A Pox on the Patriarchy
The author of this post has asked to remain anonymous; she wrote it in response to Nikki McWatters’s piece, “Predatory Teenage Girls“, in the Huffington Post
When I was 15, like many teenage girls I had crushes. Not just sexual urges toward people, but platonic or intellectual ones as well. There were several girls in my school who I had a major crush on in that I wanted to be like them or at least inhabit their social sphere. They were the total opposite to me. They were attractive, socially adept, smart, but not scarily so, well dressed, had proper grown up bodies, not like mine which had the puppy fat of puberty but nothing as powerful as tits. They also seemed to be able to de-code adult things like which bands were right to like or what slang terms meant or how to tell if a boy liked you. They seemed confident and had slightly dangerous interests like smoking cigarettes and sneaking out to pubs. As someone who felt too mature to still be treated like a child, but not really ready to live like an adult, I idolised them and wanted to impress them.
I also really did relate to them more than the girls who seemed to have come out of the 50s. I already knew I wouldn’t be the kind of girl who married their first boyfriend, had babies and stayed at home. I knew that I would be leaving my provincial town at the very first opportunity and having a ‘proper’ career. I would never live in suburbia. I don’t know that industrial loft apartments in inner city areas existed in 1994, but I knew they were much more me than a 30s semi. So while I studied hard and attended the Girl Guides and went horse riding, I was also fascinated by heavy metal and rock, particularly the kind of LA based ‘cock rock’ that was all about hard drinking, hard fucking and heroin. I imagined myself sneaking out to dally with those slightly sartorially androgynous, but very manly men who would fuck you senseless and keep you on your toes by offering you something much more intoxicating than a cigarette in the post coital moment. It all seemed so debauched, so like something the girls at school I admired would do, so far from my hometown and so unlikely to actually happen to me. I had a crush on the idea of it all.
I was awkward, gawky and flat chested. I had red hair that entered a room before I did due to its unruliness. I had acne. I wore thick train track braces over teeth like Mr Ed meeting Watership Down. I was precocious and bookish and adept at looking down my nose at other people. I was also naive and wide eyed and not quite sure what was going on with my body and emotions. My parents hadn’t hidden the biology of making babies from me. We had an anatomically correct pop up book about it all and we even said ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ without giggling too much. But I was unaware that there would be urges and emotions. I was absolutely, completely and utterly desperate to kiss someone both as an erotic outlet and a validation that despite no one else thinking it, I was actually desirable, because smart clearly didn’t really matter at all in the grander scheme of things.
Then one night, after some of the cajoling only a teenager can muster, my parents agreed to let me go to a gig at a nightclub with some of those girls. We plotted and planned for weeks, picking outfits, perfecting our fake IDs, saving for the ticket, practising our over 18 looks. It was the kind of excitement children feel about Christmas transferred to an adult arena. On the night, we queued outside for ages before doors opened. It poured with rain and our veneer of adulthood was washed away as our make up smudged and our hair curled. We strongly suspected that ticket or no ticket, we weren’t going to get in. Then two older men came over and started talking to us. It was suggested we would pretend to be their girlfriends to get past the bouncers. We would basically hide in plain sight and we would get to see our favourite band.
Being nicely brought up middle class girls, when the plan worked and we got inside, we thanked them profusely and bought them a drink and then rushed away screaming with excitement to dance to the music. We thought the deception was a marvellous bit of play acting and I thought no more of it until I went off to the toilet and bumped into the man whose idea it had been. He stopped me and spoke me, offering to buy me a drink. Both out of politeness and the social cachet it afforded me, I accepted. We tried to talk at the bar but having to yell over the music made it tricky. Before I knew it he was leaning over, touching me, talking straight into my ear. It was exciting and different and thrilling. I thanked him again for his help and he told me that it was no problem, he was just pleased it had given him the chance to talk to me, he’d noticed me in the crowd, I stood out to him. He seemed honest, upfront, grown up. My interest was piqued. He’d picked me.
Before we left the gig for my dad to pick me up, he had given me his number and told me to call him some time if I fancied a drink. I floated out of there thinking he’d seen past the childish trappings to the mature young woman I really was. He was impressed and a little intimidated by me. I felt ten feet tall. I called him two days later from a payphone when I was out at my weekly Guide meeting. I saw only the portrayal of myself I wanted to put forward. It never occurred to me that he had seen the side I wanted to hide and that played more of a part than the window dressing. When I phoned, he sounded delighted, expressing surprise that i was interested in him and we arranged to meet again. He didn’t suggest a drink in a pub, but meeting in the afternoon and going for a coffee. None of that childish back of the bike sheds for me. No, just freshly ground Arabica.
