Reading this post via Carnival of Feminists reminded me of all the ways in which I, and some of my friends, were humiliated during those awkward years of 11-14.*  All these emotions and memories come rushing to the forefront and it seems impossible to type down in any coherent fashion.  But I think it’s important to get this out there – the regular confusion, assaults and resulting shame due to confusion about who is to blame (the self? the aggressor?). 

(triggers?)

First, the physical assaults.  I developed early, starting in late 4th grade.  Not that there was much to see, but there was more on me than others and I got targeted for it.  In fourth grade I think most boys are still pretty oblivious – in any event, I was targeted by other girls in my class, one of whom literally reached out and grabbed the offending growths upon my chest and twisted on several occasions.  I told no one.  The school I went to at the time was very lord of the flies as far as recess goes.  There was in fact a horrific assault upon a friend of mine that I am not up to describing tonight (yes, in 4th grade).

In a different school, different town in 5th grade I was often told that I needed  a bra by my classmates.  My mother, apparently deeply influenced by some Ann Landers’ pencil test thought this was wholly unnecessary and I, having struggled simply to ask for this embarrassing-to-my-10-year-old-self garment, couldn’t tell her why I wanted one, but just continued to beg.  Unsurprisingly, once the training bra was aquired, I got teased for wearing that.  Like everything else I was learning about growing up, you were damned if you did; damned if you didn’t.

Seventh grade I remember this asshat who literally would go around palming girls’ butts, including mine and my friends.  And not just grabbing them, but doing so in a way that his finger snuck in between one’s legs.  To this day, the memory makes me vomit in my mouth a little.  But none of us ever reported him because he was so disgusting we were embarrassed that he had touched us.

Think about that for a moment.  Here we were being assaulted on a weekly basis and we were so embarrassed by the type of the assault, not to mention the person doing it,** that we never did anything about it, other than perhaps do a heads up to try and avoid him in the crowds rushing between classes.  It was some weird mind fuck we pulled on ourselves thanks to the influences of sexism, culture – as if we’d be admitting to being contaminated by him, made impure, by admitting that he had touched us.  I’m pretty confident that asshole went on to more serious assaults.  After all, he had no reason to believe there’d be consequences or any reason why he couldn’t do whatever he damn well pleased to a woman’s body.

The above, by the way, is only a fraction of the physical assaults I incurred during that time frame from fellow students.

Before I had kids, I often thought about these wonderful conversations I would have with my daughter to both build her courage and self-esteem and warn her of all the things my mother never warned me about.  As if knowledge would somehow be a cure-all for the crap in the world.  Then, of course, I had two boys.  So, the focus is slightly different, but even now I am plotting about how to both warn them and give them tools to prevent their own victimization and not to victimize themselves.  The mini-snippets of fight-the-patriarchy factoids have already been slipped into several conversations with BB.

But what I also realize, and it is every parent’s heartbreak, that no matter what I do, I cannot totally prevent someone from being a destructive force on my children.  That is to say, I can do my best to ensure that they grow up in a supportive atmosphere and go to a school that has positive dispute resolution policies, teach them to have confidence, raise them in a safe neighborhood etc., but I cannot completely protect them from assholes.   Nor is their a 100% guarantee of protecting them from things far worse than bullying, sexual or otherwise.  I can only hope that if, good forbid, something happens or starts to happen they will come and tell me about it so I can help stop it.  Due in part to changes in my family during this difficult age I told my parents nothing, but then, even if I had told them, I’m not sure what would have happened. 

But that is a slight tangent on one of the points I was trying to make which is that there is so much crap that kids, and young girls in particular, sexualized by the clothing and toy industry have to juggle, it seems overwhelming.  We want kids to be strong and independent, to not be bullies and not be bullied, sexually or otherwise. But how do we do this? It seems to be everywhere.

Writing this starts to make me ill and overwhelmed.  So I try to remember that despite many hideous events I can put some distance between myself and what happened.  Despite the variety of insults to my person, I would say, comparatively (god, what a weird way to look at it) it was not too horrible (I can’t believe I’m even saying this, but I also know that kids out there have suffered far, far worse, and I don’t want to elevate my experiences beyond what they were) and has clearly, severly affected me. But it is at a distance now. 

It reminds me of a time in college when I and my friends were discovering feminism and were angry and bitter.  It sucked being angry and bitter.  And so, to survive, or whatever, I distance myself from my anger a little because to be angry all the time is to let the assholes win.  Perhaps this is a copout.  And I’m not saying one shouldn’t get angry and take action.  But I think it’s necessary to cling and nourish the happy things, too, or what is the point.

This is pretty incoherent.  I hope to work through this stuff in some more coordinated fashion in future.  Right now, they are still just gangly thoughts.

*There were of course other humiliations at other ages – the sexism changes form, but the content is basically the same on one level or another.

**I’m not sure what made him so disgusting, aside from his revolting behavior.  He was extremely unpopular in a greasy sort of way, but nothing else specific comes to mind.***

***Side note, this reminds me of another memory from that same junior high: donny __, mr. popular, checking out the legs of some of the popular girls by rubbing up and down their legs to make sure they were shaved smooth.  Ugh.  It was a literal fembot sexification exam in the hallway outside geography class. In some ways it was no different than what the ass-grabber was doing, except it was consensual in some fashion.

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