Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence

3 Dec

1.

I am six. My babysitter’s son, who is five but a whole head taller than me, likes to show me his penis. He does it when his mother isn’t looking. One time when I tell him not to, he holds me down and puts penis on my arm. I bite his shoulder, hard. He starts crying, pulls up his pants and runs upstairs to tell his mother that I bit him. I’m too embarrassed to tell anyone about the penis part, so they all just think I bit him for no reason.

I get in trouble first at the babysitter’s house, then later at home.

The next time the babysitter’s son tries to show me his penis, I don’t fight back because I don’t want to get in trouble.

One day I tell the babysitter what her son does, she tells me that he’s just a little boy, he doesn’t know any better. I can tell that she’s angry at me, and I don’t know why. Later that day, when my mother comes to pick me up, the babysitter hugs me too hard and says how jealous she is because she only has sons and she wishes she had a daughter as sweet as me.

One day when we’re playing in the backyard he tells me very seriously that he might kill me one day and I believe him.

2.

I am in the second grade and our classroom has a weird open-concept thing going on, and the fourth wall is actually the hallway to the gym. All day long, we surreptitiously watch the other grades file past on the way to and from the gym. We are supposed to ignore most of them. The only class we are not supposed to ignore is Monsieur Pierre’s grade six class.

Every time Monsieur Pierre walks by, we are supposed to chorus “Bonjour, Monsieur Sexiste.” We are instructed to do this by our impossibly beautiful teacher, Madame Lemieux. She tells us that Monsieur Pierre, a dapper man with grey hair and a moustache, is sexist because he won’t let the girls in his class play hockey. She is the first person I have ever heard use the word sexist.

The word sounds very serious when she says it. She looks around the class to make sure everyone is paying attention and her voice gets intense and sort of tight.

“Girls can play hockey. Girls can do anything that boys do,” she tells us.

We don’t really believe her. For one thing, girls don’t play hockey. Everyone in the NHL – including our hero Mario Lemieux, who we sometimes whisper might be our teacher’s brother or cousin or even husband – is a boy. But we accept that maybe sixth grade girls can play hockey in gym class, so we do what she asks.

Mostly what I remember is the smile that spreads across Monsieur Pierre’s face whenever we call him a sexist. It is not the smile of someone who is ashamed; it is the smile of someone who finds us adorable in our outrage.

3.

Later that same year a man walks into Montreal’s École Polytechnique and kills fourteen women. He kills them because he hates feminists. He kills them because they are going to be engineers, because they go to school, because they take up space. He kills them because he thinks they have stolen something that is rightfully his. He kills them because they are women.

Everything about the day is grey: the sky, the rain, the street, the concrete side of the École Polytechnique, the pictures of the fourteen girls that they print in the newspaper. My mother’s face is grey. It’s winter, and the air tastes like water drunk from a tin cup.

Madame Lemieux doesn’t tell us to call Monsieur Pierre a sexist anymore. Maybe he lets the girls play hockey now. Or maybe she is afraid.

Girls can do anything that boys do but it turns out that sometimes they get killed for it.

4.

I am fourteen and my classmate’s mother is killed by her boyfriend. He stabs her to death. In the newspaper they call it a crime of passion. When she comes back to school, she doesn’t talk about it. When she does mention her mother it’s always in the present tense – “my mom says” or “my mom thinks” – as if she is still alive. She transfers schools the next year because her father lives across town in a different school district.

Passion. As if murder is the same thing as spreading rose petals on your bed or eating dinner by candlelight or kissing through the credits of a movie.

5.

Men start to say things to me on the street, sometimes loudly enough that everyone around us can hear, but not always. Sometimes they mutter quietly, so that I’m the only one who knows. So that if I react, I’ll seem like I’m blowing things out of proportion or flat-out making them up. These whispers make me feel complicit in something, although I don’t quite know what.

I feel like I deserve it. I feel like I am asking for it. I feel dirty and ashamed.

I want to stand up for myself and tell these men off, but I am afraid. I am angry that I’m such a baby about it. I feel like if I were braver, they wouldn’t be able to get away with it. Eventually I screw up enough courage and tell a man to leave me alone; I deliberately keep my voice steady and unemotional, trying to make it sound more like a command than a request. He grabs my wrist and calls me a fucking bitch.

After that I don’t talk back anymore. Instead I just smile weakly; sometimes I duck my head and whisper thank you. I quicken my steps and hurry away until one time a man yells don’t you fucking run away and starts to follow me.

