[content: rape culture, descriptions of sexualized violence]
I remember being sexualized when I was 9. Seemingly harmless, for the uninitiated observer. But it was my first realization that my body wasn’t my own. That grown men laid claim to it. I remember my first kiss–a boy I barely knew but knew enough to know I didn’t like. I remember the second: A next door neighbour. A friend who would go on to grab my tits as I stood talking to my brother, both of us rendered speechless and frozen. A friend who would go on to, in the eloquent words of a powerful monster, “grab [me] by the pussy.” In public. In front of 40 classmates. If anyone cared, no one said a word.
I remember my first time “hooking up” with a guy. He was older–too much older. At a club. I was significantly under age and shouldn’t have been let in. I remember thinking that I felt nothing. Going through the motions. He got my number and texted me relentlessly for two days. I knew, at least, that seeing him would mean doing things I didn’t want to do.
I remember the first time I felt unsafe–in that way, at least. I was thirteen, goofing around with my cousin. Two grown men stopped in their pickup to threateningly scream at us, “Where’s mommy and daddy?!?”
I remember the first time I felt panicked. On a packed bus. A strange man screaming at me because I wouldn’t give him my number or tell him where I worked. I’m 18. No one says a word. I wonder what I’ll do if he is still there, still screaming at me, when we get to my stop. Three stops away. Two stops away. One stop away. He gets off. No one says a word.
I remember the first time I had to lie and claim a boyfriend to get a man to back off. He was twice my age. He followed me, he told me laughingly, across two trains and up into the street.
These are the impersonal times. The times that are easy to talk about. The times I used to bond with women over, shrugging that it’s “just how life is.” Laughing at the absurdity of men’s violence, because reckoning with its effects would destroy me.
I remember the last time I was sexually assaulted. A year ago. On the bus. An old man, enraged that I wouldn’t submit to his manspreading. Playing the “Thighs of Steel” game. I had to get past him to get off the bus. He followed me, trapping me against another commuter and rubbing his dick up and down my ass. Trusting I wouldn’t make a scene. Wouldn’t be the young woman screaming at a nice old grandpa. Even now, I hesitate to call it an assault. It’s so minor. Barely left a mark.
This history of violence. This is rape culture. I have yet to meet a woman who doesn’t have one.
This history of violence normalizes our bodies being the sites of men’s violence, of men’s desire, of men’s rage. This history of violence sets the stage for far worse things. And yet it is this history, for its quotidian nature, that does so much harm. We can’t even talk about it as harm. As violence. It’s just “being a woman.”
How many times did a young me say those words? Shrugging ruefully. As if it’s as inevitable as the weather.
And here’s the thing, all of these times? They were public. They were in public spaces surrounded by people–people who did nothing. People who saw a child, a teenager, a young woman being harassed, being threatened, being violated, and thought nothing of it. It is so normalized. It is so inevitable. Like the weather.