I remember all too well the near constant sexual harrassment that I and others endured at high school. In the course of my grade 8 and grade 9 years (I was aged 12-14 at this time) I endured the following:
- being touched and grabbed on the bum and the breast by boys I hadn’t invited to touch me there, who were touching me only to humiliate me and make me feel bad and to assert their own power;
- having signs posted on my back in classes and in the hallways, the most memorable of which read, “Fuck me gently with a chainsaw!”;
- general rude unsolicited comments about my body to do with the fact that by god I had *breasts* (A-cup, fer gawd’s sakes) and my breasts *moved* when I walked or ran (like any other normal part of my body), also, if I wore a bra, that I was wearing a *bra* and this meant that I was all ready for sex (hmm, might this have something to do with my dislike of bras? other than the uncomfortableness, of course);
- general rude unsolicited comments about my body to do with the fact that I was wearing a menstrual pad and they could see that through my clothing and did I like having something touching me “down there”;
- general rude unsolicited suggestions that what I really needed was a good fuck, or to suck them, and that would make me happy; and so on.
At the time I walked around in a state of near-constant baffled suppressed rage, ignoring everybody and jumping down everybody’s throat (whether they were nice or not) if they tried to talk to me, because they might just be pretending to be nice so they could get close enough to harrass me some more, as happened when I started receiving “love notes” from a boy, and then a phone call at home which quickly turned to “You have great tits.” and similar not particularly complimentary comments. However true that might have been (and fer gawd’s sakes, I was 13 and had not much in the way of breasts one way or another), it was still unwelcome, and the choice of language used didn’t portend respect or hope for a relationship. I just hung up, and then endured being teased about how so-and-so “liked” me and I was mean not to go out with him for the next two weeks.
I didn’t tell my parents about much of this because I knew that even though they loved me fiercely they were ineffectual on the topic of bullying, having both been bullied as kids themselves, and knowing about my bullying just brought that back for them. Their saddened advice was always just to ignore them and not give them the satisfaction and eventually they’d go away. But this didn’t address the fact that a) it was impossible to really ignore them when they were touching me without somehow giving them tacit permission to do so, b) I didn’t really know and neither, I think, did they what ignoring them really meant (not reacting outwardly? not hearing them at all? walking right past them when they’re taunting you? avoiding the places where they would be and where the harrassment would occur?) and c) ignoring them didn’t work and they didn’t go away. They just tried harder and harder to get a reaction to know that they’d won.
In fact, in putting the pieces together now from a more educated feminist perspective, my weirdness and antisociality in high school is pretty understandable. And you know? I wasn’t over-reacting, or making much of something that didn’t matter. It mattered. It matters now and it’s still happening. The more I learn the more I get actually seriously angry. But it’s a very freeing anger. The anger of my teenage years was often anger at myself for doing something wrong that made the harrassment happen, or for not being able to make it stop, which is a very hard anger to live with.
I just want to add to all of this, perhaps defensively (I acknowledge), please don’t comment with some dismissive comment about how you would have done this or that or the other and the situation would have disappeared *poof* and that’s what I should have done. You know, when I was a shy, lonely, harassed 12-14-year-old. I get that there are reasons I was harrassed more than some people and was more sensitive to it (or perhaps the word is “conscious”) but that doesn’t make it my fault, or okay. The idea that every young woman has to have superior harrassment-evasion techniques mastered by the age of 12 or she deserves what she gets is ridiculous and only comes out of the fact that we take it for granted that young men will sexually harrass them, as unpredictably but inevitably as the rain. This attitude releases them from all responsibility.
Also, boys, I would just like to give you this gift when wading into feminist arenas/debates/spaces. It will serve you well. Just remember the following: If it’s not about you, it’s not about you.