After that I always try to keep my pace even, my breath slow. Like how they tell you that if you ever see a bear you shouldn’t run, you should just slowly back away until he can’t see you.

I think that these men, like dogs, can smell my fear.

6.

On my eighteenth birthday my cousin takes me out clubbing. While we’re dancing, a man comes up behind me and starts fiddling with the straps on my flouncy black dress. But he’s sort of dancing with me and this is my first time ever at a club and I want to play it cool, so I don’t say anything. Then he pulls the straps all the way down and everyone laughs as I scramble to cover my chest.

At a concert a man comes up behind me and slides his hand around me and starts playing with my nipple while he kisses my neck. By the time I’ve got enough wiggle room to turn around, he’s gone.

At my friend’s birthday party a gay man grabs my breasts and tells everyone that he’s allowed to do it because he’s not into girls. I laugh because everyone else laughs because what else are you supposed to do?

Men press up against me on the subway, on the bus, once even in a crowd at a protest. Their hands dangle casually, sometimes brushing up against my crotch or my ass. One time it’s so bad that I complain to the bus driver and he makes the man get off the bus but then he tells me that if I don’t like the attention maybe I shouldn’t wear such short skirts.

7.

I get a job as a patient-sitter, someone who sits with hospital patients who are in danger of pulling out their IVs or hurting themselves or even running away. The shifts are twelve hours and there is no real training, but the pay is good.

Lots of male patients masturbate in front of me. Some of them are obvious, which is actually kind of better because then I can call a nurse. Some of them are less obvious, and then the nurses don’t really care. When that happens, I just bury my head in a book and pretend I don’t know what they’re doing.

One time an elderly man asks me to fix his pillow and when I bend over him to do that he grabs my hand and puts it on his dick.

When I call my supervisor to complain she says that I shouldn’t be upset because he didn’t know what he was doing.

8.

A man walks into an Amish school, tells all the little girls to line up against the chalkboard, and starts shooting.

A man walks into a sorority house and starts shooting.

A man walks into a theatre because the movie was written by a feminist and starts shooting.

A man walks into Planned Parenthood and starts shooting.

A man walks into.

9.

I start writing about feminism on the internet, and within a few months I start getting angry comments from men. Not death threats, exactly, but still scary. Scary because of how huge and real their rage is. Scary because they swear they don’t hate women, they just think women like me need to be put in their place.

I get to a point where the comments – and even the occasional violent threat – become routine. I joke about them. I think of them as a strange badge of honour, like I’m in some kind of club. The club for women who get threats from men.

It’s not really funny.

10.

Someone makes a death threat against my son.

I don’t tell anyone right away because I feel like it is my fault – my fault for being too loud, too outspoken, too obviously a parent.

When I do finally start telling people, most of them are sympathetic. But a few women say stuff like “this is why I don’t share anything about my children online,” or “this is why I don’t post any pictures of my child.”

Even when a man makes a choice to threaten a small child it is still, somehow, a woman’s fault.

11.

I try not to be afraid.

I am still afraid.

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The author, age 7

 

1,238 Responses to “Being A Girl: A Brief Personal History of Violence”

  1. Diane April 19, 2016 at 8:30 pm #

    Last night, my fierce, feminist 23-year-old daughter called me because a situation had come up at work and she didn’t know how to handle it. A man came into her place of business and asked her out for a drink. She said no and that she had a boyfriend. He wouldn’t take no for an answer. He pushed and pushed and pushed until she felt forced to say yes. She left work 15 minutes early to avoid him and then called me to ask how to deal with the situation. I said that she should say “I have the right to say no so back the “F” off.” She thanked me and said she knew she had the right to say no but couldn’t figure out the way to say it.

    It makes me sad to think that my daughter who can stand up for herself in so many situations didn’t know how to handle a man who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I taught her that she had the right to autonomy over her body and herself – we discussed it as she grew up over and over – and still she struggled with it. I think about all the girls who were never taught that lesson and how they will, or rather won’t, handle just that situation. I was one of those girls. I taught high school and talked to my students over and over about what consent looks like, yet it took me years to understand that in my first marriage, there was rarely consent and I just had to put up and shut up. How many girls grew up like me, feeling like a victim and having that colour every aspect of my life: every decision, every relationship, every moment of every thought. My current husband is a wonderful man. He gets it. He knows that women, just like men, have the right to their own autonomy. Yet, when I talk to him about feeling unsafe walking alone, even in our little town, it surprises him every time. I have to remind him that feeling unsafe is a way of life for most women.

