At age 10, I watch movies about damsels in distress being saved by handsome heroes. I dream about the man who will rescue me from the clutches of mediocrity. I plan our wedding in my pink and green journal with the lock. I am told that he won’t be driving a white van, and he won’t be offering me lollies.
At 11, an empty bus pulls up beside me on my walk to school. It has Not In Service written in lights on the front. The driver opens the door and asks if I need a lift. I live close enough to my primary school that I don’t need to catch a bus, so I thank him and tell him I am happy walking. He is persistent, and follows me with the door open as I keep walking. Eventually, he drives away. As I round the next corner, he is sitting there waiting. As I approach, he leans out of the door and asks “are you sure? You can sit anywhere you like.”. My school is 500 metres away and again I refuse. He stays stationary, watching me, until I walk out of sight.
At 12, my nicknames refer to my body. I am the smallest in the grade, boy-ish in form and figure. I am called a walking blow job, and, with a name like Ruby, my not-yet-formed breasts become the object of critique.
At 13, I am attending a performing arts high school for drama. My friend’s father wants to enter Tropfest and allocates all of the parts to his youngest daughter’s friends. I am the lead. Most of the time I am asked to lie on the floor as he towers over me, his great bulging belly and his fat neck shadowing my face. He directs me to stare into the camera’s eye without blinking for as long as I can. I do this in lots of places. At a cemetery, on the beach in my swimming costume. None of these shots make it into the 10 minute film, but I remember repeating them again and again because I kept blinking.
Months later, he asks if I want to film a music video with his daughter. We’re in our bikinis and dancing to Beyonce on the side of the pool. We oblige, because we are young, and the idea of a movie is glamorous. I am, after all, studying drama.
I never see the footage.
He takes me to auditions at theatre companies. He believes in me. Can you believe it?! This man is so connected to the theatre world! He really believes in me!
Years later, I call the police about it. I hear he’s dating an 18-year-old girl. They say that unless I have evidence, they cannot investigate. I ask how they can arrest someone for the intent to sell drugs, but can’t investigate someone for intent to molest children.
At 14, the church tells me that my body can be a stumbling block for men. I am told to put a t-shirt over my swimsuit on church camps, and to make sure my shorts sit below my hands when I stand up straight so that I don’t tempt men to lust after me. Only men lust. Women are not sexual creatures. One boy tells me a girl’s smell turns him on, so I no longer spray my mother’s perfume on my neck on Sunday mornings.
At school, boys start sending pornographic images from phone to phone. Some of them are of girls we know.
At 14, I sit on the beach with some friends and a football team we met earlier in the day. The boys are lighting fireworks and drinking beers, and the four of us sunburnt girls are huddled together by the fire, feeling the surge of excitement that comes with doing something illegal at a young age.
One of the young men leans in and says, “Wanna go in for a rape charge boys?”, nodding over at the four of us. Nobody gives him the enthusiastic reply he was hoping for and he mopes off. I see a girl holding high heels and leaving his cabin the next morning.
At 15, 1 in 6 of my girl friends have already experienced abuse.
At 15, a boy at school shoves a wooden dildo up my skirt, poking my bottom. I turn to him with shock, expressing clear discomfort.
“You mad?” he says, grinning. “Come on babe, give me a slap”. He turns his cheek towards me with a wink.
Without thinking I clench my fist and swing a hit. “Fuck off,” I spit.
My skirt’s too long. My skirt’s too short. Roll it up. Unroll it.
At 16 I am told that women are not allowed to preach in church, unless they are only preaching to women. A woman could be a stumbling block up on stage, wearing tight jeans like that. And anyway, women can’t interpret the Bible in the way men can. We’re equal, we just have different roles to play. You have to be submissive wives.
But hey, actually, while you’re here, do you mind being on the roster for morning tea and baking a few cakes?
At 16, I start holding fake phone calls as I walk home from school. At night time, I look for houses with warm, inviting light, in case I need to run in and pretend it’s my home if I’m being followed. I cross the street every time I see a figure walk towards me.
My body starts to curve. “Good body. Shame about the face.”
At 17, I learn how to navigate ‘everything but sex’ with men who treat me with kindness and respect. But because I don’t have sex, I am deemed a frigid by my peers. By religious standards, I’ve gone too far and God is condemning my sexual expression and I am destined for eternity in hell unless I repent. Sex is the most intimate thing I can do with someone, and I should see these men as my brothers. I am desperate for both social and spiritual approval.
At 18, I enter the clubs. I am repeatedly groped at the bar, in the queue, on the dance floor. Men slide up against me to get past in a busy room, close enough to feel the bulge in their pants and their breath down my neck. “Give me a smile, won’t ya honey?”.
At 18, I walk to train stations by myself and I carry my high heels so I can run faster if I need to escape.
At 19 I discover that women masturbate, but am too scared to try myself. My body is not my body.
I go overseas and am stalked by an older man online. He sends me waves of emails, all of which go unanswered. I delete my blog, hide my Facebook, delete my Instagram. He still appears occasionally.
Eminem’s new song Love Game, featuring Kendrick Lamar, plays on the radio:
Snatch the bitch out her car through the window, she screamin’ / I body slam her onto the cement, until the concrete gave and created a sinkhole / Bury this stink ho in it, then paid to have the street re-paved.
