“Step right up, step right up! Be amazed, be enchanted, be seduced by this truly tantalising temptress, this dazzling damsel, this luscious lass. She’s a fine example of early 21st-century construction, with tapered legs and a firm seat. What an object of adoration, of lust, of desire! This window of opportunity won’t be open for long. Soon, she’ll be shop-worn. GRAB HER WHILE SHE’S HOT!”
This is my interior monologue on a recent outing with my daughter. We’re not at the circus or an auction – the setting is a barbecue.
‘ve been talking to a family friend, a man I’ve known for over a decade. He spots the two of us and says, eyes wide, “My, how you’ve grown. You’re a pretty little thing. All the men will be looking at you instead of your mother!”
The earth stops spinning. Time stands still. Gracie stares at the ground, no doubt hoping it swallows her.
She is 10 years old. Still playing with dough, colouring in, and sleeping with teddies – not wearing them; still bike riding, rope skipping and mud-wrestling – and not in the nude. Gloriously prepubescent and innocent – a child.
I’m a clown in sideshow alley, mouth agape. I want to shout and scream and shake him: HOW DARE YOU SEXUALISE MY DAUGHTER?
But I stand stunned. He misreads my expression. “Oh, don’t worry Trace,” he says. “It happens to every woman at some stage.”
My jaw drops to the floor. He assumes I’m upset because I’ve “lost my looks”.
This idea of psychosexual conflict has been around since Carl Jung coined the term “Electra complex”, named after the mythological young woman who plotted matricide, and based on the premise that girls compete with their mums for their father’s possession.
If you switch around the letters, it spells COMPLETE CRAP. I consider Grace a daughter, not a usurper.
Whenever I fear sexism is afoot, I play a game called “Swap the Subject”. Picture this: my husband – who looks a little like me, frayed around the edges with a sprinkling of grey and flock of crows’ feet – is at a social function with our son, aged 11.
“What a handsome lad he is,” someone says. “All the women will be looking at him instead of his father!”
Of course, no one would say this to a boy. But girls are treated as fresh meat, ready to be devoured before they go off.
Listen to the language of the likes of Rolf Harris and Donald Trump: the former blamed a “flirtatious” teenager who said he’d indecently assaulted her; the new American President says you can “do anything” to women if you’re famous enough, including “grabbing them by the pussy”.
But it’s just “locker-room banter”, right? I mean, why are women taking it so seriously?
Because most of us exist on a spectrum from discomfort to fear about being touched inappropriately. For many, this begins during childhood. And it continues until menopause.
So, Mr Creepy, I’m delighted to be past my use-by date. I can stroll the streets without a symphony of “Nice tits!” and “Jeez, I’d smash her!”
But I’m devastated that my daughter – my clever, strong, assertive daughter – is shamed into silence, her imminent blooming seen as something to be commodified and – ultimately – crushed.
Her only crime is being on the precipice of puberty. And her punishment will be decades of sexual harassment.
Sigmund Freud once wrote, “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my 30 years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’ ”
Well, step right up, step right up! For I have an answer. We want – for ourselves and our daughters – what you have: the right to be treated as fully formed human beings, not slabs of meat prepared for a pounding.