    Thank you for writing this blog post. Thank you for standing up for us. Thank you for getting the word out to men that don’t get it. They may not read this and go “Oh wow, I had it wrong all along!” but maybe, when their daughter or wife or girlfriend or mother or neighbour comes home crying because they were fondled on the bus or raped in the park or worse, they don’t come home ever again, they might remember that someone showed them this blog post and maybe just start to finally understand.

  2. Michelle April 20, 2016 at 3:16 am #

    I’m sorry. I understand where you’re coming from and identify with everything you’ve said here. I hate that these things happen and we’re made to feel at fault. How dare anyone threaten your child! And the people who justify it as being your fault are just as bad. As humans, we should all just try to respect each other. Thank you for pointing out social injustice and for being a voice of feminism when it’s easier to say nothing.

  3. caseyschreyer April 21, 2016 at 12:20 am #

    Reblogged this on Casia Schreyer – Author.

  4. cherry bomb April 21, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    Reblogged this on fleurmach and commented:
    What is your narrative of misogyny? We all have one.

  5. marielise April 21, 2016 at 4:20 pm #

    La petite violence ordinaire.

    Le plus triste, en lisant ce texte, c’est que ca me rappelle certains épisodes de ma vie. J’ai simplement à changer certains mots.

    La honte fait qu’on ne parle pas. La peur de ne pas être cru fait qu’on ne dénonce pas. La colère quand on se fait dire qu’on l’a cherché.

    C’est incroyablement difficile de savoir quoi faire. Quand, comment, à qui… et jusqu’où. C’est un dilemme régulier. À presque 40 ans, je n’ai toujours pas la réponse.

  6. gypsykittylovetree April 21, 2016 at 4:43 pm #

    Reblogged this on gypsykittylovetree and commented:
    I can relate to this.

  7. Chuck April 22, 2016 at 1:07 am #

    I read your words about how you feel when mistreated and abused by these nasty men, and how some people really think there is some way you are responsible.
    I hope you can see them as the cowardly knaves they are. I hope you can stab one someday in a thoughtful and purposeful manner.

  8. Ernie Dunbar April 22, 2016 at 4:23 am #

    Gaaaa!

    As a man who isn’t *any* of that, and can totally empathize with you, I’m filled with rage over this state of affairs.

  9. Lolly April 22, 2016 at 5:32 am #

    Thank you. I’m sure I am not the only woman who can relate to this. Thank you for using your voice. I have been to scared to use my own and you inspire me.

  10. Fox Smoulder April 22, 2016 at 5:45 am #

    <3's You speak the truth.

  11. Kristin Neal April 22, 2016 at 5:58 pm #

    This is powerful, gut-wrenching, and too true. Thank you.

  12. Chris Hamilton April 22, 2016 at 11:04 pm #

    My wife shared this with me. Thank you for taking the time to provide a woman’s perspective on things that most men will never experience. I have a 5 year old girl, and I want to ensure that I always listen to her, stick up for her, teach her to speak up when people are just wrong in their behaviour and generally try to create a world where shit like this does not happen.

  13. Marla April 23, 2016 at 1:56 pm #

    I hope to have your courage someday.

  14. A sympathetic man April 23, 2016 at 4:01 pm #

    I just read this article on a whim from a friend’s Facebook post. Let me first say that I apologize for the behavior of many men in your life. I wish I could say that men don’t do that but many do. Their personal weakness makes them feel like they must take power away from others.

    I hope that writing about it and getting your voice out there allows for you to find your own strength and that it helps you prevent those men’s attempt to take away your power.

  15. John Stewart April 23, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

    Thank you for writing this story. Only through such accounts can we educate others and someday break the chain of violence. Thank you for your bravery and humanity. Thank you for being you. Thank you.

  16. Jake April 23, 2016 at 9:39 pm #

    How dare men get angry that sniveling passive aggressive dishonest professional victims paint the male gender as monsters.

  17. Robin April 23, 2016 at 10:37 pm #

    I am a man. I have great respect for women, all women. I hate that my gender has so little appreciation for women and their right to be treated in every way as our equal. Even though we live in one of the world’s most advanced cultures when it comes to female/male equality, we have a long way to go.

