Tag Archives: awareness

The F-word and Female Responsibility

There was an ‘incident’ that happened to me recently which made me furious.

Have you ever heard about those stories about groping on Japanese subways? I became aware of this when I was 18 and travelling to Japan by myself for the first time. I had heard that men would often grope Japanese women on trains because the women did not make a scene out of embarrassment. The travel logs never said that western women were groped because they had a tendency to yell at the groper, causing mortal shame for the groping men.

anti-groping

That was when I made up my mind to be that vocal woman. Fortunately, I never had a chance to practice my scream on the Japanese train and I soon forgot all about the risk of being groped. That is, I forgot until a ten year old Indian boy grabbed my boob four years later.

The mere shock made me stop in my tracks, speechless. I was walking with a friend in Colaba, Mumbai, and it wasn’t a crowded street. The Jr. groper had been walking next to us and asking if we would marry him. Then, he briefly cupped my breast, and we both stopped. There was a strange moment where time slowed down. He looked at me expectantly, to see the shock on my face. It was there alright. He had a big grin on his face when I snapped out of it and cuffed him on the side of the head. He took off running as I yelled after him.

I didn’t think it was a big deal. I still don’t. At least he hung around to receive the punishment he expected. It wasn’t very serious, but I’ll tell you what has prompted me to write this blog.

Just last week, while waiting for the bus in Vancouver, I felt something touch my bum. I took my earbuds out, and turned to see a man of about sixty walking past me wearing a sweatsuit and baseball cap. He had shoulder length and scraggly blond hair.
He smiled at me.
This time I didn’t hesitate.
I yelled at him, “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t just touch my butt and walk away like it’s okay!”
I caught up to him.
He picked up his pace, and didn’t meet my eyes but turned and said, “Don’t worry about it baby, I’m an international rock star”.
“It doesn’t matter who the fuck you are. You violated me.” I yelled, so that people across the street could hear.
He started to run away, and I chased after him. I caught up and tried to kick him in the butt, but missed because I was wearing high heels.

I will take this opportunity to mention to the assholes who might be reading this, that I was not wearing slutty clothes (and if I was, it wouldn’t mean that I had less right to be angry).

I continued to yell after him as he ran away. A man who saw the whole thing told me that I should file a police report.
I couldn’t be bothered with that. What was that going to do anyway? I didn’t know who he was and he looked like a generic man who hung around the Gastown pub district at night.

I was fuming and felt violated, but was happy that I had had the presence of mind to yell and chase after the guy. I was glad he got scared and ran away from me…
I wished I hadn’t missed the kick to the ass.

My bus didn’t come either.

So, pissed off and riled up I went back to the pub to wait with my friends for the next bus that would come in an hour. After my unexpected re-entrance and grand proclamation that I had just chased a groper down the street and that my bus didn’t come, my friends and I got into a discussion about female blame and responsibility.

Basically, even though we are taught that rape, groping, and verbal sexual abuse is wrong and we should fight out against it, many women I know have been raised to believe that they have some kind of responsibility for the male attention they receive. Whether this attention is wanted or unwanted, there is something ingrained into society that says that men only react to female sexuality.

For a less-extreme example than rape, take a situation where a girl finds out that a boy she has been friendly with has a crush on her. If this attention is unwanted, I know that the first question that will come up for her and her friends will be “what did I do that made him get a crush on me?”

The problem here is the belief that a woman possesses a dangerous power to seduce, and if she doesn’t control it carefully then men will end up falling for her. It’s something we call “leading him on”.

I know that whenever this has happened to me, I feel as if I can change the way I behave around men to avoid any sort of awkwardness. I immediately start to evaluate and mediate all my male relationships to ensure they stay friendly.

For the more extreme example of rape, let’s think of all the times when a woman has been accused of “deserving it” because of her past sexual history, the way she dressed, what neighbourhood and what time, or how much she had to drink. Thankfully a new dialogue has risen out of some unfortunately extreme cases that got a lot of publicity. The new idea discounts all aspects of female responsibility when a woman falls victim to sexual abuse.

For the people who are aware that women are not responsible for the abuses visited on them by men, there is a new kind of responsibility we must adopt. This is not only the responsibility to educate other women, but the need to educate men. It might be hard to tell the creepy man who is gesturing at you on the bus that it is inappropriate and makes you feel violated, but now you know that it’s not your fault you should think of the next girl or woman he will do this to.

