By Jenny Yang
Dear Little Sister,
I was quite young when I realized my own parents weren’t the most emotionally supportive. I wish we didn’t have to be so young to learn that sometimes our own parents can let us down. I knew they loved me, but so many things get in the way of kids getting the love that we need.
Most of these things are totally out of our control. In my case, I was the youngest of our immigrant family. I got better at speaking English and “being American” than the rest of my family. A lot of times, my own parents relied on me to figure out the world, even when I was very young. Sometimes our own parents are not the best place get comfort when we are being mistreated by the world—especially if this is a world that they don’t understand. And sometimes, sadly, grownups just think that our life is so small when we are little and young.
I was the only girl and youngest of three kids. When I was six years old, I was new to the block and finally playing with the neighbor kids on a regular basis. This one day, a boy from the next street over showed up. He was this jagged-toothed, sandy blonde white kid with a mischievous grin.
He interrupted our freeze tag and started making fun of me. I didn’t quite speak enough English after only being in America for less than a year, but I could see that his face was mocking me. Maybe he knew that I didn’t understand his words so he had to make himself perfectly clear.
After laughing at my face for what felt like forever, he reached underneath my flouncy knee-length skirt and flipped it up. My face got hot and all the other kids started laughing and pointing. They saw my underwear and I knew the kid was being mean.
He tried flipping up my skirt again but I ran away just in time. I escaped to my house with hot tears streaming down my face.
As I heard the sound of the screen door slam behind me, I realized I had interrupted my mom who was deep in conversation, speaking Mandarin Chinese with a neighbor lady. I screamed in Chinese, “Mom! The boy down the street. He was laughing at me and he flipped up my skirt.”
While I cried and clutched fists full of my skirt in anger, all I wanted was a hug or an “I’m sorry this happened to you.” But all I got was laughter. Their laughter echoed the sounds of the kids who mocked me just seconds ago.
“Oh, Jenny! Is that all that happened? He flipped up your skirt? Hahaha.” She turned to her friend and shot her a glance that said, “Oh look at this silly girl.” This friend of my mom also started giggling. Grownups can be so mean sometimes.
“Jenny. Don’t worry about it,” my mom insisted. She was about to turn back to her friend to continue their conversation but I stood there and screamed louder. Something was wrong. Harm was done.
“Mom! He just came up to me and flipped up my skirt! Everyone saw my underwear!”
My mom laughed some more.
"Oh, look at my daughter. Isn’t she funny getting so upset? It’s fine. It’s just your underwear. It’s over.”
My mom laughed even harder.
“Look how upset you are. Don’t get upset over this. Nothing happened. It’s nothing.”
In Chinese, the words “mei shi” literally translate to “not a big deal” or “not a thing.” No thing. Nothing.
My mother would go on to contradict herself when it came to how I was supposed to carry my own body. When I got just a few years older, she told me to close my legs when I sat down because “a proper girl didn’t show her underwear.” So when is it okay for a girl to show her underwear? Only when a strange boy forces you to show it?
After feeling rejected by my mom, I ran into the bedroom and cried. I knew there was nothing I could do to get the reaction that I wanted. I wanted my mom to understand that what this boy did was not okay.
From that day forward, I vowed in my heart to never wear a skirt again. I learned that to wear a skirt was to be laughed at and to feel vulnerable. That to be a girl was to be weak and ignored. That life was better to be just like my two much older brothers rather than the silly, youngest girl who was never really seen for how I felt and who I was. That this was just the beginning to learning all the ways that life was so unfair to little girls and young women. That our own parents can love us so much and work really hard to clothe and feed us, but that they might not protect and nourish us in very important ways that help us to grow up, and feel whole and safe.
I am here to tell you all of this because it’s okay. I will believe you when somebody mistreats you. I know it matters to you so it matters to me. You know when you are not being treated well. I’m here to tell you that you are right. You do not deserve to be mocked and bullied by anyone. You deserve to have grownups believe you when you say that you were harmed and violated. Your body is yours. What you wear has nothing to do with other people’s bad behavior.
I see what happened to you. I know exactly how you feel. It was not your fault. I believe you.