  18. Cara Winter April 23, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

    Dear “Belle Jar”,

    I’ve never read your blog before, but a friend shared your post “Being a Girl” on Facebook, and it moved me tremendously. I’m a playwright and screenwriter, and I feel like this post could work as a sad, beautiful and compelling (maybe non-linear, maybe “art house”) film.

    If you’re at all interested in letting me adapt, or collaborating on a screenplay together, or even if you’re just curious as to how that might ‘work’… I’d love to hear from you.

    All best,
    Cara Winter
    http://www.cara-winter.com

  19. Coree Calkins April 24, 2016 at 6:42 am #

    This is one of the most poignant, meaningful, and beautiful pieces of writing that I have ever read, and I have a degree in English literature. I hope it gains recognition and is shared by both women and men on a global scale.

  20. allycanales April 24, 2016 at 11:21 pm #

    Reblogged this on Ally's Blog and commented:
    speechless

  21. jnaples32 April 25, 2016 at 1:23 am #

    Now all men are hated by the women on this thread, because of the acts of a few. This isnt awareness, its a pose’.

  22. Shane April 25, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    I am saddened to hear all of your experiences with men are negative and all you can see in men are bad things. I am also saddened that you have not one good thing to say about any men. I being a single male over the age of 45 have met many women and heard negative stories and I must say that it does disturb me.

    but what also hurts is being classified as a bad person by women whom can only see the bad in things … and yes it has happened. that is why I am making the statement.. I hold doors open for ladies and help them in any way I can. one time I was scolded very abruptly. trying to be nice holding the door open for a lady and was yelled a t”I can open the “f”n door myself”. so I just walked away and stopped holding the door open for a while for fear I would upset another woman.

    I have also had several women that I have dated that have ended up cheating on me and blaming me and saying I worked too much…(in order to pay for the rent and food).. and because they thought I was cheating on them…. I have not and will not ever disrespect a woman I am seeing or being intimate with.

    this one time I walked into a bar and a woman walked up to me and grabbed my crotch and all I did was stand there.. did not know what to think or to say. but it happened. another time I went and asked a woman to dance and was told to “F” OFF..

    as for people that can not accept your thoughts, comments, and opinions. and makes threats towards yourself or your family are people of what I would presume as too easily angered by ignorance . some people are self absorbed and narcissistic.. and I fear it seems to be getting worse in some regards.

    I do not accept that all women are like this, and will not accept that. and believe that there are good people, and not so good people.

    the choice is mine to believe there is still good people out there.

    P.s. I wish you the best of luck in finding those nice, and good people.. especially men if you choose.

  23. Mikala April 25, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    Thank you posting this! We woman still need to continue to stand up and hold our place with no restrictions! Stay strong and proud!!

  24. GMC April 25, 2016 at 5:47 pm #

    What country is this I pray it is not the USA. IT is hard to believe this could happen anywhere

  25. Chris Danyluk April 25, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

    This is powerful…..and too true….and so hidden…..how many others suffer in silence and to even greater degrees??? You are brave and strong…thank you for your honesty.

  26. Graybird April 25, 2016 at 7:35 pm #

    I’m so sorry for this. All of this. This made me cry so hard. I can’t even bring myself to be angry anymore. It all just makes me want to cry.

  27. intergalaticspambox April 25, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

    Reblogged this on intergalaticspambox and commented:
    A must read

  28. Mika Liss April 25, 2016 at 11:42 pm #

    This. Thank you for this post, which articulates what the mainstream press won’t: there is a war on women. Why did the press not say who was killed at the “Trainwreck” movie or say “we’ll never know the reason he picked this film?” They knew exactly why. Planned Parenthood? They tried to reframe that as a “mentally disturbed loner.” If the press showed the continued pattern of women being targeted and killed, maybe we’d be more outraged. Maybe we’d see there is a pattern. Maybe we wouldn’t be so silent.

  29. J.Stunkard April 26, 2016 at 3:49 am #

    Reblogged this on Have Faith Everyday and commented:
    Some days I just read a post that is just that good, that true, and must be shared. This post is reblogged from The Belle Jar.

  30. Michelle April 26, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

    Thank you. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Michelle April 26, 2016 at 11:49 pm #

      Your very welcome! Wish I could have saved a copy . How do I do that ? Never told that story before Im now 50 years old!!

