There are things we forget. After a while, our memories of specific events either fade, or, in some cases,… let’s say “develop”. A couple of months ago, I read my old diary and found a report of an event that I had long forgotten about.
When I was a young teenage girl, I had a very unpleasant experience with a couple of boys in the village where I lived. I walked down the main street past the village square, where they happened to linger and kill time. They approached me, cornered me, touched me against my will while having a good laugh, and blew a whistle right next to my ear. After a minute or so, I managed to get away and walk home, angry and crying.
The incident scared me. I wrote about it in my diary and forgot about it.
Why did I forget about it?
I forgot about it because I never talked about it.
Why did I never talk about it?
Because there were two things really engraved into my mind.
The first thing I really believed is that they did not mean any harm. They were a**holes, for sure, but they were just fooling around. According to the way I was brought up (in a wider sense – not only by my family), boys just were like that.
This brings us to the second thing. In a very twisted way, according to my own understanding, nothing had happened. I was scared, upset, felt completely humiliated, but since all this had taken place in broad daylight, I knew they would not go any further, and my own threshold for legitimately saying that something happened seems to have been set somewhere in the “any further” area.
So I kept quiet and forgot.
For me, having become a feminist means holding men to a higher standard than this. I know wonderful, intelligent, kind men, who will rightly feel offended when offered a cookie for not harassing any women. Being a feminist means believing that the phrase “Boys just are like that” is the ultimate form of bullshit.
For me, being a feminist also means being angry about the fact that sexist social structures sometimes manage to mess with our heads – up to the point where past me located the threshold for saying “something happened to me” somewhere in the vicinity of rape and other forms of extreme physical violence.
The culture that managed to engrave this into my mind was, by the way, the culture of a Western, industrialized country. It was the culture that is now presented by conservative xenophobics as a culture in which gender equality has already been achieved, is universally accepted, and is only threatened by immigrants with African or Arabic backgrounds.