I’m following up on my previous post “One in Three Men Rape” with another story. This despite the fact that my second to last sentence to that blog was I won’t list the many incidents where refusing to have sex puts women in the dog box, but I thought I should mention this one as I think it’s particularly important in shaping young people’s minds and attitudes in how they negotiate sex and sexuality. It also points directly to some possible “outcomes” of what can happen to you – if you dare, to speak out. I also want to add to the last post by saying that I do believe that both men and women suffer if they refuse to consent to persistent sexual advances, regardless of where they come from, but since it is women’s month and I am a woman I will continue to write from those “particular” perspectives. August is WOMENs’ month in South Africa. This story I don’t often tell to too many people – even though it’ s much more harmless than the previous one – because for some reason it still embarrasses me – and strangely bares some striking similarities to the incident I wrote about in my previous blog. This story, like the one I wrote about before, I think can help us begin to understand the nuanced reasons /contexts to why girls and women would hesitate to speak out or report sexual abuse, assault, much less rape.
Don’t touch me on My “Studio”
I was 13 – thirteen was a big year for me – in grade seven. We were in English class and I was quite enthralled by our English teacher, a tall blonde woman, probably in her early to mid-20’s at the time who spoke loudly and hurriedly, she had a lot of energy about her and would always be walking up and down the front of the class as if warming up for a marathon, hands flailing in the air, her short blond hair always flowing as if there was a wind blowing constantly on her face, oh wait there was, she loved to sigh loudly breathing out air into her forehead making her fringe blow up like it was under a hair drier. She was very expressive. I am now guessing that the boys in our class must have adored her, but I guess I was also too occupied looking at her to notice anyone else doing the same thing. She liked to wear short- khakhi skirts, had long masculine but lean legs, whose feet she lightly cushioned on open leather sandals, even during winter. Now that I think of it she must have grown up in a farm or in the great endless outdoors of the expansive Savannah somewhere idyllic. She often wore loose fitting shirts, some a little transparent that would reveal, ever so slightly, whenever she bent down (which was often) the curve of her tiny breasts. She was also friendly and seemed more approachable than many of the older, more serious and graying teachers at our school.
As luck would have it I was sitting in front, sharing a desk with Patrick, a male classmate with whom I liked to compete academically. We were friends, but not in the “I like you – be my – girlfriend kind of way” I was not the most attractive girl in class fortunately. While listening to whatever the teacher was saying I heard him whisper to me saying “can I?” Can you what? I asked looking at him, his eyes looked down and I followed them to find his hand inching closer and closer to my pelvic area under the table/school desk. He pleaded sheepishly with his eyes and I said no. don’t. But he didn’t listen, persisting each chance he got, while staring, intently and directly at the teacher in front him –he would attempt to touch me, reaching out his hand like a thief in the night. I saw that my deflections didn’t deter him – so on his next more bolder move I grabbed his hand and creamed out loud “ MA’M! PATRICK IS TRYING TO TOUCH MY VAGINA!!!!!” My only recourse. There was dead silence in the class-room; many had never quite heard (much less I) the word vagina being shouted so loudly in class. And then as if a wave enveloped the room, laughter swelled, in starts, spurts and then finally poured out and like a huge waterfall filling the room, even I joined in the laughter, for a while until the teacher after having recovered from the shock of her life – calmed the class down and asked Patrick why he was doing that, he denied it loudly,” no ma’m she’s lying!” he said “ I didn’t, never ever” with a conviction even I believed the moment he said it. The teacher then turned her attention to me “why are you lying?” She asked, I replied “No I would not lie about something like that” I continued, “I felt speaking out was my only option under the circumstances since I didn’t want him to touch my vagina!” I said that word again, and more laughter erupted like a second baptism in the room. She then said I should not accuse people of things they never didn’t do.
So I was embarrassed, but was successful in preventing a situation, that would have brought harm to my person or just simply a situation I didn’t want.
My Teacher dealt with the situation the easiest way she could (or was even equipped to) saying I must never accuse people of things they never did. Because fact: Patrick did not touch my vagina. The reason he didn’t however, was because I spoke out, I shouted his intentions out loud, interrupting him, embarrassing him, shaming him and putting the Teacher in a difficult situation.
What would you have done?
So I’m sure some girls saw how ridiculed I was in class, and disregarded by the teacher (who “confirmed” Patrick’s version that I was a liar by saying I must not accuse people of things they never did) and felt that maybe if the same thing were to happen to them they would not speak out, because then they would become the laughing stalk of school – we were a hundred or less students at our school – the entire school would know. Everyone knew everybody. And on top of that you will forever be called a liar! Which, if you’re a teenager (girl) does not leave you with much of a choice….
That experience is teaching me new lessons – the benefit of hindsight:, A) Speaking out can “prevent” harm – he didn’t succeed in touching me in the end B) Speaking out can cause harm to myself: being labeled – a liar by a teacher- isolated, rejected by my peers “how can you say that about Patrick?” for Patrick was put to shame momentarily, he was popular( loved by many) and C) no one would believe me even if I said it – spoke my truth because I had no way of Proving it. D) I still had to speak out anyway if it’s the only way to “stop” an unwelcome thing from happening, even if I’m the only one seeing/experiencing it E) Speaking out can CHANGE things: we soon got individual desks and chairs which reduced the opportunities for anyone with the mind to make similar advances, even though I cannot prove that it was because of that particular incident that we got new furniture. And finally it taught me, in practical ways, to paraphrase American poet and writer Audre Lorde – F) that Your Silence will not PROTECT you.
In other words we don’t have to wait for something bad to physically happen before we speak out against it.
- Penis as a Flower or Something Like That – a Study of Men’s Genitalia: Footnote to the Great Wall of Vagina (newafricanmen.wordpress.com)
- The Great Wall of Vagina and the Black Penis Project (newafricanmen.wordpress.com)
- the sex education I wish I’d had (trinny911.wordpress.com)
- ‘Of Good Report’, Sugar Daddies and Vavi (dailymaverick.co.za)
- Technology In The Classroom – A Blended Approach (howtolearn.com)