When I was 13 a boy told me I was ugly. He said I needed to lose weight if I was ever going to be pretty. He told me to buy a treadmill, to which I replied I already had one. So he proceeded to chuckle and told me to use it.
That afternoon I went for a run, then again that night, and the next morning.
I was only 40kg.
I looked at the girls he thought were pretty in close detail and compared their features to mine. I tried to mimic their style, how they parted their hair even the brand of fake lashes they used. Everything he wanted I wasn’t, so I lost myself chasing an unrealistic standard of beauty.
When I told my friends and family what happened they laughed it off.
“Boys will be boys”
They said he must like me so he’s playing games to keep me around.
I believed them.
The problem with this is when you tell a little girl that boys show their affection through name calling, aggression and manipulation, she begins so grow into a woman who mistakes the two.
“Boys will be boys” becomes an excuse. It becomes his defence. A defence he doesn’t deserve to have, in front of a jury of people that need to know the truth.
When I was 19 I was getting great marks at university. I loved journalism, I was good at journalism and I was where I was supposed to be: content and happy. When I was doing a group assignment a boy was very nice to me. He told me I was smart. That I was good looking. He helped me with my writing.
We worked well together: both motivated and passionate. He told me I was pretty, but he had a girlfriend so I brushed it off.
He touched my leg and I flinched. He was just being nice. I let it go.
He told me I had a nice ass. “Boys will be boys.” He was just kidding.
He asked if I had a boyfriend. I didn’t.
We were editing late one night. It was okay though because everyone else was there. It was safe. Everyone was happy, excited to finish our last news story for the week.
He walked out of the room and when I looked, he signalled me to follow him. I did as I was told. In the next room he continued to walk into the storeroom. I laughed “what are you doing?” I assumed he wanted to talk privately about one of the group members.
When I stood in front of him he grabbed my face and pushed his lips onto mine. It stung like needles. I pushed him off in shock.
“What are you doing?!” my voice shook.
I felt betrayed. He was my friend. He just smiled and tried again.
I pushed him off firmer this time.
“Don’t you have a girlfriend?!”
“Yes but you’re the most attractive girl I’ve ever seen.”
I told him this wasn’t okay. I stood my ground and I said no. He laughed it off with an embarrassed apology and went to the bathroom.
The room was empty. It was just me and my thoughts. I took a few breaths. “Boys will be boys.” It was probably my fault. I laughed it off when he told me I was pretty. I let him touch me when I wasn’t comfortable. I should have said no. It’s not his fault because “boys will be boys.”
He came back to the editing room with the rest of my group. It was like nothing had happened. It was like he hadn’t crossed that boundary.
Weeks went by and I decided what happened was my fault. I must have lead him on, or at least gave him an indication that I was interested. I went to message him to ask a question about an upcoming assignment, only to see that he had blocked me. Confused as to what I had done wrong, I sent him a message on Snapchat to ask why I was blocked.
“My girlfriend is intimidated by you. You’re a nice girl, don’t be so bitter Jess.”
Weeks went by and I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t want to make a big deal over nothing. I reasoned with myself: he didn’t physically abuse me, there were no bruise markings along my skin, he didn’t verbally abuse me, words weren’t ringing in my ears reminding me I wasn’t good enough. He was just kidding. He thought I was pretty. When boys think girls are pretty, that’s what they do. “Boys will be boys.”
But it wasn’t okay. I came back next session and I flinched when I could feel his eyes on me. When he was in the room, I didn’t feel safe anymore. My best friend joked not to be in the same room alone with him anymore. But it wasn’t a joke. I didn’t want to be near him. It made me feel sick when he was walked past me.
This is when I realised that what happened wasn’t okay. Blaming myself wasn’t okay. I guess what I’m trying to say is victim blaming is never appropriate. I wasn’t bitter by speaking up when my boundaries were crossed and I was made to look like I provoked him.
According to The Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime “Victim blaming is a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them.”
I guess what I’m trying to say is I’ll preach until my voice is hoarse so my little sisters know that when a boy calls them ugly it’s not because he likes them. It’s because he’s awful and “boys will be boys” is a phrase, imprinted in society to excuse men from the day they’re born, for being awful. I want them to know that if someone touches them, or kisses them or even stands too close to them “no” means no. Affection and aggression, consent and dissent: they’re two separate things. They exist in different universes.
If you have experienced sexual assault there are many services throughout Australia that you can reach out to, here is a list of them ordered by state. You’re not alone.