Being a Woman: The Burden and the Blame
Don’t be fooled: this makeup-free face and baggy, unflattering outfit is a mark of my adaptation as a woman. Despite my small stature, I’ve been known to make men cry with a single roundhouse kick. I am the height of female evolution.
What I mean by this, is that I have learned to look unattractive when leaving the house in order to avoid unwanted comments on the street, and I have trained in self-defence in the case that someone assaults me. I have adapted to a world where my chances of being a sexually assaulted are higher because I have a vagina.
I trained in martial arts for eight years as a hobby, a sport and as a way to protect myself, but throughout my worldly travels, the biggest threat to my own safety was the person who taught me karate in the first place.
Shortly after I turned 18, this 40-something married man with kids sent me a letter declaring his love for me. The letter, scarred with lustful undertones, not only made my skin crawl, but also brought an abrupt end to my beloved karate career, as I silently disappeared from that community with no desire to ever be near that pervert again.
It took me three years to tell anyone. Why? Even to this day, that’s a loaded question that I haven’t been able to fully unpack. However, I’ve come to the conclusion that a significant reason was because I feared blame. I feared that people would wonder what I had done that had prompted him to have inappropriate feelings for me; that they would wonder what I had done to make him send me that cringe-worthy letter.
There were at least two other adolescent girls who had also been victims, receiving far worse than just a letter from him. They too had remained silent for similar reasons.
This is the issue of blame, and it crops up when I travel, too. The moment I step out of my house, and especially when I land on foreign soil, I am responsible for my safety – as we all are. But unfortunately, the ways I have to protect myself differ from the ways men do. While they wander alone without fear, drive their scooters solo in the dark or walk shirtless along the beach on a hot day, I’m preconditioned to believe that I must stick to the buddy system and dress conservatively because if I don’t, I’m asking for trouble. Even when I take all these measures, if something bad does happen, I’ll still get asked, “Well, what were you wearing?” or hear, “You should have known that area was dangerous.”
But when I was groped in a Tokyo club, it wasn’t because of how I dressed. When I was followed by a man in Ireland, it wasn’t because I was travelling alone. And when I was sent an unwanted, disturbing “love letter” from that martial arts instructor, it wasn’t because I had done anything to ask for it. It’s because that molester, that stalker and that pervert were just that: a molester, a stalker and a pervert. They are the ones to carry the blame.
One of the other girls the instructor had harassed told me recently that she had not spoken up until years later for fear that her voice would be perceived as attention seeking, or that she would somehow get in trouble for what he had done to her. The second girl said he had made her feel like she was to blame, telling her that she was the only one who made him feel and act the way he did.
Unfortunately, these fears are what inspire many women to stay silent.
Thankfully, most people I told about my experience responded with only love and concern for my wellbeing. However, one of my friends had responded incredulously, utterly lost on why I had waited so long to do anything. He made it clear that telling someone would have been his first response – as if I was an idiot for not doing so. But it’s responses like these that make someone on the receiving end of harassment or assault hesitate before telling their story – it seems that no matter what we do, we’ve done something wrong.
But I’ve stopped carrying the blame. I refuse to be fear-mongered out of travelling the way I want, and I don’t listen to xenophobic articles that warn me of the “50 Places Women Should Never Travel Alone”,because the most alarming experience I’ve had was one that happened at home, by a self-defence instructor.
I’ve come to realise that I, like so many other women, have done all I can to protect myself. I can adapt no further for my own self-preservation in this society, for if I do, I will devolve into a docile creature with no freedoms whatsoever – a robot designed only to keep perverts away. That is not my purpose, though.
While today we are forced to adapt, I think that the rest of the world should start adapting to the fact that we are not here for sexual endeavours, thank you very much. The world is ours, too, to traverse. And despite the extra burden we may carry on our backs, I refuse to carry the blame.
Cover by the author