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Me Too

From Sable Aradia

If you were on Twitter or Facebook in the past couple of weeks, you’ve seen it; the #MeToo hashtag. For anyone, especially women, who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment.

I had two stories to tell. There is at least as much story in the response as there is in the story.

The first one I posted was this:

Every boy in my class snapped my bra strap until I hit some w/my lunch kit. I went home w/welts. I got in trouble, not them. #MeToo

And the first response I got, which was deleted before I responded to it, was:

Every single boy?

Some of you are reading this and the iron tang of rage just rose into your throat, as it did in mine when I saw this. I’m not going to out the person who said it because he (of course, he) did delete it right away, and I must assume that this was because he rethought the wisdom of his post.  But I am going to respond. And this is my response.

Which Boys?

The truth is, I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. I don’t remember some of their names, after all this time.

What I remember is the experience. Being afraid to walk by myself in the hallway. Being afraid to turn my back on anyone with a penis. The snickering. The catcalls. Wolf-whistles. I was nine. Why was I getting wolf-whistles?

I was a tomboy. I liked to climb trees and play fighter pilots. From the age of three to the age of twelve my knees were perpetually scabbed from all the rough play I did. I had more boy friends than girl friends because of that.

Then I developed early. I was a C cup by the age of ten. And all of a sudden, the way that absolutely everyone treated me changed.

My dad wouldn’t play rough with me anymore. “It’s not appropriate,” he said. But he would play rough with my brother.

I was a fierce little girl. I jumped from trees, slogged through mud, and fought with sticks. I had no fear. But now I had boobies, so my mom emphasized how important it was that I act “ladylike.” To this day that word fills me with a seething rage that makes me want to punch the person who said it in the teeth.

But more than that, all of a sudden when I stood up to debate an issue in class, like we did on Fridays, I was mocked. It was magic; just like that. Prior to boobies, I was recognized as one of the “smart kids.” When I stood up to debate, people listened. After boobies, I was insulted and humiliated, if not in class, than certainly after.

To this day, I hate my breasts. I don’t like them played with during sex. I don’t want people looking at them.

Often, I could never be entirely certain which of the three boys standing behind me had reached over to snap my bra strap.  I complained about what the boys were doing to me.  “Which boys?” I was asked. I couldn’t name a specific name.

What I do know is that whichever one it was, his friends never stopped him.

Girls Colluded

When the more sexually astute girls realized what was going on, things got worse. Because, I guess, the gods hate me, I was in a split class where the other half was older than I was. They were a year ahead in development, and I now know, they were jealous of the male attention I was receiving.

But I didn’t know that then. I was nine. I understood nothing about sex; I’d never kissed a boy or a girl, my mother never told me a thing, and I had yet to discover Judy Blume.

So when they started mocking me in the change room, I was mortified. “You’re getting fat,” one would say, poking my rounding hip.  “You don’t need a bra; you’re too young for a bra,” another would say. That might be, but my boobies, which I was already learning to hate, bounced when I ran, and it made it difficult to run because they hurt.

I started locking myself in the showers to change.

The damage was a wound that I never truly recovered from. As far as I knew, I was fat; certainly I had these bulbs of flesh that were constantly in my way, and now my hips were rounding and I was constantly bumping into things. I developed serious enough dysphoria and body-hatred that by the time I was fifteen I was a full-blown anorexic-bulimic. I weighed 86 pounds and my hair was starting to fall out.

Most Boys

I think that after a while, it became a bit of a game for the boys in my class. I have always been a fiery-tempered sort. Perhaps it was a bit like trying to leap from the highest tree; they wanted to find out which one of them I was going to murder first.

When I entered a new grade and it didn’t stop, I started striking back.  When I felt a tug on my bra strap, I would turn around and hit whoever was in my path with my plastic lunch kit.

It was I who was called into the office. “Why are you hitting other students with your lunch kit?”

I told them.

“Is that an appropriate response for such a little thing?” I was asked by my male teacher.

“I go home with blisters,” I sniffled.

“Boys will be boys,” said my male school principal. “They do it because they like you.”

“So?” I said. What I meant was, Why does that make it okay?

The implication was that they had a right to my body because they were interested.

So they made me stop taking a lunch kit to school. After that, I started hitting them with rulers. I got detention after detention, but I insisted on defending myself.  After the third time I struck someone, it finally stopped.

Learning to Fight

When I was recovering from my eating disorder, my father got me a membership at a gym. Because I was driven, I channeled my addiction into working out. Ultimately it was a bit like weaning myself off of heroin by taking methadone. It worked, once I’d fought the working-out addiction.

