A Victim Shaming Legacy.

Victim shaming is a term I have only recently become aware of but I first felt the consequences of it when I was just thirteen.

Myself and my friends used to have a favourite pizza place in town, every Friday we’d meet up there after school and we became quite friendly with the owner whose name was Fanta and one of the delivery drivers named Mohammed. For some reason or another Mohammed took a shine to me, he paid me lots of compliments, all of which made me very uncomfortable. As a young teenage girl I did not know how to receive this unwanted attention from a thirty something year old man so I followed my friends lead, laugh at it all and say how crazy this guy was.

Soon Fanta told us that Mohammed was becoming obsessed with me, Mohammed thought I was lying when I said I was just thirteen and he would drive over to the local college everyday thinking he could catch me out there. This terrified me but I didn’t tell anyone because I was embarrassed that I had attracted such a screw job.

Not long after that when me and my friends where walking through town one night we bumped into Mohammed who was sitting in his parked car by the road. He called me over and of course I turned the other way to leave, but my friends finding this whole scenario hilarious dragged me over to him, then they ran away leaving me alone. He opened his passenger door leaned over and told me to kiss him. I drew away in disgust and he grabbed my arm trying to pull me into his car. I managed to get away from him and caught up with my friends. I was so furious at them, we got into a huge argument, I said they shouldn’t have left me on my own with him. They said I shouldn’t have let it get this far.

I stormed off and headed home, on my way back I heard Mohammed shouting my name again. He was driving alongside me telling me to get in the car, I tried to ignore him. He drove on and pulled up ahead of me, he then climbed out of the car and tried to grab me again. I’ve never run as fast before or since that night. I ran up a side street and headed to the main square in town, I thought he would leave me alone if there were people to see him.

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He didn’t follow me to the square and I felt safe surrounded by people, I bumped into my brothers best friend, who, when seeing how out of breath I was asked me if I was okay. I told him I was just heading home and decided it was best not to tell him that I was currently being pursued by a grown man, he probably wouldn’t believe me anyway.

When I eventually got to my street I was so pleased to see my house…however I wasn’t pleased to see Mohammed parked outside my front door, waiting for me. I scaled my high garden wall and crept in through the back door, I left the lights off and ran upstairs, watching him from the window above, willing him to leave. I was on my own that night, my brother was at a party and my parents were both at work. I was thirteen years old, home alone, petrified of the man waiting outside my door. My first thoughts?

I’m going to be in so much trouble.”

“Why did I let this get so out of hand?”

“What did I do to lead him on?”

Eventually he left. He drove away and I never saw him again.

To say I have experienced victim shaming may seem a bit unfair. I was never abducted or raped or anything as horrific as that but I could have been, that evening could’ve played out very differently for me.

Looking back I realise that I didn’t have to go through all those weeks of his attention, I shouldn’t have spent months afterwards worried that he was going to show up wherever I was. I had plenty of opportunities to tell someone that this guy was harassing me but I didn’t take them because I feared how my cries for help would be received. I feared being mocked, I feared not being be levied and I feared being blamed. At thirteen I had no idea what victim shaming was but clearly I had already been acclimatised to it.

Coming Out Of The Feminist Closet.

I’ve always been a rather independent and strong willed individual, which is a polite way of saying I’m a stubborn cow. If you knew my Mother you’d expect nothing more from me. (This is the part where my Mum gets very offended and turns a funny shade of burgundy. Please Mother wait and let me explain.)

My Mum is the kind of person who will stand behind her beliefs steadfastly and will gladly argue her point when called upon to do so. She is a strong woman who has achieved many great things in her life. Including raising two children, having a highly successful career in nursing, being involved in all kinds of political marches and let us not forget when she put together a ‘bandit’ costume so superb she used the mens loos in a pub without detection. She has stood up and defended her family on many occasions and has always fought for people whose voices are often ignored. My Mother is a force to be reckoned with and I admire her beyond belief for all these things.

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Baring all this in mind, it shouldn’t be very surprising that a woman like my Mum has a raised a similarly passionate and independent feminist daughter. I suppose I’ve always been a feminist. Even as a small child if anyone, man, woman dog or goose, had told me that I, “shouldn’t say this” or “couldn’t do that because, you’re a guuurluh” I would snort indigently and do whatever it was that they had tried to dissuade me from doing. “Perhaps I can’t climb the rickety branches to the top of that tall tree but that has nothing to do with my gender!” I would shout at the lads in a less articulate manner, “You should at least give me the opportunity to try and reach the top!” I would proceed to slip and scramble up through the leaves until the boys were mere specks jumping around in the dirt. The sense of triumph I felt as I hung to a branch was both immeasurable and short lived, as I soon realised that going up wasn’t necessarily the issue but rather the descending part.

“How could I be a feminist?” I wondered to myself,  “I wear dresses, shave under my armpits and love it when my boyfriend calls me sweetheart. No I’m not a feminist, I agree with everything they say and stand for but ‘feminist’ is a dirty word for angry women and people will laugh at me if I say I’m one of them.” It is clear to me now that this aggressive, man hating, sweaty, preacher woman is an image of propaganda that the patriarchy is feeding the masses to make feminism into something undesirable for women to aspire towards. This parody of a feminist is the absolute antithesis of everything feminine and everything a young girl is told she should be. “Look at the dirty feminist children, but don’t get too close as she may infect you with her agenda! This fearsome soul is so frightfully awful that no man will ever desire her! She will never be wed nor bare children leaving her life’s purpose forever unfulfilled.”

Only in the past few months have I began to relate to the label of feminist, since then I’ve thrown myself into the world of feminism. I had never realised how many different subjects there are to discuss within this realm. I have so much to learn about this world of outspoken women and I intend to document my journey.

Perhaps I am not yet deserving of the full feminist title, I am entry level, an absolute beginner of feminism. Therefore I do not claim to know it all but if I may, I’d like to describe my interpretation of feminism and what it means to me. Being a feminist is about being able to act, think, speak and express myself as freely as I’d like. Not to be judged as a ‘woman’ but as an individual. To be able to set my own goals and be able to define for myself what it is to be a woman. Finally and possibly most importantly, feminism is about celebrating womanhood and all it’s inhabitants. I’m very curious to hear how other people view feminism and how they apply it to their own lives and experiences.

I am yet to stand on the rooftops and scream, “I am a feminist!” In fact I’ve been very sheepish in telling people for fear of their ridicule. There are only a handful of people I have confided in about my views and most of those have rolled their eyes, scoffed at me and shown other such displays of belittlement. I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t affect me at the time, I had hoped for warm embraces of acceptance but instead was met with disapproval. That was, until tonight when I discussed the matter for the first with my Mum….

“Mum, what would you say to me about being a feminist?”

She giggled and said, “well I’d probably say, I’m a feminist too!”

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