I told my parents I was going to a friend’s after school and took a change of my best clothes, changing in the toilets of the bus station and hiding my uniform in a spare bag. I met him and we talked and talked. He reached for my hand above the table, told me everything I wanted to hear and when we were leaving, kissed me on the lips in a fashion that was both friendly and flirtatious. I was smitten. We met in a similar fashion twice more and nothing more forward happened. I was beside myself with desire, so when he asked me to come for dinner the next Friday night, I had my fib to my parents prepared before he’d even finished the sentence.
I counted the days and hours, turning up at his house so eagerly and full of thoughts and expectations, I failed to register that he lived quite a long way from me in an area impossible to get home from if I had wanted to. There was no dinner when I arrived, but I didn’t care. He told me he just couldn’t wait to kiss me any longer and since he shared a house, we went to his room for privacy. We were all over each other. I wanted him to kiss me. I wanted him to touch me. I wanted him to fuck me and I had no intention of saying no, even though i’d never even kissed a man before that night. It all seemed very natural, even the potentially awkward moment where I muttered about condoms and I felt very in the rythym of it until we started having sex which was actually quite painful. I felt tense, I felt out of sync, I felt disappointed by the lack of enjoyment but I didn’t want to make a fuss.
He finished and I think I went to say something when he punched me in the face. His fists rained down me as he told me I was shit in bed, I’d led him on, I was disgusting with my clothes off, I was a slut. I had never felt so exposed. I was naked, alone, no way of getting home and there was a total stranger in the room. This was not the man I’d arranged to meet. I had no idea what was happening apart from the fact I was in pain and actually I was angry. I was really angry. I calmly told him I wasn’t having any of this. He was wrong and I didn’t have to put up with this. I think I even told him to apologise because I was leaving.
What I got was actually worse than the beating. He laughed in my face and said I wasn’t going anywhere. Because aside from the lack of transport home, if I left and told everyone where I’d been, I’d get in trouble for lying for weeks and my parents would never trust me again and if I told people what had really happened, they’d know that not only was I a stupid little slut who jumped into bed immediately, I was so shallow and self obsessed as to believe that men found me attarctive when in fact I was disgusting. It would be so obvious that I was a liar, no one would believe he’d hit me, but they would understand why someone might want to because I was so up myself, thinking myself a young lady. No one would think I was smart now or mature or worth taking seriously. They’d laugh and point and I’d never be more than just that stupid slut, especially to my parents who would be devastated to have raised someone like me. That’s what would happen if I left.
So I stayed. Faced with the choice of losing my confidence in myself or everyone else’s confidence in myself, I stayed. I don’t think I’d ever really believed I was attractive and worth his previous niceness and I was ashamed to have been so cocky as to believe it and have flaunted myself. I stayed for 6 months. I sneaked out and lied and saw him all the time so that he wouldn’t tell anyone what I’d done and face the consequences. It didn’t occur to me that there were still consequences for staying. He beat me often enough that I spent all my time hiding the bruises and making up reasons for the ones I couldn’t. He often offered me the option of his fists or a fuck and I took the latter, not knowing that was rape. It was just easier at the time than covering up bruises. All the while, I went to school, kept studying and kept living the same life I had. I became one of those cool girls with the interests that seemed edgy to everyone else and the slightly too brittle attitude for that age. I didn’t think about the bigger picture, just that I’d got everything I wanted after all…
It never occurred to me to leave. I didn’t even know it was an option. I’d never heard of consent or domestic abuse, only wife beating and I wasn’t a wife so I must just be a stupid little slut who provoked and deserved it. I resigned myself to it, knowing that I’d be moving away when I got old enough if I could just stick til then. I didn’t need to though. Someone came along and recognised it was happening. He saw the emotional bruises and he helped me get away from him without a fight. He didn’t tell anyone after all, he didn’t turn up at my house like I feared, he didn’t come to my school. He just ceased to exist in my life. It was so easy, so simple, I couldn’t believe I’d stayed. All I’d needed was a little help.
