The hardest conversation to have with a little girl in 2018.

“I heard that a man put his hand inside a woman’s underpants when she didn’t want him to,” she said, spinning around a lamp-post, hair flying. “What’s that about, Mum?”

It’s a well-worn cliche that the questions of children pull sharp focus on the world’s tricky truths. But when my eight-year-old daughter brought up the details of a news story she overheard on the kitchen radio on Sunday morning, it made me pause. And then I felt the world rush towards me at an alarming pace.

You know what she was talking about. Last week, a senior New South Wales politician – then-Labor Leader Luke Foley – was forced to vehemently deny that he did just as my daughter described – put his hands inside a woman’s underpants when she didn’t want him to. That woman was an ABC political journalist, Ashleigh Raper.

My little girl – blooming on a diet of Rebel Girls and kick-arse heroines – wanted to know if it was true that there was a woman who worked with a whole bunch of powerful men, went to a party with them and got groped in front of everyone.

My little girl doesn’t know how a man could be “so rude” to a woman who didn’t do anything to him.

Listen to Holly, Mia Freedman and Rachel Corbett talk about why women should be deciding if and when their #metoo stories go public, here: 

Listen to the full episode here. 

You see, my little girl has been taught “My body, my rules” at school since kindergarten. It’s so engrained in her that it’s what she says to me when I want to pull a brush through her tangled hair, or grab her hand to guide her across a busy road. It’s bloody annoying, to be honest.

My little girl has no idea why a man would want to put his hands into someone’s underpants anyway. Not really. Not yet.

“Why would he do that, Mum? Why would that happen?”

holly wainwright and daughter
How do I explain stories of sexual harassment and assault to my daughter?

Foley, of course, insists that isn't what happened at all. He insists that he didn't abuse his position with a woman from his workplace. But it has happened. It happens all the time. A report released today (November 14) by the ACTU says it's happened to more than 60 per cent of Australian women.

And of course, it's happened to me.


But this isn't my #metoo moment.

This feels like my moment to wonder how to explain these kind of stories to little girls like my daughter. Right now she balances, arms outstretched, on the starting line of womanhood, invincible and strong and as if everyone listens to what she says, cares about what she cares about (crocodiles, karate, sad-looking puppies) and tells her she can be anything that she wants to be..... but all this is in her future.

That first day you feel a definite shift in the intent of the eyes following you in the street.

The comments. The propositions.

The awkward dance of propriety around what you wear and what that "says" to men.

The boss who calls you darling and the boy who tries to control you.

The man who you thought respected you as a professional clumsily admitting he thinks about you in many other ways, not all of them "decent".

She'll feel awkwardly undressed by that confession, vulnerable, exposed. Guilty, as if it must have been something she did that made him think those thoughts.

It's all before her.

The liberties taken. The indiscretions shared and passed around for others' entertainment.

And worse, of course. The ultimate realisation that she walks through the world safely only with the permission of the opposite sex. That there are plenty of places where it is an enormous risk just to be born female.

And it's all before her to find out that for women, there's a punishment for being a victim of someone else's aggression or lack of control. That the world will find a way to make it your fault. To make you pay for what you didn't ask for.

And that's why it's all before her to keep a world of secrets about the things that men have said and done to her.

I thought about all this as she twirled on her lamp-post. I really did.

"Do we have to talk about this now?" I asked her. "It's a beautiful morning."

And she shrugged, and I suggested an ice cream, and I bought some time.

And perhaps time is what's going to make the difference to my daughter and the next generation of women who will grow up in a world changed forever by #metoo.

Maybe my fears of what's ahead for her are based on my own. And maybe the very story she's asking me about - and the many others like it - is a sign that things will never be the same. Because for all the tawdry misery of the Luke Foley story, my daughter will grow up only knowing a world where wealthy and prominent men have been forced from their jobs in numbers for behaving exactly as they always had.

And she will always be backed by an army poised to push those men into the light, and millions of women's stories along with them.

Maybe what's really ahead of my daughter hasn't been written yet.

Listen to the latest episode of Out Loud here:

Do you feel hopeful about the future for young girls in a post #metoo world? 

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