But during that time I put on weight again, even as my body toned and became muscled. And when a bully confronted me outside of the school grounds, she got one punch only before I turned around and pommeled her. It was a real-life Charles Atlas story.

But that didn’t change the fact that I had been bullied.

Fast forward to my staggette party. By this time, I’d been studying a smattering of martial arts; some basic judo, some ninpo taijutsu, a little bit of medieval armoured fighting through the Society for Creative Anachronism. And while I was waiting outside the bar for a cab, someone grabbed my ass.

Before I realized it, I had him in an arm bar. He was looking up at me with fear in his eyes.

“I guess that was a bad idea,” he said.

“I guess so,” I agreed.

“I’m sorry. I guess I’ll go now.”

“You do that,” said I with death in my eyes.

My friends cheered. To them I was Wonder Woman. I’d defeated the oppressor through contest of arms.

But that didn’t change the fact that he’d grabbed my ass. For all my strength, and for all my ability to fight, I was still a victim.

Boys Will Be Boys

Why had he done it? For the same reason the boys had snapped my bra strap; because they thought they could. Because being interested in me entitled them to my body. Because “boys will be boys” let them get away with it.

“Rape culture” is a term, like “feminism,” guaranteed to enrage the right wing. They think it means that the people who say it think that all men go around raping women like savage baboons. And of course, that’s not true.

But many of them do go around grabbing asses and snapping bra straps. And no one stops them.

And, I would point out to the person who asked, “Every single boy?”, neither did you. You reacted defensively and not, as you would have yourself believe in your self-image, protectively.

I believe that more evil is perpetrated by cowardice than any of the so-called Seven Deadly Sins. Sure, you didn’t pull the trigger. But you didn’t do a thing to stop the one who did. You sat around and let it happen. You were more interested in saying, “Not me!” than you were in saying, “I’m sorry this horrible thing happened to you.”

And every time someone says, “Every single boy?”, they’re doing it again. And again.

I don’t remember specifically which boys did and did not take part in this “amusing little prank.” I was nine. But I do remember that nobody stopped them. And that, more than the experience itself, is the problem.


Sable Aradia

I’m a Pagan and speculative fiction author, a professional blogger, and a musician. I’m proudly Canadian and proudly LGBTQ. My politics are decidedly left and if you ask for my opinion, expect an honest answer. I own a dog and am owned by a cat. I used to work part time at a bookstore and I love to read, especially about faith, philosophy, science, and sci-fi and fantasy.


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16 Comments »

  1. I’d like to think things are changing. I’d like to think that we are raising young men to honor and respect women. I’d like to think that, but it is probably wishful thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry for the Shadows you acquired during your pubescent years.

    You got me thinking – the matter goes deeper. We have several philosophers, including some Pagan ones, that essentially say that our Talking Self merely rationalizes what it is that the Younger Self wants. This is like saying that the frontal cortex makes excuse for our dinosaur brains. Unfortunately, too many of us are driven by needs of biology, especially when we are going through that difficult time known as puberty. In part, this is because the brain isn’t yet fully developed during puberty. (I wonder if it ever fully develops in some people.) So the animus is on control, especially in young boys, who develop at a slower rate than girls. (Not an excuse, a medical fact.)

    I think as we evolve from a group morality which focuses on what is best for our tribe or ourselves to a more utilitarian ethic, maybe that will change. Pagans, especially those who are Wiccan, can lead the way, as our ethics include utilitarian principles. But even then, I doubt everyone can separate intellectual and moral pleasures (higher pleasures) from more physical forms of pleasure (lower pleasures). Don’t know if you have studied John Stuart Mill, but I suspect you might find his work interesting.

    The people that let you down were not the young boys, but the authority figures – that is what needs to change. In fact, they also let the boys down by failing to teach them an important moral lesson. Let us hope that is changing.

    Too many people engage in activities that try to establish physical dominance over others. In the case of the boys – it is sexual dominance. In the case of the female bully, it is establishment of a pecking order. We all went through it. When I was that age, I bucked hay bales all summer. The local bullies tried picking on me it was a bad idea (I had this devastating upper cut). The key – they TRIED to bully me – I did not let them succeed. They TRIED to bully you – they did not succeed. So you are Wonder Woman. Inspire other people to be the same, for there will always be people put there who cannot control their animal brains. YOU defeated them. You refused to be a victim.

