Archive for sexual harrassment

2 out of ~350

It just occurred to me that one of the odder anecdotes about my life that I don’t think I’ve commonly recounted is that when I was a “troubled teen” with self-harming issues I was, out of the blue, given the opportunity to go to feminist girl camp (for girls 13-17, I think).

It was a couple of days with a bunch of other teenaged girls at a local camp with only a few women mentors. There was a self-defense workshop; the specific methods I remember learning there are actually clearer in my mind than the ones I learned in four years of karate training. There were all sorts of workshops on topics related to self esteem, self confidence, overcoming eating disorders, depression, suicide. There were job and career counselling sessions.

There was some kind of workshop for coming up with a message or greeting to send to the upcoming 4th World Conference of Women, and encouragement was huge to find some way to attend the conference in person – recommendations on finding sponsorship in your community, and so on. It was absolutely assumed that wonderful things would come out of that conference and that it was a given that anyone would want to be there.

There were movies in the evening, a choice of Fried Green Tomatoes and Joy Luck Club, and just lots of sitting around chatting with other girls in a context where our experiences as people were important, were valued, where we were assumed to have interesting thoughts ourselves, where we weren’t assumed to have value based only on what we brought to the table in performed femininity.

All of the girls wandered around in what seemed to be the uniform for the event – loose flannel or cotton knit pyjama pants and loose t-shirts – I can’t remember if this was a recommended ensemble, but I think it was. It gave a pyjama party feeling to the whole thing. There was very little supervision, but there was this strangely earnest quality to the whole event. This was a refreshing break from our day to day lives, and I had the feeling that we, in general, knew how precious that was.

If this sounds a little bit too good to be true, I assure you it felt that way at the time. I wandered through the event shy but strangely outgoing at the same time. I was comfortable in the uniform, comfortable with the company, intrigued by the messaging. Surrounded by young women like myself I felt very free – it was a huge relief from the sexual bullying I was experiencing in school at that time.

And I won’t say that this one weekend changed my life profoundly. How could it, when I had to leave this and go back to my same old life, called a dyke by people who clearly thought that was an insult, threatened with sexually explicit violence in notes taped to my back or my locker or slipped into my binder, verbally and physically bullied in the hallways at school, groped by the asshole whose locker was near mine (and who, strangely, is one of the very few of my graduating class who was dead by our ten-year reunion – I’m still processing that one).

But it was a gift. It was a start. It was a moment. And it was important.

And that’s where we get to the two out of approximately 350, because that’s how many teenaged girls in my school got to go to this event that year. And everyone who didn’t go didn’t get told that there was a women’s conference in China, and that they should go, and that if they went they could make a difference in the world, that they were agents of powerful change in their communities. And that’s too bad.

Comments (2)

It happened then, why is it still happening now?

So I was catching up on my blog reading after a couple of busy weeks when I ran across this post: Lord of the flies, over at I blame the patriarchy. Yeah, too true.

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.

*deep breath*

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.

Comments (13)