And so it didn’t seem that strange when my Prince Charming asked me for some help in return. It was just this one time that he’d bought some heroin he couldn’t pay for right now. It was just this once that I could sleep with the friend he owed. He’d be so grateful especially after all that help he’d given me. And since it was only that once and I’d been brought up with such nice manners, I did it. I did it that time and every other time he asked. This was the sex, drugs and rock and roll style lifestyle I’d admired and I was the one in demand. I was the centre of attention and they begged me and I had all the power. It was only once or twice that he threatened to send me back to the boyfriend who’d hit me and anyway, wasn’t it fun?
No, it wasn’t fun. It was a much older man pimping out a 15 year old girl and up to 4 much older men raping her daily. Fun doesn’t even come into it. But I didn’t even realise I was being abused. I was just one of those cool girls who could handle her drugs, had older men falling at her feet and was holding down great grades at school and living this double life that everyone else envied as they read those books about groupies and cool girls. That blanketing feeling when I woke up in the morning and wished the day wasn’t starting was just being tired. It never occurred to me it was fear and depression gnawing at the edges of my life, finding their way in.
It still didn’t occur to me when it all came crashing down round me. One day I turned up after school, expecting to find my presence in demand as usual, only to be told they didn’t need me anymore. I was too old. They were all bored of me. Nothing was new and exciting anymore. They had someone else instead. I was 16 and upon being told for the first time as a woman that my age made me unfuckable, was hurt and furious. It never occurred to me that I’d just been granted a reprieve from repeated rape and that some other poor girl was about to enter hell. I was hellbent on proving that they were wrong and that I was highly desirable. I raged against the fact I’d been rejected and was determined to prove them wrong.
I worked twice as hard at school, showed myself to be smart as a whip, got a great job and starting going out getting wasted as many nights a week as I could. I drank, I took any drug within sight and fucked every single man I met. I could not be seen as unfuckable. I had to be the one who could have anyone they wanted and walk away on my terms. The fact I also began to lose quite serious amounts of weight at the time by not eating meant that both men and women commented on my body all the time. Women seemed to admire me. Men certainly desired me, even if they refused to date me. I’d proved myself to those men who hadn’t really realised what they had. They were the ones damaged by it all, not me.
And it never occurred to me to think any other way until I was 32 years old. I knew I had ‘issues’ but that was caused by other things like my dad running off with a girl a year older than me just after my 18th birthday or developing a selection of serious illnesses or the two brutal rapes in my mid 20s or the high pressure environment of having a female body in the world of fashion. None of that depression or anxiety or post traumatic stress disorder was anything to do with those experiences in my teens or the fact that when my family ran out of money due to the divorce, that had been entirely logical to save money on my fairly pricey pills and gin habit by getting men to buy them for me and end up in profit by fucking them for money at the same time. Because you go into a job you are good at it and I was brilliant at being fuckable but disposable. Prostitution was made for me.
I was also immeasurably fucked up. I used drugs and alcohol as a crutch and a way to detach from life. I had a raging eating disorder. I hated my body to the point where I would feel physically sick to look at it. I didn’t believe I was worth anything, especially decent relationships with men. Violence and prostitution was normal for me. I was so depressed I wanted to die. And I had never connected any of it to those abusive relationships in my past because I had never thought of them as abuse. I’d told a few people about being hit and they never called it abuse, they never took my side even though I knew that hitting a woman had huge social stigma. I assumed I must be immune to fists so I certainly couldn’t have been abused any other way. Cool girls who grew up wanting to fuck older men just did it differently to everyone else and it was everyone else who screwed up.
Except they weren’t. It was me who was screwed up. But it wasn’t my fault. I had been an almost adult who didn’t know how to navigate the abuse and power of those adults who should never have been anywhere near a 15 year old girl, let alone in bed with her. I have nothing to apologise for. I wasn’t wrong to believe that someone might find me attractive, that I might matter, that I was worth something. For years I blamed that blanketing feeling on me being a stupid cow who deserved to feel like shit for believing her own hype and consenting that first time. But when someone sat down and told me that I hadn’t just been doing it wrong for years, but being repeatedly abused, I realised I wasn’t wrong to have had that belief in myself, but that other people were wrong to have taken something so basic and true and used it to their own ends.
This is the first time I have ever thought about it all from start to now. It’s not finished. I’m still affected by it everyday, but I’m starting to see that I might get past it. I’m starting to believe it wasn’t my fault and that consenting to sex with anyone of any age isn’t consenting to abuse, but realising how vulnerable I was and how in an era of Woody Allen marrying his stepdaughter, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky and people then mistaking me for my dad’s girlfriend not his daugther, it was no wonder I didn’t think there might be risks with older men. It seemed so normal it would have been abnormal not to do it.