During Sexual Assault Awareness Month, “Not for Ourselves Alone” is running a special series called 30 Days of Bodyshaming, designed to give a voice to the many different experiences of girls and women. This series will feature guest posts by professors, writers, a nutritionist, a cartoonist, young girls, and mothers. Gut wrenching and honest, these stories are presented in an attempt to bring about a deeper understanding of the plight of girls and women as we make our way in world that, for us, is hostile at its best and violent at its worst.
We all knew if we sat in the front row in Mr. Harmon’s class, and crossed our legs, we’d get an A.
It was the late 60’s, and our skirts were short, our hair was long, and the fringe on my favorite suede vest hung down past the hem of my skirt. I liked my legs. I knew the boys were looking. It never occurred to me that adult men were looking too.
As I look back, I marvel at that bubble of innocence that surrounded me. When did it break? When did I realize, for the first time, that if one man looked, they were all looking? And thinking? Not just the young ones. Not just the good-looking ones. All of them, everywhere. It was a very small town. It didn’t take much to get a “reputation.”
Eventually I figured out that some of my stepfather’s friends and acquaintances were looking, but I never thought about the teachers. Even though I once told my parents how, while standing in class next to one of my girlfriends, I watched Mr. Parks pick a ball of lint off her sweater, right off her boob.
On New Year’s Eve, during my junior year, I made out with three different boys in one night. They only got to second base. But by the time Monday rolled around, all three of them had fucked me. As I walked down the halls to my classes, boys, teachers, and even the football and basketball coaches were looking at me and snickering.
It didn’t do any good to tell anyone about it. No one thought anything was wrong. I went to class, day after day, knowing that something inside me had changed forever.
I married young, right after college. I never intended to. I was going to move to New York, have a career, and lead an exciting life that would have everyone in my town green with envy, and sorry they’d made fun of me! But I think more than anything, I needed to feel safe. Unless one man had me exclusively, I was available to all of them. So I picked a nice one, and married him.
I don’t think about those days much anymore. I’m older, heavier, wiser and safer. I may not have married for all the right reasons, but I’m still with my husband, and I love him very much. I got lots more A’s in college, and most of them weren’t easy.
I tell myself things have changed. But I don’t really believe it.
Jean Cozier is a writer, musician, and Founder of The Awakenings Foundation, a private operating foundation created to support and showcase the artistic expression of survivors of rape and/or sexual abuse. In this article, no names were changed. The guilty don’t deserve protection.