I have written this story several times and always deleted it. I am not ashamed. I didn’t want the way people treat or see me to be different. But how many like me are out there? How many hide their stories out of fear and embarrasment. That only adds to the taboo – and please know that I in no way blame the ones who chose not to come forward. That is your choice and you owe no one anything.
I never wanted to be a parent and on occasion I get hit with guilt. That even though this wasn’t my deepest desire I was able to conceive so easily when so many dedicated women and men cannot. For a long time I was sure I was barren – because I would think I would have had an ‘accident’ by now if I wasn’t. And to me it seemed fitting that nature had deprived me of the opportunity since I probably would be a terrible parent. But evolution is not intelligent of course. And when I took the decision it happened within months. The guilt of my fortune rarely leaves me. It feels like I cannot complain about being pregnant because I should treasure it – but I am not over the moon with joy. I am worried sick. That I will ruin this child. That it’s a boy. I am afraid I will fail and I might never even know it.
The person who raped me at 17 was a boy. He didn’t even realise he was a rapist. He never saw the struggle, the fear in my eyes – or he chose to ignore it. He saw what he was entitled to even though I had changed my mind. I don’t know if I said no loud enough. And the guilt of that never leaves me either. Because I chose to walk away carrying my shame, ruined underwear in my purse, carpet burns on my knees from trying to crawl away and say nothing for 13 years. He could have done it again, and I carry the weight of that every day. It felt cowardly but I could not risk hearing people I cared for, who presumably cared for me ask me if I had said no clearly enough. Did I fight? To tell me that I shouldn’t have gone with him. That maybe I just regretted it afterwards. Was I wearing that crop top because it was very revealing…perhaps even inviting. I asked myself all these questions already and hearing them from a person I loved would have shattered me to pieces. On the bus ride home my iPod auto shuffled to “Baby did a bad, bad thing” and I buried the memory deep below as a thing that maybe happened to someone else. For the next 7 years my life was a haze of cutting, drugs, alcohol and casual sex to claim my body back but the marks remained. Unseen but never gone. I dropped out of school, moved across the country and started antidepressants. But the healing was still years away. And I still try to get there. To leave the guilt and shame behind, the rage and the hurt. They tell you forgiveness is for your sake. But I will never forgive this. Not forgiving is my prerogative. The only one he left me with.
His mother did not raise a rapist on purpose I’m sure. Had I told her she probably wouldn’t have believed me. Not her son. He was such a decent boy. Always polite. And if he had then he thought I wanted to. We rarely intend to raise bad people but we do. And I’m afraid that I can raise someone hurtful. And I know the way we see and treat boys is toxic.
“Boys will be boys”, “Boys are just wilder”, “Boys don’t cry”, “Don’t be a girl, a sissy, a nancy boy”, “That’s gay”. When a boy pulls a girls hair, it’s just because he likes her. We even tell the girl that: He just likes you, that’s why he hurts you. How fucked up is that? Boys gets wildcards to be ruder, cruder and dirtier. That’s just how they are. They aren’t nurturing, they don’t want to become fathers like some girls want to become mothers. They want to be cowboys, soldiers, warriors. And all I see is a whole group of children raised to be hard and unempathetic. A group of kids who don’t get to express their actual feelings, to be individuals, but only express the feelings we have deemed manly enough. Bro hugs are fine. Hug hugs are gay. We tell them they are little men, they are strong, clever and go getters while girls are pretty, princesses, dainty. We have princess days for the girls and super hero days for the boys.
It scares the crap out of me. That my kid will be left in daycares and schools where I have no say in how he is treated or how it is dealt with if he treats girls differently. Where well meaning teachers will say that they have years and years of experience and “trust me, boys are just like this”. The hell they are. I know children, and children are generally good and most of all they are individuals. They are empathetic and kind, they are not born offenders or racists. We, the adults and society, we’re the ones who fuck them up. Who teach them how “boys” and “girls” are supposed to be. We teach both that real men take what they want. That being ravished is romantic. That even if the girl doesn’t want to be kissed or doesn’t want your attention you just do it anyway, that’s what men do and what girls actually want. Girls are told not to wear this and not to do that. Boys are not. Boys grow up believing they have all the rights and girls believe they have none.
I am not saying I don’t already love my son. I do. And I am not afraid of him nor do I blame him or anyone else but the person who did it for what happened to me. No I am not afraid of my son. I am afraid for him. Because we have a society that accepts and even promotes toxic masculinity and sexism. I can’t and I won’t defends rapists or abusers but we have to look at the societal structures along side the individuals. Many men who would never commit an act of abuse will still in some ways condone it by not believing the victim or indeed asking the questions I mentioned above. Many (men and women) won’t speak up if they witness sexism, discrimination or racism ‘to keep the peace’ or because they are afraid. They will tell women (and men) to ‘just get over it’ or ‘it was no big deal’ if they are grabbed on the train or told “they need to get laid”. I don’t want my son to be one of those people. I want him to know that not only is it wrong to do bad things but it is also wrong not to act if you witness injustice. That you need to speak and stand up for the ones weaker than you, for the ones who can’t speak for themselves because they are oppressed or because no one listens. The ones who are afraid to speak up because there might be repercussions. I want him to know that bravery lies in the words and actions we use to defend others. That when people are hurt we don’t dismiss their experiences. We listen and we learn.
Some books to read and have your kid read if you want to raise a feminist – or just because you are human:
We Should All Be Feminists and Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (and probably everything else she has written but I have only read these two very short books so far)
Books from this list