At 20, I keep a notebook with all the times I’ve been catcalled in the street. I write down what they say, where I am, what time it is. I am shocked that most of the time it’s during the middle of the day, on a busy street, when I’m walking to work or class or out to lunch with a friend. I have an entry at least once a week.
I don’t write down what I’m wearing.
Eventually, I give up documenting it. What’s the point?
At 21, I meet a man in Thailand one morning. That afternoon, someone asks if he’s my boyfriend. He proudly claims that he is, despite clear signs from my end that he is just a new friend. He rapes my drugged body later that night and tells me I was wet, so I must have wanted it. I am a virgin.
Sex is not the most intimate thing I can do with a person.
Women are not hands for DudeBros to wank with.
I’m 21 and it’s 2015 and only 5.75% of chairs and CEOs in ASX200 companies are women. Men are smarter, more capable. Women have different strengths. Thankfully we’re great at spreading butter and jam on a slice of bread and calling it a sandwich.
At 22, I report my rape to two men in a small room with the door closed. I am a robot. I repeat everything that happened in explicit detail. I feel dead. Empty.
I am not shards of broken glass, but dust.
At 22, I start having consensual sex. I am raging a war of self-destruction. I am trying to take control of my body, and, at the same time, seeing how far I can push it. Rarely does a man consider my pleasure in the bedroom. Some of the men that do, tell me to calm down and just relax. I don’t know how to relax. I am constantly protecting my body.
At 22, I date kind, wonderful men. Men who provide space for me to understand my trauma. Men who open up and share their own. I am so thankful for these men.
At 23, I have sex even though I don’t want to. Sometimes women do this because they feel like they’ve gone too far already. They’re at his house, or they’ve been texting for a while, or it will be too hard to stop him so they may as well suck it up and get it over with. One man tells me that he bought me dinner, so I really should jump in the taxi with him. I do. I consent every time. What’s the worst that can happen? What else can be done?
I always front the money for the morning after pill.
At 23, I am at a hotel with a boy I used to see. A little rendezvous of sorts. After a shoddy date, but a commitment to a hotel, I am determined that I’m not going to have sex with him. I am no longer attracted to him. He begs me for sex. I tell him I don’t want to. I am eventually persuaded. We had romanticised the night, after all. He expected it.
He sends me a message a couple of days later because he feels guilty. He asks whether what he did was wrong. I tell him that guilt was probably a good sign that he did the wrong thing. He apologises with sincerity and asks how he can be better.
At 23, I pull up a friend on an issue pertaining to gender, and he says “fuck you and your feminist bullshit. I knew you’d ruin things”. Once, he expressed serious hesitation at hiring a girl because I told him proudly she was a staunch feminist, doing some pretty amazing things in the spaces she was working in.
Women, you should keep your mouth shut if you’re pushing for equality. You don’t want to infringe on the comforts of others with all that… you know… feminist bullshit. You might not get a job offer because of it.
At 23, a housemate tells me a catcall is like a high-5 and I should be thankful. I tell him a high-5 requires two people.
At 24, I am getting changed in a small room in country NSW. I am there with a client and some of his staff, on a work retreat. He comes up to me and slaps me on the bum and says “Sorry, I couldn’t help it”.
Later he apologises, arguing that he forgot the context, he was just “treating me like a mate”.
He has a girlfriend with a baby on the way.
At 3am, he climbs into my tent and starts patting around, looking for a pillow. I lie there stiff as a board, eyes shut tight. He leaves soon after. I don’t know if he found a pillow.
At 24, I start campaigning NSW Police to change the way they communicate about sexual assault on their social media platforms. I interview 100 survivors of assault and I write letters and meet with the NSW Police communications team. They haven’t mentioned sexual assault reporting services on their Facebook Page since June, 2017. They have over a million engaged followers. They commit to a 3-year communications strategy. I sigh with relief.
I learn how to love men better. To provide space for the vulnerabilities that toxic masculine cultures often force them to suppress. I learn how to talk about issues pertaining to gender in a non-confrontational way. I am consistently challenged by the gender stereotypes that I project. Some men are not sexual beings. They are no less men.
At 25, a boy says he’s scared to do anything with me in case he hurts me and I write about it. I tell him he should exercise this much caution whether he’s with someone who will call him out or not.
At 25, I post an Instagram story asking women what the worst/most uncomfortable thing a man has said to them is. I am heartbroken. Every story echoes the other. The sexual degradation of women. The fact that every woman has a story.
I am 25, and it’s September 7, 2019. Already, 38 women (and 102 men) have been murdered at the hands of men this year. I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters fighting for equality*.
*Oh, but I’m not one of those angry feminists. Don’t you worry. I’m just telling you about some of the things that have happened to me. This is normal for most of us girls anyway. I mean, 85% of women have been sexually harassed.
I know you hate it when women get angry about this stuff, when women talk about men in a way that groups them all together and hurts their feelings. I don't want to make you uncomfortable! I know people like Clementine Ford make you roll your eyes. But don’t worry, I’m not like her. I’m not angry at all. This is just how it is when you’re a girl.
It’s just what we have to deal with.
So it’s okay, I’m fine.
:) :) :) :) :) :)