Thursday, April 11, 2013

I Do Not Belong To You

I am a teenager. He is a stranger waiting next to me for the train. When he calls me “sexy” and tells me to smile, I blush as red as his baseball cap. “aww are you blushing, baby?” My stomach churns. I do not want his attention, but I cannot say no. I smile for him, hoping I look more bashful than scared. On the train I seek out a seat next to very large older woman and bite my lip to hold back the tears brought on by adrenaline and embarrassment.
My smile does not belong to me.
 You taught me this when you ordered me to smile for your friend who was over for dinner. I was 5. I didn’t like him, but you took me aside and told me to “smile and be nice” or I would have to sit alone in the other room.
I am 14 years old. He is my sparring partner in Martial Arts class. “I’m gonna punch you in the boob!” He laughs like it’s the funniest joke he ever heard. I am uncomfortable, but I don’t know what to say. He jabs at my right breast, like it’s a target, and pain blossoms across my chest. He laughs, his buddies laugh, and I laugh with them. I don’t want to be rude. “Do you need me to kiss it and make it better?” More laughter. I tell myself we’re all just kidding around, it’s just fine… everything is fine.
My body does not belong to me and I do not have the right to decide what I think is funny.
You taught me this when you let my cousin tickle me without my consent. I was 7 and he was 19. I screamed through the involuntary laughter and everybody just smiled and laughed along. When I finally got away I was angry. Hot tears sprung up in my eyes and shouted at him, at all of you, “I told you to stop!” You gripped my arm and pulled me aside. “Your cousin was just joking with you and you were very rude to him. Go apologize and give him a hug!”
I am 19. He is my sexually aggressive co-worker. He traps me against the wall and whispers explicit things to me, hot breath against my neck. Sometimes he sneaks up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist, purposely pressing his body against mine. He grows bolder each day, and he never listens when I insist that he leave me alone. I never tell anyone, just befriend an older man who works with us, and hide near him when I’m feeling afraid.
My sexuality belongs to the most powerful male-bodied person available.
You taught me this when you bought me a purity ring at age 16 and made me promise that I would never let anyone touch me until you gave me away to a man on my wedding day. And all the times you ordered my brother to protect me, instead of teaching me to defend myself.

You just wanted me to behave. You wanted me to obey the rules as children should. You didn’t known that children are just tiny adults. You couldn’t have foreseen that your words would shape the woman I would become. You never thought that I would carry the lessons meant for a five year old with me for the rest of my life.
But I know now. And if I ever have a child I will remember that she does not belong to me. I will never force her to talk to my dinner guest, because I do not own her voice, or her smile, or her body, or her heart.

7 comments:

  1. Paula G V aka YukimiApril 11, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    Those teachings are so toxic and abusive and the worst part in that them or a lesser version of them permeates society at all levels.

    You are awesome for being so open about everything in your blog in a way that speaks to me and to many other people. You just rock!

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    1. Paula G V aka YukimiApril 11, 2013 at 1:10 PM

      PS: http://lacigreen.tumblr.com/post/47500306068/sometimes-the-most-important-thing-you-can-do-is

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  2. One of the worst messages that fundamentalism teaches their young people is that your life, your body, your mind, everything that makes up who you are is not your own. It does not belong to you, you are property, we own you, and we will decide everything for you.

    It makes me sick, it's wrong, it's abuse.

    I can definitely see how this attitude, especially in regard to the body, can cause women to feel that they should have no right to speak up, and fight back when they are harassed, or even sexually assaulted.

    Your statement about your teen cousin tickling you against your will as a child reminded me so much about how hostile my family (especially my mother) would get when I would recoil when they would want to tickle, hug me, etc. I couldn't stand it because it felt suffocating, it did then, and it still does now. (People say that I show a lot of signs of being a high functioning autistic).

    I only tolerate hugs, or hand on the shoulder, etc, now as a young adult because it's not worth offending people over (maybe I'm still stuck in this mindset I don't know).

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  3. i'm so sorry for this. i indentify with so much. the smiles, the tickles, the knowing i didn't have a right to myself.
    Older me was touched in very sexual ways... If i told, i was told not to tattle, and to work things out calmly. there were things in there about turning the other cheek and jesus going like a lamb to the slaughter...
    mostly my parents wanted us to 'work it out'. As though a teenage girl can work something out calmly with a much larger teenage boy who touches her sexually to get a rise.
    Then one day a friend touched me. not very close friend, not a very sexual touch, but by then it didn't matter. All touch was someone claiming i was within their boundaries, not my own. I told him to not touch me again or i would knock him down. he laughed and did it again. I knocked him flat. my body was mine, and no one had a right to it - I knew it then suddenly and while my other friend laughed embarrassed in shock at their friend in the floor, my face grew red. not because i was embarrassed, but because i was mad, and very possessive of my own self... And the spell was broken.
    Then i got married and assumed i'd given up all right to my body but i married a good man and he assured me that was not true at all. Over and over he says 'i don't own you'. and coming from patriarchy, i think you know how much that means.
    I will never allow anyone to force my sons to endure unwanted hugs or tickles. Just no.

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  4. My parents didn't force us to tolerate tickling or aggressive touching, but just being forced to smile and be friendly towards people we were afraid of was bad (especially the one who consistently harassed us behind my parents' backs). I argue with my little brothers now about respecting my boys' personal space. If one of them ever voices the phrase "Say Uncle," he may lose a tooth. They aren't purposely being mean, just still in that mentality that they have more rights than their nephews and a joke only has to be funny to them. It's so obnoxious.

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  5. This rings true so much that it's painful to read. I still run up against a huge wall of shock and anxiety if someone crosses a boundary with me, because my gut reaction is that I don't have the right to tell them "no". By the time I sort out my feelings, I feel even dumber because I feel like I didn't react properly, in a timely manner, which heaps on more shame and discomfort. I wish I knew how to work through that reaction. It's crippling.

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  6. Wow. Age 5. I firmly believe young children understand and take to heart more than we usually even realize. I am sad that I can identify with some of these from my childhood.

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