In 1980, we moved and I was enrolled in a new school for the six or seventh time. I was ten-years-old.
According to Anea Bogue, “By the ripe old age of 9, the average girl will feel as good as she’s ever going to feel about herself. After that, her self-esteem starts to take a nosedive, from which she may never fully recover.”
I wonder if this is true? In my experience, it was.
At age nine, I was abducted and sexually assaulted by a stranger. By age ten, I had lost most of the bravado and confidence I’d been born to – most, but not all.
So, when, at my new school, while standing in the hallway surrounded by kids, a boy grabbed my chest (there were no breasts there yet. It was just a flat landscape of skin), I swung around and told him to “Get the Hell away from me.”
Rather than disciplining the boy for sexual assault, a teacher dragged me into her classroom, set me in the center of the room and had me write 100 times,
My mouth is like a toilet, it needs flushing.
I was reminded of this experience recently when a friend shared a similar story with me. The mother in the story came to her daughter’s defense at a critical time.
So did mine.
My mom blazed through the school doors and confronted the principal. She stood with her hands in fists, insisting that they release me from the office. At home, she told me that I had done nothing wrong, that defending myself when someone grabbed me was my right as a human being. I believed her.
But, sitting in that office just an hour before, I believed them. I believed I was a bad girl. I believed I deserved the shame that teacher had heaped on me; the lecture by the principal who insisted I had a “dirty mouth.”
Thank goodness for mothers like mine, for mothers like the one in in Surrey, England who wouldn’t allow her daughter’s school to punish her daughter when she punched a boy because he wouldn’t stop snapping her bra (even as the girl had asked the teacher to stop the boy and been ignored.) The messages we send at these critical times can make the difference between a girl full of shame after being the victim of sexual assault, to a girl who feels entitled to self-protection.
Maybe, just maybe, we can change this painful phenomenon that happens to girls. My mother bought me some time. I hope I bought my own daughter some time by coming to her defense. Because, at ten-years-old, girls should be allowed to feel they have a right to defend their bodies. Actually, at any age we should feel confident that when someone else sexually harasses us, it is not our fault.