children

Too Young

When I was nine years old, my mom decided to sign me up for an art class. At the time, I was living in a small town where everyone knew everyone and everyone was very religious. At first, the class went really well, I was privately taught by this man in his apartment the basics of watercolour painting, which I was really good at. After a month of that, my teacher suggested moving me from my Tuesday class to ‘The Sunday Class’ (aka the “big girls” class). I was crazy excited and couldn’t wait to tell my parents. I was the youngest in the class of all girls between the ages of 14 and 16. This class was madly different; first of all, we were working with big canvases rather than pieces of paper. Next, we were using oil paints (a media I had no experience with). And lastly, I wasn’t alone – which would make you think that I should, in theory, be safe, right? Wrong!! What I didn’t realise about this man was that he had major anger issues triggered by the smallest disturbance and was a perfectionist. So me, being a nine-year-old, inexperienced, jokester that I was became his new target. I say “new” as something strange about his class was that he would take registration every lesson, and I always noticed that a girl on the list never showed up and the others were oddly quiet about it. In my second lesson, I hade become friendlier with the girls in the class and started joking around while we were painting. This didn’t go well as my teacher got furious and told me not to get distracted – I was shocked but didn’t think anything of it. In my third lesson, I made a mistake in my painting and was stupid enough to ask for his help, his reaction is why I’m writing here: He proceeded to bring a chair directly behind me and then wrapped his arms around my chest. He then started to squeeze and didn’t stop until I could barely breathe. From there, he held his position and rested his head on y shoulder where he then started to whisper in my ear how much of a failure I was and that I would never be anything in life, also saying that I was an ungrateful little girl who was wasting his money by ruining his canvases and using too much of his paints. I was nine. I didn’t know better and was living in a society where things like that aren’t spoken about. In the country where I’m from there is one line that will explain why I didn’t do anything and why, even worse, none of the girls in that class did anything either for the span of a year that I was going through this: “There are people who are going through worse!” Hearing this, I never thought to complain or waste anyone’s time. I proceeded to go to this class for a whole year (that’s at least 30 days out of my life) where a man, knew he could get the best of me and no one would do anything about it. No one has. The day that it stopped: I came home with my newest painting, that had taken me three months to complete. My parents did the usual, took a picture of me with the painting, told me how talented I was, all that jazz. But, this day was different; I don’t know why, my parents didn’t usually care what we were going through as kids, but something possessed my father to ask me if I was enjoying my classes (I guess the constant abuse had taken its toll on my personality). I, as an uneducated ten-year-old, answered, “I love the girls and my paintings, but I don’t like his hugs,” After I said this, my parents gave each other a look I had never seen before. Then I wasn’t allowed back to my class. We never spoke of it. My parents didn’t do anything with this information. And now I’m living with the trauma. I can’t even be in the same room as oil paint without getting a panic attack. I take Art A-Level now and have no desire to explain to my teacher why I can’t use oil paint or canvases. I just need someone to tell me I was in this situation and there was nothing I could’ve done about it. I need people to educate girls that this happens to everyone no matter their age, dress, etc. I am a modern orthodox girl who has worn skirts that cover her knees and sleeves that cover her elbows for her entire life – don’t tell me it’s my fault. I need men educated on their behaviour and how it affects women well into their adult life – it’s something that never goes away. Basically, I’m pissed. Thank you for reading.

Sian

A mum introduced her 3-month old baby: He’s George, but when he’s crying like this and wanting attention we call him Georgina.