    As to the #MeToo, I have mixed feelings. For some, it will be a means of releasing some pent up feelings, and maybe a road to healing but for others, it will be a reinforcement of a victim mentality. In an ideal world, everyone would rise above the Shadows created during their puberty, overcome them and be able to move on, recognizing that what happened to them is not their fault – that they should not let the response from pubescent dinosaur brains rule their lives. If #Me Too is used for positive gains, it will be a great thing. I like being optimistic, so I’m hoping this will happen. But if it is being used as reinforcement of a victim mentality, then that won’t happen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I probably shouldn’t engage with this first thing in the morning while I’m drinking my morning coffee, but there’s lots that I think needs to be addressed, and if I don’t do it now I probably won’t get around to it, and this is where I have chosen to make my stand, so it has to happen here. So if I’m rough with you, I apologize.

      First large paragraph: your logic is contradictory. If we’re talking about development and puberty, and the Talking Self rationalizing what the Younger Self wants, it would be girls who would be the perpetrators of these sort of assaults, maybe by slapping boys’ butts and pulling down their pants, and maybe a couple of years earlier, because girls develop earlier and therefore, by all reasonable logic not coloured by cultural assumption, have sexual urges earlier. THAT’S a biological fact. No, the difference has to be something else. I think it’s culture, reinforced by assumptions like the one you just made. Because you do realize what you just said there was, again, “boys will be boys,” don’t you? You also said, “We all go through it.” So what am I complaining about, right?

      What you have done here is the same thing the commentor who deleted his comment did. You rushed so quickly to defend your gender that you did not think about what my message actually is. Note that I pointed out how the girls reinforced it. This is a particular aspect of culture in which we permit and even sanction a certain type of abuse. We do it through “boys will be boys” and “we all go through it” which de-legitimizes the pain of the victim by dismissing it as one of the slings and arrows of fortune and childhood. When we grow up we don’t experience it anymore so it doesn’t matter, right?

      But that’s not true; it does continue once we’re grown up, in part because people still do it (ie. “I just grab ’em by the pussy” and he gets elected to the highest office in your country) and in another part because we have all gotten the message that it’s okay to do this to one gender and not another, which demeans and diminishes that gender and, I believe, contributes to inequality. Did you catch the message about how the things I was valued for were also de-legitimized by my budding sexual development? That’s as important as the actions themselves.

      Woods; I spend my whole life being strong, teaching others to stand up against bullies. It’s kind of my raison d’etre, really. With every person I encourage to stand against their bully, I heal myself a little more because I make the world a safer place for everyone. I AM strong. I’m one of the strongest people I know. But I still hurt. I still was hurt. People still feel they have the right to try to hurt me. And that’s not okay.

      You’re right, I did refuse to be bullied, but this took many years. I’m like an inmate of a prison camp who had an opportunity to beat up a guard and escape. It doesn’t change the fact that I was in the prison camp and the damage was done. So it’s not okay, and I’m not going to pretend that it is to soothe anyone’s ego or conscience. It’s not okay! And my point was that every time someone responds like the guy who inspired me to write this in the first place, or yourself with that first paragraph, you injure me again. You injure me because you culturally sanction the crime. Boys will be boys, right? While we’re talking about “victim mentality,” a wound cannot heal if you keep wounding it or rubbing dirt in it.

      So, please don’t give me platitudes. Don’t try to make me feel better. Just remember my story. And when life gives you a chance to do better, which it will sooner or later, step up to the plate and defend the next victim in my memory. I have faith that you will because I know you’re a good man and you mean well.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not a problem Sable. Let me try to clarify (and hope I don’t dig a deeper hole.)

        My thought was that we are all animals still, no matter how we would like to think differently, we are still instinct-driven – no matter what our gender. The philosophers that rationalize Talking Self making excuses for Younger Self aren’t helping, because they imply that our emotions and urges ought to be in control. I wasn’t trying to excuse the behavior, just note that even some Pagan writers are guilty of indirectly encouraging said behavior. Explaining it doesn’t mean I accept the behavior, because while we are instinct driven, we still have the ability to formulate ethical positions and use our logic and reason to guide our behaviors – if we are trained to do so. The problem is that while you and I were growing up (and I grew up a little earlier than you), most of us were not trained – our parents bought into Dr. Benjamin Spock, perhaps. (I blame him for a lot of our social ills.) The philosophers I was making reference to are wrong. Emotion and hormones should never trump logic and reason, but it takes the right kind of parenting to teach this.

        What I meant to say is that the authority figures, IMO are the ones to blame for tolerating and in some cases encouraging said behavior. I remember going through that period, feeling the urges and attractions and not knowing what to do about them – because suddenly the tomboys in my life were different and I felt differently about them. I had no idea how to communicate this change, or even what to do about it. It was all very confusing to me. I don’t recall snapping any bra straps or grabbing any posteriors – somehow I figured that out that wasn’t OK on my own (or maybe my parents had instilled a better ethic in me). “The talks” with my own son covered these things, just like “the talks” with my daughters included that they were responsible for their behavior too. Hormones are not an excuse for bad behavior. My children are strong people who will neither tolerate that behavior in themselves or in others (in fact my oldest daughter beat up a bully picking on her brother – my response to the complaining parent was to teach her son some manners).

