Everyone remembers their first… at least, girls do. No, I’m not talking first lover, first kiss, or anything so trite as all that. No, I’m talking the first real incident of sexual harassment every woman experiences. That first act that irrevocably teaches girls and women they don’t have a say over their own bodies in this patriarchal society.
For me, that first happened when I was eleven, riding the school bus home. The bus ride started out normally enough, with no thought given to the fifth grade boy sitting beside me… until he put his arm around my shoulders and started trying to kiss me. He was about the same age as me, but I was a grade higher. I only saw him on the bus, occasionally shared a seat with him, and didn’t speak with him except as politeness dictated.
When he failed to stop after my repeated attempts to disentangle myself while vocalizing my displeasure at the action, I was forced to move across the aisle to get him to stop. He started towards me again. Keep in mind, I’m an eleven year old girl. I was raised on a farm, so I knew about sex, but it wasn’t on my mind. I wouldn’t even become a “woman” (aka start my period) for another three years. I just wanted away from the unwelcome advances.
I picked up an empty soda bottle from the floor and tossed it at his midsection, but missed entirely. His desire to touch me turned to anger when it became clear I wasn’t going to let him kiss me. He took the empty bottle and threw it across the bus with all the force he could muster, and hit me in the mouth. It broke half the braces off my front teeth through my lips.
The bus driver did nothing, and Michael got off at the next stop. When I finally got off at my stop and completed the half-mile walk home, I had blood dripping off my chin. I wrote up an incident report, detailing everything that had happened, and took it to school the next morning. The bus driver had never reported the incident.
The fallout: All the boys on the bus turned on me after Michael got in trouble and told them how I’d turned him in. The bus driver turned on me because he got reprimanded for failing to report an injury on the bus (he wanted to get his “no incidents” bonus). After that I got written up for over a dozen frivolous issues (from calling someone a name to the bus driver missing my stop because he forgot I was on the bus), had another boy (from fourth grade) try to assault me on the bus, and was constantly reminded it was my fault for having said anything.
Men wonder why women see the world differently. Perhaps if a boy was injured by someone attempting to assault him, but had all the adults turn on him, he’d understand.