Every time you let something slide (because maybe he’s not actually said anything, or hasn’t touched you, or you’re getting off at the next stop anyway), you’re actually sending a message that it’s okay.
My advice? Use your voice. If you’re in public, tell it to them. If you’re not in public, yell it to the world in some other way.

Also, don’t listen to people who call you a feminist like it’s a bad thing. It means you believe in your rights and will defend them.

My question for you:

Why has Feminism become a dirty word?

Edit: I  just discovered this website, iHollaback! which campaigns against street harassment. There is a space to read and share other stories about this issue.

Advertisements

Tall, Fit, and Blond.

Everything today is telling me I should write this story. From a Sunday morning girl chat in the kitchen to the front page of Reddit, popularity in school has been on the tip of my tongue. Perhaps it’s the yearly ritual of getting dressed up and finding a party to go to that has everyone reminiscing about times past. It seems like Halloween is a time capsule, and we stumble around in costumes trying to find our friends year after year.

But it’s also October, Bullying-Awareness Month, so I’m going to tell you the story of my school years, and my experience with friends and bullies as I grew up.

Elementary School

When I was in elementary school I was a free-spirited and imaginative child. For the first couple of years this was a fine way to be. I would be more than happy to run off by myself and pretend to be a unicorn, and I even had some friends who would join in. I did tend to stand out from the rest of the class due to my relaxed parents who let me dress myself. My classroom had a rule that students had to wear indoor shoes when inside, so I naturally took the opportunity to wear a pair of wooden clogs that couldn’t go outside… every day. The teacher ended up moving my desk to the carpeted part of the room so I wouldn’t make such a racket.

As you might expect children to do, the kids in my class grew up a bit more every year. However, I continued to be happy playing my imagination games and hiding in bushes for the entire lunch period. Eventually as the other kids in my class took to other interests like sports and talking on the playground, they stopped wanting to play with me and instead made fun of me when I brought my hand-made stilts to school, or threw my ball out-of-bounds and told on me when I went to go find it.

My class had 22 kids, and we all stayed in the same class group every year. The bullying became more intense every year and the teachers were not a huge help in preventing it so as a result, a few children switched into the English program or changed schools every year. My parents finally let me change schools when I was 12 after I came home crying and begging to be moved. By the time I graduated from elementary school, that class only had 4 students left.

I had seen enough movies to know that when you change schools, you reinvent yourself and do a makeover to become the cool kid you always wanted to be but knew the bullies wouldn’t let you. I started wearing my mom’s old blue and green eyeliner thick around my eyes and tried to dress like Avril Levine. At this new school, I like to think I made quite the impression dropping into the class halfway through the school year like some badass kid that got kicked out of school for being too cool. Everybody was nice at first, but then I became closer with a couple of girls who were considered less popular. I noticed that I was starting to get bullied again by certain looks I would get from the popular girls like, “Are you really hanging out with her?”

I tried to stop it by ignoring these girls but it was too late. I had been lumped in with their group. So I decided to make the most of it by being friends with them. We had an interesting relationship, because while we were friends I secretly resented them for making me uncool again after all my hard work. This would come out in the form of put-downs and I would say demeaning things when they would do or say something I thought was uncool. I wasn’t a very good friend.

However, the bullying at this school wasn’t so bad. The kids were generally nicer, and although there was definitely a popular and unpopular clique there wasn’t too much interaction between the groups. Despite this, there were three girls in particular who I thought had made it their responsibility to make sure I never became popular or got to talk to the boys I had crushes on.

These were the days of msn. Friends would add total strangers to their accounts because they were friends of friends at a different school. I had a boy on my msn account that I had never met before but was friends with some of the popular girls. We were chatting and he asked me to describe myself. I thought about how to do that and decided to stick to the facts and keep it basic. “Tall, fit, and blond,” I said. Little did I know it was not the boy on the other side of the screen, but the three mean girls. I meant my description to say that I’m taller than your average 13 year old, I’m not fat, and I have blond hair, but these girls thought I was bragging about myself. For weeks after this I would walk down the hallway and the girls would mock me and flip their hair as they pranced past me saying, “I’m tall, fit, and blond.”

While in the past I may have been hurt by their bullying, for the first time I actually knew and believed that what they were saying as they mocked me was true. So I thought, “Yea, I’m tall, fit, and blond and you are a jealous bitch.” Thus began a turning point in my life. The more the girls said it, the more I believed it and my confidence grew. I started hanging out with some of the nice and popular girls and getting close to some of the boys I liked. I was still friendly with my old friends but we no longer hung out at lunchtime. I was starting to become part of the popular crowd although I never fully felt secure with these new friends. Every day I would approach them at lunch, I was afraid they would have changed their minds about me or that the bullying girls would have told them some rumor that would make them hate me.

