All our lives

January 28, 2012

This post is personal. But just don’t make any assumptions ok? That’s kinda what this post is about. Don’t think about what I’m not saying, because what I am saying is enough. Don’t ask yourself which of these stories are mine, because that doesn’t matter either. Some are and some aren’t but they all could be. That’s the point.

The purpose of this post is to show how people can be subtly (and not so subtly) have their autonomy stripped away. How we are conditioned by many to accept things we don’t want.

She is six or so, sleeping over at a friend of her mom’s house with her. Sharing a room with the son, same age, different expectations. He thought she should be his girlfriend and be in his bed with him so he could kiss her. She didn’t want to. She didn’t know how to say no.

She is 8 or so. A young male family member pushes her head in his lap. She doesn’t know what to do. He lets her go, calling her stupid. She feels guilty, like she did something wrong.

She is 12 or so. All the boys at school huddle and laugh, pointing at her. They nominate one of them who makes a comment about her breasts. She feels small and exposed. She swears at them. They laugh. She is alone.

She is 14 or so, at camp, an older boy, much older boy, shows her lots of attention. She is flattered, tries to be cool, to pretend she could handle it. Shares his jumper as they stand in the cold, but she doesn’t like how he is touching her. She doesn’t trust him. Years later people still talk about (not in a good way) like she had a relationship with him or something.

She 15 or so, get asked out by a guy, bit older than her. She doesn’t like him, turns him down, saying she doesn’t want a boyfriend. A couple of days later she starts a quasi-relationship with someone she does like and the first guy sits her down, demanding to know why she said no to him. She feels cornered, intimidated and didn’t know why she has to justify herself to him. She didn’t understand why he feels any sense of entitlement over her decisions and actions.

She is 16 or so, on the bus, some guy is sitting behind her, fondling her hair. She tells him to stop, he doesn’t. She stands, upset, yelling again telling him to stop. He stands and grabs his sack, saying rude things to her. Nobody on the bus does anything. Another time she is standing on the bus and an old man walks up to her and pushes his crotch against her and she feels like vomiting.

That same year, she is at a party with all her good friends. Everyone has been drinking and most are asleep. A guy she thought was her friend rolls on top of her. She tells him to stop, he doesn’t. She can’t tell anyone because everyone loves him.

She is 17 or so. She and her boyfriend fight because she has male friends and sits next to them and talks to them and stuff. He comes to her house, takes back his gifts to her, breaks them, because he love s her so much. Drives off in a rage. She pleads with him not to leave, she worries he’ll have an accident.

She is 18 or so, a male family member says something which completely objectifies her. She goes from feeling safe and innocent to feeling self-conscious and wary. She feels looked at.

She is 20 or so, a guy she had sex with wants a relationship, she doesn’t. He follows her and her friends to the bar, kicks in the bathroom cabinet and leaves. She feels scared to see him again.

She is 21 or so, at University, out with her friends, drinking. Drinking too much. She ends up in a bedroom with a guy. She can’t remember any of it. Everyone knows they had sex, but he was hot, so they think she’s lucky. It’s all a big joke. She can’t remember any of it. Seeing him makes her skin crawl.

She is 22 or so, gets asked out by a guy who clearly just wants a fling. She turns him down, he asks why. She says she isn’t interested. He asks why again, implying she should be interested, cajoling. She says she no. He is a big guy, former military, he if physically intimidating. He keeps persisting, she says she has a boyfriend, he backs down. She leaves furious that her saying no wasn’t enough, that she had to bring another man into the equation for him to give up.

She is 25 or so, at work, in a room with three male colleagues. They start talking about the female coworkers, which ones they would fuck and which they wouldn’t. They turn their attention to her. She practically snarls at them. They laugh, oblivious. She pulls one aside and despite her nerves she tells him, educates him, why that was wrong.

She is 26 or so, walking alone in the dark. She hears footsteps behind her and feels vulnerable. She stops and waits for the man to pass. She feels silly but better for doing it.

She is 27 or so, home alone. She worries about intruders, her heart pounds and she tries to block out sounds from the street. She resolves to sign up for self-defense classes.

