girl growing up woman: learning to say ‘enough’
‘He asked me out again, so I just told him I had boyfriend.’
As I said the words it just sounded like another futile story of mine. I was re-telling the story of an older guy, who was probably in his mid-40s, asking me out. I was always a loud presence in a room, but usually anyone around would ignore the roar of my laughter as I chuckled at my own punchlines, however, upon finishing this story I noticed the room had gone quiet. This was when my lecturer interjected.
I had begun to notice her attention drifting to my table. Every now and again I caught her eye and pretended not to notice as she inched closer. ‘It’s not your fault,’ she said. I had heard this before, but what struck me was when her face dropped slightly and she said, ‘I’m sad that young women are still feeling responsible for the reprehensible behaviour of men.’
There was something about the urgency and genuine concern in her tone and her eyes that made me question myself. The rest of the class joined the discussion, not something I was prepared for. I laughed it off. A part of me knew they were right and saying the same things I had thought to myself but it wasn’t something I wanted to think about. So I made another joke: ‘Maybe I’ll just walk past him at work one day with a really big and tough guy, pretend that’s my boyfriend and he should leave me alone.’ Why was I so fundamentally afraid of being alone?
Suddenly what everyone had been saying to me since the first time I told anyone this story made a lot more sense. Picture a young girl wrapt with guilt, anxiety and confusion now trolling the internet, her friends and family, books, newspapers and really anything she can get her hands on – in an effort to try and understand why she felt so scared and marginalised. I had never thought, having been raised by a strong and independent mother and a respectful, caring father, that in this century women were still being taught to be submissive. But with this new revelation looming in the back of my mind, it felt as though it was almost engrained in human psychology that women were somehow the lesser gender, although now much more implicitly so in the 21st century.
I remembered being 17 and being told by a high school teacher of mine that I was inappropriate for taking off my shirt to reveal my singlet in front of anyone – much less any of the males in the room. When this incident initially happened, I again laughed it off with the same carefree and light-hearted attitude I’d always prided myself on. In retrospect though I see the very deep issue with what happened. This was just one occurrence where I was subtly being told that I should hide or change myself to fit better in with what is expected of me.
My mind was feeling like that scene from Alice in Wonderland when she is falling into the rabbit hole and all those colours and shapes and patterns are whirling around her. Trying to make sense of all this new information, I sought out research and support, and the greatest thing I learnt was that I wasn’t alone.
I went to the Melbourne 2016 Slut Walk, and just standing in group of powerful women made me feel stronger. I read about women like Lois Jenson – a mine worker who lead the first US class action sexual harassment lawsuit in 1988. I did all this research, but more importantly I talked to so many girls, who all told me how unsafe they too had felt.
For instance, Adelaide Jamison – a young woman studying bio-medicine at Deakin – told me she was ‘thankful she had male friends to step in’ when she was ever having issues with other guys. I too, like my lecturer and class, felt sad that such a strong woman needed to rely on someone else to say no to someone who wasn’t ‘taking the hint’.
I still don’t understand why this situation is the way it is. Why some men feel it’s acceptable to degrade women to be meaningless objects that they whistle at for attention, or why we as women allow men who do so to make us feel uncomfortable, when they are the ones in the wrong.
But I know we are all ready for change. The change starts with me. My mother has always told me stories about strong women, and as she puts it they were just ‘tough as shit women who said “enough”’. I want to be one of those women who are strong enough to say ‘enough’.