I tried to be cool by being bad. I made friends with some neighbors a year older than me and we would sneak alcohol from my parent’s liquor cabinet and drink it at the local community center. I even got a boyfriend a year older than me (and in high school) who kissed me on the cheek. I later learned from old friends that they thought I was “so hardcore.” That was not the image I was going for, but seemed to come along with the lifestyle of these grade 8’s who were in high school and thus were “cool.” This is how I graduated from elementary school at the age of 13, growing in confidence but looking for some piece of identity and circle of friends with whom I could be secure.

The summer of 2003

The summers were an interesting experience for me, as a child who has friends outside of school and no longer feels like they have to be on defense all day. I would go to summer camps, play outside with the boys in my neighborhood, and take summer courses. In 2003, I took a sailing course with my older sister. One of the instructors was 16 and I had a total crush on him. I went through puberty early and was almost fully grown into my height of 5″7′ by 13. By acting more mature like my sister and pretending I knew who Ozzy Osbourne was thanks to the amazing Internet, I became friends with this guy. When the course ended, we would hang out and I met his other friends. Here I was at 13, hanging out with a bunch of boys who had already been in high school for 2 years. These guys were pretty alternative and into heavy metal music, so I got into bands like Rammstein and starting wearing all black. I even tried to dye my hair pink, but my mom wouldn’t let me dye it permanently so I would by wash-out pink dye and put it in my hair every day I showered.

By the time high school came around, I was full-on wanna-be-Goth I didn’t quite understand it, but my cool, older friends were into it so I was into it.

High School

I quickly found out that Goth people were not popular in high school, so I made a change in what was probably under a month and became a “baller girl”. If you don’t know what it means, imagine a “wigger” but a girl. It was basically a gangster-inspired lifestyle that happened to include playing basketball, hence the word “Baller”. I showed up to school in a pink velour tracksuit, wore the Lugs boots that construction workers wear, and shaved a line in my eyebrow. I wore orange makeup to look tanned and had a bling P necklace that I stole from an accessory shop.

14 years old and at the height of my popularity

I found my place in a group of the most popular kids in school and fought tooth and nail to stay there. I even had a girl threaten to beat me up because I was a dating a reform-school boy that she liked. Some of the bullies from my first school ended up being my friends, and we would purposely exclude the kids who wanted to join the popular circle of people talking by cutting them out by standing directly in front of them. I was being cruel, but I saw it as “Eat or be eaten”. In private, I was very nice to everyone and honestly harbored no bad feelings toward anybody. But if one of my popular friends were making fun of someone I liked, I would join in the fun because it was more important for me to be popular than to be nice.

I continued in my “hard-core” ways despite no longer being a Goth kid. I would chug bottles of vodka with my girl friends on the weekends and kiss boys at parties. In this way, I took this way further than the popular kids. This lifestyle eventually drew me away from the popular kids at school and I found a partner in crime who could keep up with me. We would go out together in search for thrills and older boys, and instead of being a “baller” I became a bit punk or a bit alternative or a bit gangster depending on the group we were hanging out with.

After that friend left, I suddenly found myself without any close friends at school. Now I was 16, and I felt I had outgrown popularity and would have more luck finding good friends in those kids that I liked but would ignore because they weren’t popular. I found myself a great group of girls and boys and we would hang out in our special spot in the hallway every day. I made some new friends, and got one of my best friends to this day, Leanne. Through this group, I eventually went through the unavoidable growing pains of finding out who I really was when I took away all the labels I had been sticking to myself over the years.

I like what I found underneath.

When I graduated high school I finished with a clear head and a confidence in myself that was hardened and crystallized by years of fighting to prove I was good enough. While I don’t support bullying and feel very sorry for the pain I  caused others, it made me who I am today. I’m tall, fit, and blond, and proud of it.

Note: While I may have come out from the experience of bullying a stronger person, I don’t think bullying should be something kids have to deal with. I am lucky to have a good life, with great friends and a loving family, and this is probably why I managed to stick it out. Many kids and adolescents become depressed and consider suicide, so please stop bullying if you see it. Give support to those who need it and avoid taking out your insecurities and anger on other people, and others will follow your example.