Sexual harassment in elementary school

I’m in grade six and on multiple occasions, I have been sexually harassed and assaulted by multiple boys in my class and threatened to be sexually assaulted. A couple of months ago, my friends and I were playing basketball and he started to make comments about me and my friend’s bodies, saying that we should start shaving, or that we look like sluts in the shorts we were wearing. (Which were regular shorts that I wear often, nothing revealing or crazy tight. None the less he can’t say that at any time, no matter what I’m wearing.) I thought about the one poem by Rupi Kaur about body hair. After we were done playing, I went to bring the ball inside to the gym after going outside. He ripped the ball out of my hands and began chucking the ball at me continuously and kicking at my legs. (The rest of the class was inside and only a couple of students were outside, but VERY far away) I screamed for help, but no one came. He yelled at me saying that all I was was a ho and that I should fuck myself. His exact words: “All you are is a fucking ho made to fuck! You motherfucking pussy! You’re just asking for it! (He meant sex. I’m 11 btw.) One day, I’m gonna shove this ball up your ass! Go and fuck yourself!” I’m very tough, but he is a lot bigger than me and could probably beat me, assault me or rape me. He might not have sexually assaulted me then, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t in a couple of years. He wouldn’t stop hitting me and yelling and threatening sexual assault until I could get away before he could go further. I should have hit him back, but I was frozen while it was happening. I was able to grab the ball from him and throw it across the pavement. He ran after it and I got away. Now that I recall it, many of the other students saw, this happen and did nothing. When I got inside, I was shaking, too afraid to say anything, even though I’m the person that stands up for everyone, I wasn’t able to stand up for myself. I cried throughout lunch, and, my close friends helped me get ice for the bruises from the ball and where he kicked me. Even though I was traumatized, one for the most frightening thing that happened that day was the fact that no one that saw this happen helped me or told a teacher. The rest of the day, he pretended everything was normal, even though it wasn’t. My friends and I told the supply teacher. They did nothing because the boy said that he didn’t do it. Later, he told me to: “Shut my goddamned mouth about it, or else.” I don’t feel safe anymore at school, and this isn’t the first time that it has happened to me and to other girls. I will write more of these as the attacks go on and I will tell my teacher every time that it happens. For the longest time, I was afraid to say anything about the assault. The true-crime was is that I was silent. Never let a man tell you to be quiet about harassment and assault. Don’t let him put words into your mouths! Stay strong, report and speak out about sexism, misogyny, sexual assault, domestic violence and harassment. Also, it’s never too late to report. Don’t let men make you think that no one will believe you, no one will listen, that it’s just better to be silent. Because it’s not. Don’t let them take away your voice. I

V

When I was about 10 years old and heading out of the school building, one of the “cool” guys walked up behind me. I had bent down to tie my shoe or something like that, and he slapped my butt. Just like that. Hard.

Kaye

When I was depressed a few years ago and having serious doubts about my studies and career choices, instead of encouraging alternative careers that suited my skills, goals, and interests, my mother suggested that my calling was to become a housewife and mother.

Lucie

I baby sit my cousins (10 and 7 years old, both boys) every 2 weeks. This time around I wore a top with the batman logo on the front, the 7 year old says “that’s a boys top”, to which I reply “I can wear whatever I want”. Praise the lord Josh (the 10 year old) quickly and loudly agrees and tells his bro, “that’s true! She can!” <3. Unfortunately, Ewan (the 7 year old that before today I would have called a dear relative) then came out with "Don't your friends laugh at you?" Ouch kid. Later on, they got their 2 guy friends from down the road to come over for a bit and they all played together on some lego game on the PS4. Well they didn't all get to play – but that's irrelevant to anyone seeing this it's just i'm still reeling from the pitch of the tantrum. Anyhow. At some point one of these little boys was choosing the skin he wanted his lego avatar to have. When he got to the girl one he said 'ew why would I wanna be a girl'. I still don't know which of the little monsters it was. Later on their dad came home and drove me back to my house, the 2 boys came along too. In the car, the boys told their dad about how I have to wear a suit to sixth form, and then Ewan (7 yr old) told his dad about some story he heard where in some high school the boys weren't allowed to wear shorts even though it was warm, so the boys wore skirts. The dad said "That's silly isn't it". I might live in Britain, but I think China could have heard my passive-aggressive, so-done-with-today, very-disappointed-in-you-uncle sigh. Alas, I wish my less-than-woke day really did end there. Once we got to my house, they all got out of the car to say hi to my parents and brother. We all got talking about what i'd been doing with the boys, which inevitably got onto the topic of PS4 and games. Uncle then engages my brother in a conversation about games on the PS4… My brother doesn't ever correct the fact that the 'family' PS4 has only ever been used by me and my dad. Bro has never played it, but for whatever doesn't correct our uncle and instead just sits there and talks about some games we have that are 'really good'. Again – he's never played them. All in all I got the feeling that bro just didn't want to say to our distant family that he isn't a big gamer for PS4 (he has the xbox) and our uncle didn't acknowledge the PS4 is for me and my dad, despite us talking about some games in the car ride back. I'm still reeling that some of these explicit pro-sexism comments actually happened today, I wasn't expecting it since I thought baby sitting was gonna be a simple break after exam week at sixthform. This was only my 2nd time babysitting though, and as I type this I'm protesting by buying angry feminist books with my babysitting money since i'm pretty upset with myself for not correcting any of this