She is 29 or so. At her new job, she gets a call from an ex-colleague. He calls her at every new job she goes to. She hangs up on him. She doesn’t know he always finds out where she is. She hopes he doesn’t come around and pretend to be her boyfriend like last time. She considers if she should call the police.

She is 30 or so, everyday she checks the internet, watches TV and movies and sees images of women in pleasing-to-men positions. Ads selling food making obvious references to women sucking dicks.  Articles listing the hottest ‘fans in the stands’ (always women) at athletic events. Headlines denigrating intelligent women with status, vilifying ordinary women and mothers. Reports of violence committed against women and she is all too aware; That could be me or maybe; That was me. 

To be a woman in this society means being a warrior, not only do you have to be prepared to fight all of your life for your own safety and dignity but for other members of your gender. And you have to learn this early.

These could be my stories, they could be yours or someone you know. Some of them, on their own, might seem innocuous enough, but they are never experienced in isolation. This is effectively, systematic. And these are just a few examples. I wonder if women reading this will be nodding along, able to relate to the stories as things they or someone they know has experienced. I wonder more, what men reading this will think.

 

I feel that I should remind my readers that I am aware that boys and men have similar experiences. I write from my perspective which is female. I write with the knowledge that women are more likely to be subjected to abuse than men but with the compassion that men are also damaged by abuse. I don’t believe that many men would experience all of the above stories but I bet my bottom dollar that many women do and more.

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12 Responses to “All our lives”

  1. Natalie said

    brought tears to my eyes, have experienced so many of the above – 12 years old, the guy on the school bus a few years older than me telling me in front of the whole bus that I have cobwebs over my vagina cos I am such a prude, me trying to hide the tears, having to sit on the same bus as him every day and endure similar comments. Age 16. sleep over at a friends party, a bit to drink, an old boyfriend is back in town from Uni, says there is no room anywhere else and he needs to sleep in the single bed I am in, I say no, fall asleep, wake up and he is in the bed, rubbing his naked penis on my leg, I push him off, wake up again later to the same thing, go and sit in a chair till the morning. and so many more examples and when you put them all together you really see what the impact is, thank you for this post.

  2. Emily said

    Tears to my eyes! Thanks, K!

  3. Thank you for commenting, especially you Natalie for your brave comment. I’m sorry you had to experience that.

  4. Anita said

    This is a powerful read. I’d like to contribute some of my own. Just the worst ones.

    I am about seven. My mother takes my sister (10) and me to a shopping mall so that she can buy the groceries while we look around the shops. My sister leaves me in a pet shop, I peer into the kitten enclosure about a metre from the counter. An old man in sweatpants stands next to me and I notice his erection, never having seen one before. He asks me if I’d like to touch it, and says his niece, who’s my age, sits on his lap and strokes it. Nobody in the shop does anything. I make an excuse and leave.

    I am eight. My friends and I are playing on the primary school grounds next to my house. We see a man go into the girls’ toilets and we yell something about how he isn’t allowed in there. He comes back out with his pants around his ankles and chases us away, holding his penis.

    I am 11 and working a paper round after school. I am still in my uniform. A man stops next to me in his car and asks me if I know where a certain street is. I say I don’t, but he wants to keep talking. He says a girl he knows is starting at my school soon, and asks me questions about the uniform, including what I have to wear under my blouse. I run away once I realise he is masturbating underneath a newspaper on his lap.

    I am 15 and working as a waitress at a restaurant. My middle-aged boss tells me to “Go outside and show your legs and bring in some customers.” He is serious.

    I am 23. It is 2011. I am having Friday night drinks at a work friend’s apartment. The New Zealand operations manager of the company I work for follows me into the bathroom, closes the door before I have even realised what is going on, tries to pin me against a wall and kiss me. I push him off and tell him to get out. I try to make myself throw up in the toilet because I feel too drunk and unsafe.

    I would love to say I turned in each and every one of these fuckers – and that they were punished accordingly – but I didn’t. That probably makes me feel worst of all.

  5. Thank you for sharing Anita. I’m really sorry you had to go through all that.

    In response to the last part of your comment… You’ve brilliantly illustrated my point. In all case, for all of us, these people have done something wrong, illegal and they got away with it. They got away with it for many reasons (they had power, they had anonymity, they had a car..).

