I’m writing this blog post as a small contribution to the feminist movement, and to ask myself the question: what is feminism? I am inspired by Scarlett Curtis’s book, Feminists Don’t Wear Pink (and other lies), which “aims to bridge the gap between feminist hashtags and scholarly texts by giving women the space to explain how they actually feel about the F word.” You can find out more about it here.
I attended an event at Cheltenham Literature Festival last Saturday to hear Scarlett and some of the book’s contributors talk about what feminism means to them. It was brilliant. I’m now nearing the end of the book, and I think everyone, of all genders, should read it.
So, here’s my story – a story that came to mind as I read the chapters of Feminists Don’t Wear Pink, and one that I hadn’t realised needed taken notice of, until now.
When I was thirteen, I was groped. Now, before I go on – I want to get something clear.
The word ‘groped’ carries heavy, but real, connotations. I just want to say that my experience was in absolutely no way as damaging and life-altering as what others have gone through, and will continue to go through. My experience is what some may label as ‘small’, as ‘just a joke’ and as something that ‘isn’t really what groping is’.
And, as a thirteen-year-old girl who had a lot of insecurities, I brushed it off as ‘just something that happened.’
But if every girl, if every woman, just ‘gets over it’ every time she’s touched inappropriately, or in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, or embarrassed, then nothing would change. It’s a sad point to say that I reckon most women have been touched in a way they haven’t wanted to be.
Why are we just letting it happen?
A couple of days ago, I read this post on Facebook and I thought, perhaps it is a good idea to speak up about these things.
So, it’s 2010. I’m thirteen. I’m standing in the foyer outside of my form room at school with a group of my friends. It’s coming to the end of lunchtime.
The weather is hot, and we’re all wearing white polo shirts as opposed to our usual shirts, ties and jumpers. My hair is tied back (in a plait or high pony – I can’t remember, exactly). The end-of-lunch bell is about to ring.
Then, in front of us, the door to our form room opens and two boys from my year emerge. I recall that they were of ‘high spirits’, as if finally able to release some pent-up energy they’d been holding onto during their detention.
One of them suddenly lunges towards me. I don’t know why. In my eyes, I’d always been that tall, slightly-dumpy-looking girl with glasses and pale skin. I’d always been the one that no one took much notice of, and one that was happy to sit at the back and not be heard.
But he came straight at me, grabbed my chest for a fleeting moment, and commented something along the lines of,
“Ooh, Amy’s got a good pair.”
And then they left, his friend laughing – as if applauding him for making me feel absolutely mortified in front of my friends.
We were a little stunned, at first. My face turned the bold red colour of my glasses, and I wanted the walls to absorb me.
But what could we do? We didn’t go after them, we couldn’t go after them. So I shrugged it off.
Afterwards, every time I saw that boy (which was a lot, let’s face it – we shared most classes together), every single time I saw him, I remembered what he did and I couldn’t figure out why he did it.
A few weeks passed, and I pushed it to the back of my mind. It wasn’t a big deal. It happens to girls all the time; my friends, other girls at this school, other girls at other schools. No harm.
It doesn’t matter.
I think it was later that year (although I’m not sure of the exact timings), when this boy struck again. This time, quite literally.
I was packing up after a Geography lesson, putting my pencil case and notebook in my satchel, and picking my coat up from the back of my chair, when I felt someone slap me from behind.
I jumped and turned around.
He was laughing. Of course he was, I thought. I’m an unattractive girl, and he is taking the mick.
But this time, a teacher saw. I didn’t know if this was a good thing, or a bad thing, to be honest. I wanted to get out of that room as quickly as possible so I couldn’t be embarrassed any further.
But the teacher kept us behind.
“I thought she was someone else,” the boy said, as if this was a good enough excuse.
I can’t remember the outcome of this, or even whether he got a punishment for it, but he was made to apologise, and that was that.
Of course, it is not all boys/men who may act this way / make bad decisions when it comes to treating girls/women with respect. I know this. We know this. Everybody knows this. I know plenty more amazing, intelligent, thoughtful, generous, kind men who’d stand right alongside my point, here, and who would be more than comfortable in answering the question, what is feminism? In no way am I ‘shaming’ a particular gender, but rather questioning how we are influenced, how we grow and how we decide what to accept as normal, and what to accept as wrong.
In fact, I’d like to pause for a second and quote Scarlett Curtis from Feminists Don’t Wear Pink…
The sad fact is that we’ve all been socialized from birth to accept sexism as a part of life and, as a result, women can actually be just as sexist as men. Institutionalized sexism (we like to call it ‘the patriarchy’) hurts men as well as women. It tells men that they aren’t allowed to show emotions, that they have to be successful and powerful in order to succeed, and that they aren’t allowed to like the colour pink!
What I’m trying to say with my anecdotes is that something must be going wrong in our society for it to be okay for me to brush these things under the carpet, just because it happens to loads of other girls/women. These experiences have stayed with me for the past eight years, even if subconsciously, and have in some way influenced the way I feel about myself and my body. Meanwhile, this boy (who may or may not have known any better – again, another clue that there must be something going wrong) is now a man, and has probably completely forgotten about these particular instances.
But why do we have to wait until someone is sexually abused or assaulted for this sort of behaviour to be noticed? Why are these somewhat ‘small’ acts of demoralisation brushed aside and labelled as ‘boys being boys’? In fact, when I think about it, these attitudes are quite disturbing.
We’ve been grabbed and slapped, pinched and groped. We’ve had cars and vans beep at us, their passengers shouting comments as we walk next to a main road. We’ve had our appearances commented on, our weight commented on. We’ve been called ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’ and ‘love’ by men who are older than us, by men we don’t even know…
All because we are girls.
It horrifies me to know that others have gone through, far, far, far worse acts than these.
And all I can say is,
Is it something that we are taught from birth? To let these things just happen, to let them pile up and up and up until our inferior presence is built?
I’m sorry, but no, this can’t go on.
It would mean a great deal to me if you would very kindly share this post with others. Please comment your thoughts if you wish to, but please do so mindfully. Perhaps you have a story of your own, and wish to tell it? Perhaps you’d like to answer the question what is feminism? That’s great; let me know when you do. Let’s bring these things to light.
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