reckoned with, so you make a fabulous advocate!

    1. Thanks for asking Aliza. Yes, the school is being so responsive, and I am so glad that she spoke up.

  4. This is an amazing post and hits home. I am so tired of teachers dismissing feelings of discomfort or inappropriate behavior. Just because that’s “how he is” doesn’t make it right. Good for you standing up for your daughter and teaching her the importance of self-advocating.

    1. Thanks so much Tracy. I think the “leaning in” needs to start really early, or else no one will listen to girls or women, let alone let them have a seat at the table.

  5. thanks for sharing this, it is so important to stand up for our kids! It is good your daughter told you. I hope my kids will always feel ok to tell me anything.

  6. I really thought this post was amazing. Thank you, thank you for standing up for your daughter – and for reminding us all we can (and should) stand up for our own children when their boundaries are being crossed or they are being treated in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.

    1. Heather,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I think the earlier we start with protecting their boundaries, the better for them.

  7. Good for you! I think people can really be way to relaxed about this and you did a great job sticking up for your daughter!

  8. Great point about Steubenville. We cannot ignore the voices of little girls, or nonverbal people either. That’s where the discrimination begins. I truly hope this little boy learns that his behavior is unacceptable.

    1. Thanks Gina. I feel like the school is doing some sort of pilot program with this boy, to show that they can help non-speaking English children assimilate. However, I will protect my daughter against this reverse discrimination; and they are very clear on that.

  9. Great post! It is important that we as parents all stand up for our kids. Our daughters and our sons. My son has an overly affectionate classmate and grandmother. I have always told him to tell anyone he doesn’t want in his space “no” or “I need my space”. Without a doubt, if we do not advocate for our children early and allow them to show affection to ANYONE whom they do not wish to show or receive affection from we are doing them a huge disservice. I personally have been a victim of sexual assault and I find it very hard to bite my tongue when anyone forces any child to show or receive any affection they do not want. I am very proud of you for allowing your (calm) mama bear to come out and stand up for your daughter.

  10. This is not just a girl problem. This is a child problem. My grandson is really tall. At five he is well over four feet tall. There were two boys in his preschool class who felt free to hit and kick him. He said no, he reported to the teachers, but said little to mom.
    Finally, my daughter came to school just in time to see one of them spit on my grandson! She told the teacher. The teacher reported that they had tried to separate him from the kids (not them from each other or from him). Then the response was, “it is a hard class with many boys. You know, ‘boys will be boys.'”
    They could not see a good solution and started trying to blame it on my gs. When questioned the other boys said gs never hit back…. With no real resolution my daughter pulled him from preschool.
    I guess we teach kids to be victims in Preschool. Something needs to start there. “Toleration” of others should not include being poked, pulled, spit on or kissed.
    Maybe you have hit on a new movement.

  11. Great work, i recently had a conversation with a friend who was still waiting out a “bully” situation and I was getting upset. Her daughter was definitley upset and she needs to tell someone at school.

  12. This was an amazing post, and you are an awesome mommy. Thank you for taking a stand for your child and for all the other little girls out there.

  13. This is wonderful! I very much hope that all young girls grow up in a way that they know their boundaries deserve to be respected, and that everyone recognizes this and begins the bold step towards not tolerating non-consensual behavior.

    People like you are creating new norms that hopefully will shift our future so that the abuse & disrespect of women is never accepted. I love how your daughter seems born with the instincts to know her boundaries & to express that … with a mother like you, she’ll never outgrow this! 🙂

    1. Hi Res,
      I hope that we are creating new norms. There is a huge movement afoot to do so, and I am happy to add my voice.

  14. Yes!
    You are speaking up and out.
    I am so incredibly proud of you and so grateful to have you as part of the human race.
    Thank you.

  15. Thanks Randy. I think the teacher was minimizing the situation out of ignorance not malice. I educated her, and now she’s aware and alert. If we wake people up to the importance of girls (young girls) having a voice, maybe we can avoid so much of the ills we are facing in society, focused towards women and teenagers.

  16. Well done, Estelle! I think you have a new platform and there should be teacher training on this to help children early on as you say…

    1. Kristin, I love the idea of teacher training for this. Thanks for your great POV.

  17. Fantastic post Estelle! The teachers initial dismissal of this boys behavior as harmless is outrageous. I’m glad you set them straight. Bravo.
    Your point that girls must not be trained/socialized to lose their voice and become complacent in the face of unacceptable behaviors. Such an important lesson! I applaud you.

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