Middle School Harassment – How My Past Informed My Present

The other night, Will and I were talking about going to my 20 year high school reunion.  I was telling him how I was thinking about opting out of it, mainly because there is one person I am afraid Will is going to punch.  Will did not dissuade me from thinking this and admitted to it being a real possibility.

Part of the problem is my fault.  I have made this habit of telling Will everything and not really considering the ramifications of doing so.  I forgot entirely that what with spouses coming along to things like reunions he may meet some of the people I’ve spoken about.  And he may dislike them intensely.

In middle school, I was one of the unfortunate girls to develop early.  I was in a C cup by 5th grade.  Now, I’ve spoken with some other women I went to school with prior to writing this blog, and those that didn’t develop early were treated to cruelty as well, so I guess the Buffy the Vampire Slayer metaphor of school being hell holds true – none of us really had it easy.

That said, I can only really speak to my own experience, and my experience in walking down the hallways, especially in 7th and 8th grade was that of being grabbed a lot.  There was a group of boys, but two of them being fairly predominant in this, that would simply grab the girls breasts and butts.  It got so that most of us would walk with books tightly clasped to our chest so that the breast were not gropable.  This did leave the back side exposed, but at a certain point you just deal with ass grabbing as a normal part of life and move on.  This was such a common thing in life, that I didn’t really even think much of it – it was just this hellishly maddening thing all of us went through and we were all furious about it, but it was our normal day and we were too young to realize that it was not normal.  I was in middle school over 20 years ago, and sexual harassment and issues of that nature were not really a part of the day to day consciousness.

We did fight back.  This group of boys would try to grope us with one hand while they protected their privates with the other hand as we did try to kick them and fight back.  I think in their deranged little minds they thought this was us flirting and not us being angry and wanting to do them harm.  One of these boys even wore a cup occasionally.  He thought he was clever.

I had the lucky fortune to sit in front of one of the boys during English class and most of English was pretty horrible because he was pretty horrible.  One day he even grabbed me from behind, cupping both breasts in his hands.  The teacher saw him doing this and she laughed.  She was friends with one of the other kid’s mom, and I heard through the grape vine that she thought I was precocious, which really is middle school speak for slut.  That is ok, I thought she was horrible person who should never have been allowed to teach, so we will never be in a mutual admiration society together.

This wasn’t something I ever discussed with my parents because it was part of my day in day out life in middle school, and since I wasn’t alone I thought it was normal.  It was until I married Will and talked to him about it – as just a part of growing up in my mind – that I was informed that it was NOT normal and was actually pretty horrible.

Now, these pasts incidents inform my present self in many ways.  The first way deals with weight issues.  Part of the problem with me being overweight was I ate the wrong things, never exercised, and generally speaking had a pretty unhealthy lifestyle.  However, there was a starting point for these behaviors and that point came when I started to hate my body and feel separate from it.  I think somewhere in my subconscious mind, I thought if I was fat, then I would be safe from the unwanted and often forced attentions of men.  Undoing that mental barrier was one of the hardest parts of weight loss for me, because I would fail over and over and over again because there was a part of my mind that felt fat = safe.  Luckily, I have lots of experience in recognizing when I need outside help, and I have no problem going to counselors and others to help me get over different mental barriers.  I got past that one, after a 4 month plateau in my weight loss, but I started to wonder how many people are overweight because of similar issues?  I know of few friends and acquaintances can pinpoint when they had their weight gain to similar incidents of varying intensity and I wonder how many women and men are overweight because they feel it brings them a measure of control and safety?

I have started to really like my body – not in a vain “look how gorgeous I am” sort of way – but in a way where I appreciate my body’s efficiency, functions, and adaptability.  Through Crossfit, my body has learned to do all manner of physical things, my balance has improved, my aim when throwing something has improved, I can catch things now, I have stamina to explore paths not taken, and generally speaking my body actually does a good job of improving on itself every day, which gives me more freedom and joy every day.  It is amazing to me.  I appreciate all of the things that my body does for me and all of the ways in which, if I treat it right, it helps me out.  Making peace with my body and learning to appreciate it and enjoy it has been this miraculous process for me, as I was never what anyone would call athletic.  But I know that someday I will be.  That is a good thing to have on the horizon.

I’ve also moved past this mind/body dissociative split I have dealt with for a while.  I am more in tune with my body and I feel like instead of me being this puppeteer of a meat suit, I am this total person of mind, body, and spirit.  Can I get another hooray for the miracle of Crossfit?

Another way this past informs my present – I consider myself a feminist.  People tell me that I should be a humanist or that there is no need for feminism anymore, but I disagree.  Women are still harassed, women are still given a hard time simply for being feminists, and women are still abused and raped.  As long as we have those issues going on, I will be a feminist.

One of the boys who did many of these groping things was friends with many of my friends.  I asked one of my friends why he continued to be friends with someone who did all of the horrible things to women this guy was known to do and he said that while he may not be a good guy with women, with men he was a lot of fun and great guy to hang out with.  At the time, that explanation made sense.  As an adult, I can read it as, well, as long as you are not considering half of the population, he’s a great guy.

However, that half of the population is where I live, therefore, it matters to me that he isn’t a great guy.  As long as guys ignore the ill behavior of other guys because “that only matters if you are female”, then feminism is needed.

As long as I worry about publishing a blog post like this for fear of fallout, then feminism is needed.

I also firmly believe in counseling.  I wish that there was free counseling for all because it really can be so helpful to people.  I have gone periodically over the course of my life and it really keeps me moving forward with my life.  I think that living in this world can be a challenge and very few to none of us can get through it unscathed.  It helps to work through things with a counselor, because a lot of times that is the best way to break cycles of behavior that are actually harmful coping mechanisms.

Ok, I promise the blog will not be a heavy one.  I just get tired sometimes of people thinking that being fat is a problem with one straight forward solution.  There are often many mental and emotional reasons people behave the way they do and sometimes I think it should be said that some of these over weight issues are just broken defense mechanisms at play.

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2 thoughts on “Middle School Harassment – How My Past Informed My Present

  1. VERY WELL SAID! It’s funny how times have changed. Blake was telling me the other day that one of his “acquaintances” got into trouble for smacking a girl on the butt. One of the teachers saw him do it and he was sent to one day of ISS. They have a sexual harassment NO TOLERANCE policy and it’s pretty harsh. I am proud to say I have raised a gentleman who opens doors for women, meets parents when he’s picking up a date and treats all of the women, friends or family, with respect. He’s also told me once that I should stop reading Shape and other female magazines because it “gives women a warped view about beauty and creates poor body image.” I love that boy!

    Like

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