At age 11 I attended parochial school. My home room teacher was a man. The circumstances would have remained the same had my teacher been female. I felt too ashamed to share my problem with anyone at all. The nuns paid close attention to our dress code. We were too poor a parish for uniforms but our dresses still met a modest and Christian criteria. My “uniform” consisted of a frock with a hem which measured 12 inches from the floor while kneeling. There were random tests using a special ruler capable of determining a girl’s modesty. And if the numbers were high, you were sent home. To complete the ensemble we wore long wool socks and loafers. Knee caps and hands were the only visible flesh. Makeup was forbidden. A sister tried her best to scrub the natural blush from my face on one humiliating occasion. I knew less than nothing about sexuality. I still played with dolls. My friends and I formed a cheer squad and assembled our own uniforms. We wore a knee length wool skort, a long sleeved v neck sweater with a turtleneck dicky beneath, knee socks and saddle oxfords. Once more, we were modestly dressed in 1968. But our teacher, one of the good sisters, took us aside and lectured us on the sins of the flesh . She told us that we were giving off signals.
I remember the first incident, my first ever #me too with total clarity despite the passage of time. In the classroom we were seated according to our height. I was seated last row from the door and second seat from the back of the room. The last seat was occupied by a boy, bigger than me, stronger than me and a year older than me. He was my tormentor. It is almost laughable to recall how innocent I was at that age. He began by leaning forward and grabbing at my clothing. At first I thought he was trying to tickle me! I do not remember how long this went on. I do know that by the time I found a solution to my problem, I knew what he was reaching for. He became more aggressive and used the same slang for female anatomy as the current sitting president and with the same immature and bullying delivery. It disturbs me still to recall the attitude that he was superior and it was his right to behave as he did and that I was behaving badly by refusing to comply.
I dreaded going to school. I told no one. I felt ashamed and scared and I wondered what I did to bring this on. I was surrounded by a wonderful support system of family and friends. But this was taboo. I was so ashamed. As far as I knew, he was not grabbing anyone else. There were a few times that my verbal objections and pushing his hands away got the teacher’s attention. But when he would approach and ask about the interruption, I could not answer. I never could. I did not tell anyone until just recently. I ended up telling the teacher I could not see the chalk board. I was reassigned and another girl took my place and I wondered if she became his next victim. I hoped not. But I was relieved that it was no longer my problem.
I wish I could end with a brave confrontation, a feel good revenge. Sadly, this same bully made another attempt at a later date off school grounds. Fortunately for me, I outran him. I never confronted him. I wish I had. My daughters have grown up with more confidence, self-worth, knowledge and strength than I had at their age. I do believe, despite recent events, we have made progress. It is an ongoing struggle for women and the accusations of late are a sign that the days of locker room and good old boy excuses are going to be challenged from now on.
Next time perhaps: my first feeling of empowerment. January 21, 2017.