  31. R April 26, 2016 at 6:23 pm #

    This echoes many of my own experiences. You are doing the right thing to speak up. We all must speak up, for ourselves and our sons and daughters. It is hard to break the wall of fearful silence we let enclose us but without our raised voices we will never be heard or bring about change.

  32. Tara April 26, 2016 at 8:18 pm #

    I love you for sharing your story…
    Try to not be afraid…. You’re not the only one….

  33. Kisha April 26, 2016 at 8:23 pm #

    This is completely terrifying! I have a little girl and I pray I will always keep her safe! I hope I teach her to speaking up for herself no matter the cost and that nobody has the right to touch her without her permission! I thank God I haven’t had transgressions such as these but I know my mom and sister-in-law have. So I know it is so very real and possible! These stories make me want to fight for others and protect them. Thank you for being brave enough to write this! Please don’t ever let anyone get away with anything ever again! Be strong, be vigilant, be bold, be a hero!

  34. Michelle April 26, 2016 at 11:42 pm #

    I have one for you too!! I was 13 and was asked to babysit for a couple on the next street. The night went ok with the kids. I was a quite kid, sure my mother would strongly disagree with that if she was still with us. Lol. He offered to drive me home but didnt park by my house just down the street a bit. When we parked he said he could’nt get the money out of his pocket and asked me to which I thought was strange and scary but I did. I was afraid. When I put my hand in his pocket to get the money there was none he had cut the pocket out of his pants. So I felt his penis. I paniced and ran out of the car and home. I told my mom …she had the cops there asap cant remember the outcome it was 37 years ago. Wish I could say that this was my first experience with not so nice men but it wasn’t at all , started younger then that and that were a lot worse. Im ok, Im strong , my mother did an amazing job. Raised 5 amazing beautiful kids. Wish she was here to see that 🙂

  35. Julia April 27, 2016 at 7:09 am #

    Thank you.

  36. Theresa April 27, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    Courageous. this is important a male colleague insists that women no longer need to be worried about sexism because it’s no longer a problem he sited some longitudinal study

  37. rico April 27, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

    “It begins with bad manners, it ends with random shootings in the streets.” – Evelyn Waugh

  38. Leslie Salas April 28, 2016 at 2:28 am #

    Reblogged this on The Gloria Sirens and commented:
    What life is like for too many of us. This is one story. But it is the story of all of us.

    Be brave. Keep telling your stories.
    We are here. We are listening. We are with you.
    Together, we will make change.

  39. Sylvia Aguilar April 28, 2016 at 3:49 am #

    I want to translate this piece and find a place to publish it, eould you be interested! This is such a powerful piece that relates to the latest women movements in Mexico.

  40. Shekwolaluye April 28, 2016 at 6:31 am #

    Reblogged this on The Budgerigar and commented:
    This really got me teary. Girls dey try walai

  41. Shekwolaluye April 28, 2016 at 6:33 am #

    Honestly, I can relate to this. You’ve so correctly captured this…..I hail thee!

  42. lanotiziasite April 28, 2016 at 7:01 am #

    Reblogged this on oppositore_2016.

  43. ANDK April 28, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    Wow, you touched me with this. I’m sorry all of this happens to you, but I’m so glad we have the internet, because then we can unite, share our experience and work for a better world – together!

  44. ruralvoices225 April 28, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

    Still in the 21 century we are suppressing women why?do we think they are inferior ?The answer is no.She is the creator of this universe and the society .We need to think again and need to think that she is also a human being not the material to be used.Many girl like her are facing the same problem but we are even not able to see them or know them.Kudos to this lady at least she raised the voice against all odds.

  45. Jonathan Mather April 28, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

    S very, very sorry for all the agonies of this strange bardo… Please know that there are well wishing souls garbed as men who send understanding, strength, and blessings…. Had a epifanal moment several years back–visited by the Spirit Of Sophia, introduced to the transcendant wisdom of The Sophic Age….. Our differences are to foster and encourage compassion, spiritual insight, unconditional love– nothing less … Noticed that the 10 ft golden beings that escorted me through my entire “adventure” thru 8 day intensive care experience were not differentiated as man or woman (or as I quietly say to myself–fia….. I like fia because it feels of wildness and nature and purity of soul…. ) Wishing you only the best and sweetest of life……

  46. dangervilletimes April 28, 2016 at 6:21 pm #

    I would like to put you in your place. Your place is anywhere in the world. I wish the whole world was your safe haven. I wish this never had to be a discussion.

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