I’m 30 now and live in England. I’d never really thought about the experiences I had at school as being sexism, until I started reading the entries here and then read your book. It’s made me examine how those experiences have shaped me and affected me.
I was often touched or groped by boys, but was made to feel that it was a positive experience, that if you weren’t gaining male attention you were worthless. Sometimes boys would undo your bra or lift your skirt right up over your head. They’d laugh and if you didn’t laugh you were just a stupid frigid bitch, or some other disgusting slur.
I grew up thinking that my entire worth came from male attention. I was suckered in by society- this didn’t come from my upbringing or my family, that’s for sure. I internalised it all and felt I’d failed as a person if I wasn’t whistled at in the street, if no one noticed me, if I didn’t get a “cheeky bum squeeze” whilst out in a club. I started to market myself as “not like other girls” or “one of the guys”, which now makes me sad, although I’m learning to forgive my younger self as it definitely wasn’t her fault.
Even my sexual identity has been screwed up by men. I’m bisexual, but in my teens and early twenties I was told I was confused, or just doing it for attention, made to feel like my sexuality was out of my hands and didn’t exist. I found it hard to explore the side of me that fancied women as some really were just out to titillate their boyfriends and I’ve often get to the point of kissing only to be disappointed. I started to doubt myself and gave up to an extent. Maybe bisexuality is just being greedy or confused, I’d think. (Now I realise that’s bullshit, you can’t help your attractions and I definitely fancy women!)
As I got older I started to push back against the bullshit. I’ve been called a bitch, told I’m angry, shamed for telling guys to back off when they touch me or say things I don’t like. Well, yes I am angry! I was in a club with a group of female friends once and this one guy was wasted and kept groping my friends in turn. I told him to back off and he laughed and carried on. I told the bouncer who shrugged. I asked his friends to take their embarrassing friend away and they laughed. So eventually I grabbed him in a restraint hold and dragged him up the stairs and out the door. I then got asked to leave by the bouncer and shouted at by his friends. I refused to leave. Fuck those guys.
The self doubt is still there though. A few years ago I was reeling from the end of a long term relationship and was playing the field, having a bit of fun. I saw this guy I lived near for a bit but then called it off. He was all artsy and sensitive and pretended to be OK with it. One night a bunch of us got hammered round at mine and he was wasted so I said he could crash in my room for a bit until he could walk home. I then went to a girl I was seeing’s place and we had some fun. When I got back he was still there and I was so tired I just laid down next to him and went to sleep- he was passed out and we were friends, I didn’t think twice. I woke up with him holding me face down and raping me. I asked him to stop and he just carried on. I cried and closed my eyes and waited for it to be over then I just went to sleep because I didn’t know what to do. In the morning he denied me saying stop, or the fact that I was asleep when he started raping me. I doubted myself, blamed myself, didn’t call it what it was for months. I felt it must be my fault.
It wasn’t my fault. He was an arsehole. If someone is too drunk/tired/passed out to say yes then there is no consent and it’s rape. I have to keep reminding myself of that. I never reported him and I regret that. I felt too much shame and didn’t want his family, with who I was friends, or our mutual friends to think I was lying or crying wolf.
Sometimes I still feel powerless in this ridiculous world. Then I remind myself that if we all speak out and support eachother we will make more progress. Sexism is different around the world but if we let one thing slide, where do we draw the line?