Last week, I happened to check the social media inbox designated to filter messages of those who aren’t approved to contact me. There was one new message. After I clicked on the name I realized that it was the man who sexually assaulted me in high school. He had invaded my personal space almost two decades ago and now he was invading my online presence.
I wished that in life I could filter out unwanted intrusions against my person. As a woman, I grew up feeling like my body wasn’t my own. In school I was chastised for wearing tops that exposed my stomach, I couldn’t wear shorts or skirts unless they reached past the tips of my fingers, I was told what were and were not appropriate ways to move through the world with my body: I had to cross my legs like a lady, I shouldn’t sway my hips too much, I should be conscious of how the exposure of my skin or the accentuation of my shape in tight clothes made people around me feel, specifically men.
Simply being a woman, standing still, not looking at anything in particular made me a sexual being. My lot in life was to minimize that by covering up, walking plainly, and always being aware of my physical presence. So when a man invaded my personal space to touch me in a way that I didn’t desire by grazing his hand against my breast or behind or always feeling the need to have his hand on my lower back as he spoke or grabbing my arm as I walked by, I took those attacks against my body because I was a woman, my body wasn’t mine. In a time not too long ago I would be considered the property of my parents until they could turn me over to a proper suitor to be ‘his’.
When that assault occurred in high school it wasn’t done by a man, he was a boy then, from my math class, a student from a Spanish speaking country whose English wasn’t fluent. I couldn’t recall us ever speaking before that day other than maybe hello or goodbye. One day, out of nowhere, he asked if I would help him with his math assignment because he was having trouble understanding the material. I said yes because that was the kind of person I was, always making an effort to make things easier for someone else. He told me that he needed to get a notebook out of his locker and asked me to walk with him. Again, I agreed.
Minutes later we reached a bank of lockers that looked abandoned. I found it strange that the school would assign a single locker to him in that location. He opened one but there was nothing inside. Before I had time to react he pushed me up again the lockers and starting kissing me. First on the face and then my neck. I immediately attempted to push him off of me. Apologizing, of all things, because I felt that my mere existence as a woman gave him the impression that I wanted him to make a sexual advance towards me, but I didn’t. And he didn’t stop. He held me there as he licked and kissed my face while I attempted to push him away. Then he reached into my pants and my body felt like it was going explode with rage. I aggressively used every ounce of strength I had to stop that invasion of places that should’ve been private.
Even though he had walked me down to that area under false pretenses. Even though he had touched me without my consent. Even though he didn’t stop after I repeatedly asked him to. I initially thought, maybe it was all just a misunderstanding because of the language barrier or mixed signals I was unaware that I was giving off or because I was simply a woman.
That wasn’t the first or last violation of my body or the first or last time I tried to rationalize being violated. In college almost the exact same thing happened where an initially innocently encounter of a man offering me a place to sit inside, out of the cold, while I waited for a friend, quickly turned into him forcing himself on me. The entire time I spent trapped beneath his body I tried bargaining and reasoning with him to stop after saying “I don’t want this” wasn’t reason enough for him to stop grabbing my breast, kissing and licking my face, or trying to force his hand down my underwear. All I kept thinking as tears rolled down my face under the pressure of his body was that I somehow did something to get myself into that situation. Was it the top I was wearing? Was it the amount I had to drink? Or was it just my womanly wiles?
As I have tried to navigate through life with my head down, avoiding eye contact, moving throughout space without trying to draw attention, there have been countless times where men have used their bodies to block my path as I walked down the street, grabbed my butt as I moved past them in a club, or tried to expose themselves to me as I waited for a train. With each violation of my ears, eyes, or body I’ve continued to keep my head down, avoid eye contact, navigate spaces without enticing some man with my given body parts in the hopes that I will make it out unscathed, unscared.
There are even times when allowing a man access to your body isn’t enough without them feeling the need to take ownership of it. A friend of mine discussed with me a consensual sexual encounter she had. The two of were having a fun and flirty evening, which progressed to enjoying the exploration of each others bodies, then they made the mutual decision to have protected sex. In the middle of that intimate act, something felt off. Moments later she realized he had removed the condom without telling her. The access to her body wasn’t enough, he had to take it a step further and violate her boundaries as if they didn’t exist because he wasn’t the one who created them.
The force field of protection we think covers our minds, bodies, even souls gets chipped away with every unwanted, unexpected, or forceful encounter. Unfortunately, it’s not a matter of if this will happen, it’s a matter of to what degree. As I read through the messages from the man who committed the first violent attack against my body, apologizing and admitting fault for what he did almost two decades ago, I realized how far I had come. How over those years, despite the chips in my armor, I had taken back ownership of my body. I no longer let it be ruled by societal expectations, or feared ridicule from those that didn’t agree with how I used it, and wouldn’t allowed anyone else to dictate how it would be handled.
I stopped apologizing for being a woman in spaces where men felt they owned the rights to. What happens to my body should be my decision, anything that wasn’t shouldn’t be an excusable offense. I am not a bitch because I respectfully decline being touched or ask someone to stop blocking my path in order to let me pass. I am a woman and I have great breast depending on the bra, wide hips too wide for most jeans, a small waist, and a moderately round behind. I have ownership of all of those things and everything in between. I will move my body the way I want and adorn it with as little or as much clothing as I please. I can not help who it entices or appeals to.
I will not apologize for cohabiting the same space as a man and wanting to be left alone. Because as more women are born and raised, my hope for them is that they will no longer have to guard their beings for fear of someone invading it. They will be able to move freely throughout the world born with the expectation of their bodies being their own. One day, it won’t be a matter of if someone violates them, there will be no threat to their bodies at all.