        What I do recall from that stage of my life is all the fights I got into with bullies trying to exert their dominance. That continued into my professional career, though attempts at dominance were no longer by fisticuffs but nevertheless not subtle. Eventually I walked away from all that because I don’t like those games. I don’t like what happens to women in that environment either as the attempts at dominance by men over women are different than attempts to dominate other men. It is such a fucking waste of time and energy, not to mention the damage it causes. I frankly find it easier to work with women because all that male dominance bullshit doesn’t normally happen. I suspect that influenced my path – why I got into witchcraft.

        So let’s put the responsibility where it belongs. Parents need to train their sons and daughters to be respectful of others, no matter what their hormones are doing. Other teachers and authority figures need to reinforce that training. That training shouldn’t be dne by a nine-year-old girl and a pink lunchbox. If parents and teachers don’t do their jobs, this behavior will continue. We will never have an egalitarian society if we let emotion and hormones dominate over logic and reason. That was the point I was trying to make. I just did it poorly. My bad. It is not a matter of “boys will be boys.” The boy that snapped your bra strap should have known better. It is a matter of poor parenting. Nevertheless, it is a point worth making – that it is those who are in a position of authority that need to enforce better behavior and better ethics. Not exactly the kind of message you would normally hear from a Pagan, especially on this site, but there you have it. Personal responsibility trumps freedom – at least in this case.

        And you are a heroine – at least to me. I see your strength in what little I know of your back story. That was meant to be a compliment, not a platitude.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey, thank you… there is so much to say about this, so much I identify with… I stand with you and all of us who have been victimised in this and similar ways… I make it a main focus in my life to work on violence against women because it is the worst excesses of patriarchy and yet so normalised… in solidarity

    Liked by 1 person

  4. First of all, let me preface this comment by saying that I’m sickened to hear about the mistreatment you were subjected to in your formative years. That’s not cool. Believe it or not, I actually remember being in 8th grade and having a bunch of guys in my homeroom class following me around the hallways snapping me in the back of the neck with elastic bands until I got welts. I realize this isn’t exactly the same thing with me being another guy and all, but the perception of weakness in another person can stem from many different factors, only one of which is gender.

    With that said, I have to be honest and say that there is something about the concept of “rape culture” that just doesn’t right with me. As someone who majored in Cultural Studies in university, I have a critical eye that is hyper-attuned to what I see as oversimplified uses of the word “culture,” irrespective of the context in which it’s used. Full disclosure right up front: I don’t consider myself ‘left-wing’ in any way, shape or form. There was a time when I would have, but that time is long since past. I am strongly influenced by the ‘post-left’ school of anarchist thought, as well as the egoism of Max Stirner. It is in large part because of the influence that egoism has had on me that I feel no need to defend the males that have mistreated you nor to speak on behalf of “my gender” as a whole. As far as I’m concerned, other men are on their own when it comes to making excuses for their misdeeds. I have no use for any “Boy’s Club” and do not conceive of my “maleness” as some sort of collective political identity.

    The rejection of any and all collective political identities is at the core of my critique of “gender” as such. This same premise is also applies to my critique of “culture,” which I understand to mean the network of symbols and narratives by which a sense of collective identity is reinforced. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I ‘reject’ the idea of culture itself, because I think it’s largely inescapable. However, I also think it’s possible to critically engage with cultural symbols and narratives in a way that resists assimilation into some collective identity or another – be it “Man,” “Woman,” “the Working Class,” “We The People,” etc.

    I’m not taking issue with the idea of “rape culture” because I want to make excuses for sexual violence or because I want to ignore the systemic factors that contribute to it. Rather, I think that, by adopting it as a neologism and speaking of it as an internally unified “Thing-in-itself,” one winds up reinforcing the very thing s/he is trying to resist. What I mean by this is that, because the function of “culture” is to collectivize the lived experiences of flesh-and-blood individuals, speaking of a unified “rape culture” actually divests men who do choose to commit acts of sexual violence of their responsibility by attributing it to largely “cultural” factors. This isn’t to say that cultural factors don’t at least play a role in certain men’s decisions to commit rape, but simply that overemphasizing it has the opposite of the desired effect.

    With all of that being said, I do think you’re courageous for sharing your experiences and for opening up this important discussion.

    Like

    • I’m sorry you have had similar experiences. But that’s why it’s so important to speak out; to know we’re not alone, and to find strength in our resistance. Thank you for speaking out.

      Like

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