J

The Topsy and Tim children stories CD has an episode on firefighters. At one point, they discuss whether women can do it. The answer given is, in substance “yes, but they must be as physically fit as the men”. Credit where it’s due: this makes the point that firefighting is a potential career for women. But there is an insidiously (albeit probably unintentionally) sexist message: that men are the point of reference. A woman applying to be a firefighter will have to prove something more than a man would, namely that she is as good as a man. Furthermore, a male firefighter is completely normal; a female firefighter not somuch. So a woman applying to be a firefighter would be trying to go out of the comfort zone of social norms. Not everyone is a born rebel, so this can deter women. A much better way of presenting this would have been to say that there are physical fitness requirements, which all applicants, regardless of gender (or indeed anything else), have to meet. The difference may sound subtle, but it matters. None of this affects me directly: I am unlikely to ever become a firefighter (or indeed a woman). But my 4 year old daughter has been listening to that story…

Michelle

Our next-door neighbour is the father of four boys who visit him once a week. The two youngest play with my son and daughter, dividing their time between our two backyards (but never inside the houses, that’s the rule). Yesterday, after playing for an hour in our yard, they headed next door to watch the two older boys drive a go-cart. My daughter soon came back, in tears. The boys had told her that their Dad doesn’t want girls coming to their house. I don’t know if the boys made this up, or if their Dad really said that. Either way, it was a pretty shitty experience. If he did say that, and excluding my daughter is his way of ‘protecting’ her or himself, then what message are his boys receiving? I vented about it in my online mum’s group, and received lots of replies supporting the dad, and statements along the lines of ‘this is just the way things have to be’. Speaking to the Dad isn’t an option, as he has extreme social anxiety and rarely leaves his house. I called my son back, then explained to the boys that excluding a person because they are a girl is silly, unfair, and mean, and that my kids aren’t allowed to play with families who treat people like that. I didn’t know what else to do 🙁

Ash

When I was no more than ten years old, I was sexually assaulted by a classmate. We were told to stand in a line, and I realized that I had forgotten something at my desk. I turned my back on my peers to go and fetch whatever I forgot and I felt a smack on my bum. I turned around in fury to see three or four boys, all my age, sneering and sniggering. One of them made a grab for one of my breasts, at which point I turned away, went to my desk and then returned to the line (as far away from the offending boys as possible). This enraged me enough, but what shocked me the most was that my (female) teacher saw the entire thing and did nothing but smirk slightly. Bear in mind that this was less that a decade ago. I’ve never breathed a word of this to anyone until now.

Jo

Feeling relief when the pictures in the books I read to my three-year-olds are sufficiently ambiguous to allow me to adjust the narrative, because if I don’t do that they may well grow up thinking that there is some necessity or inevitability for firefighters, police officers, horse-riding royals, doctors and train drivers to be men, and for teachers, stay-at-home parents and nurses to be women.