    And we’re left with the consequences…

  6. […] Would that Shelley Bridgeman had read this. […]

  7. Karin. This is awesome. As a male, who works hard to not be one of the objectifyers, it has made me realise that men really dont understand the harm they do just as racists can’t see the harm they do.at least those who have best of intentions.I take ownership that I have a way to go to act beyond society’s indoctination of men into the role of abuser and objectifyer.

    Thankyou so much.

  8. Tami said

    Hey K 🙂
    very good post!
    in the end what I have in my mind is a question: How can we change this? It’s such a large thing… Is it possible at all? Is it too big? Is it instinctive, and cannot be changed? Is it socially imposed for so many centuries that it is rooted in humanity and therefore cannot be changed? Somehow I have a feeling one needs to know why it came about, to be able to “cure” it, or to educate society in a different way… thanks for bringing the thoughts up – as it often happens, whenever something bad happens, very likely women just erase it from the memory, force to forget it, just to be able to continue with their life… LG, T

    • Hi Tami
      Thanks for your comment. To be honest when I read your questions I felt this huge sense of ‘where do I start?’ They are big questions and there is not one solution.

      First of all, yes we can change this. It IS possible. It is NOT instinctive. That would be insulting to all the men out there who don’t perpetrate violence or abuse towards women. I don’t for one second believe that all men are ‘born’ with the instinct to demean, abuse and hurt women.

      The events in my post each show different ways that the event could have been prevented. They demonstrate destructive attitudes that some men have towards women. They show that our communities are reluctant to hold men accountable for abusive behaviour and that within patriarchal societies, the rights of women (and woman as human beings) are considered less valuable than the men and their rights.

      Women are raised to be deferential to authority, that appearance and ability to please are what will get them further in life. They are considered less credible, less productive and less capable than men. (I can back these facts up if required)

      We do know how it came about, we know that controlling women and their fertility has been a strategy for male advancement for centuries. We know that there have been advertising campaigns directed at women to make way for men, to convince them that they should want to be in their homes with the latest model washing machine so that they would feel content when they got fired from their factory jobs when the husbands came home from the war. We know that there are ongoing campaigns to make women feel inadequate and insecure so that a ‘cure-all’ product can be marketed to them for profit.

      and we know that people in control don’t like giving it up.

      How do we change this?

      We challenge all injustice, not just gender-based injustice. We challenge those in power. We keep people accountable to collective wellbeing, not just individual wellbeing. We make decisions which are good for children, which are good for parents. We include women in the groups where decisions are made, we fight for representation where we are not represented. We demand satisfactory health care and respectful treatment when we are survivors of crime. We consider our own behaviour, our own words, and when a person from a marginalised group speaks up to raise an issue we damn well listen to them. We try to notice and address our own privilege.

      I weep when I read about the assault on women and their reproductive rights in the USA. Forcing women to experience a vaginal probe so that they can get access to a medically legal abortion??? I weep when I read about war-torn countries where women are subjected to rape as an act of war. I weep when I talk to women who’s lives have been irrevocably changed as a result of the revolting acts by people who they loved. I want to roar in anger when I see these fucking disgusting ads which demean women and our images. I fear for the day my two precious daughters tell me that they think they are overweight. (I fully expect that this will happen one day, despite my efforts to protect them and teach them that they are loved).

      I have days when I just can’t take it any more.

      So my small contribution is to volunteer to help the women affected, challenge the systems which maintain inequity and write this little blog where I try to put words to feelings and thoughts so that other might start to understand that words are not just words, that I don’t just need to get a sense of humour. That THIS STUFF MATTERS.

      and that’s all.

      I’m sorry for ranting and there are days that I feel sorry for my facebook pals who receive update after update from me relating to these topics.
      But this stuff matters. It matters.

  9. Jan said

    Thanks Karin, I feel better about the world knowing you’re out there fighting for change.

  10. […] was moved during the performance. These stories were new to me, but the content they cover was not. I found myself swallowing hard during almost all of the […]

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