Teenager: Not yet a woman, already a prey
8 years old. A naked man flashes his penis at me and my sisters on a bike ride.
10 years old. A man starts masturbating in the street as I walk down with my mum. Hand on dick. Eyes on me.
12 years old. School trip to Germany, my penpal’s dad runs his hand up my thigh as he asks how my day went.
13 years old. A man wolf-whistles at me in my short skirt.
14 years old. “After your run, I’ll wash your sweaty back,” says an old guy on a bench.
15 years old. Still running, don’t know yet what from. Beautiful park, early morning, bunnies hopping across dew-covered fields. A guy appears, talks to me, comes closer and closer, wants to help me do stretches. He starts appearing, out of nowhere, every time I go for a run. I remember his yellow sunglasses and the smell of his axe deodorant.
16 years old. We climb over the gate of our boarding school, our first nights out on the town, drinking too much cheap vodka. Young and wild and free. A whirl of men, trying to take advantage. “Come with us, get in the car.” My friend starts climbing in, I grab her arm, we have to run away because they’re angry now.
18 years old. First college parties. The same guy is at every single event — he’s in his mid-fifties. You see him watch girls get drunker and drunker, and dance closer and closer to them, and get countless rejections, until eventually, he finds someone drunk enough that when he starts violating them they do not react. No one steps in. Of course, they don’t. They laugh behind her back and tell their friends and for the rest of the year she’s that lame girl who kissed an old guy.
Looking back, I realise that before I even realised my own sexuality, I was being sexualised, treated as prey by men far too old not to know any better. In fact, part of how I discovered my own existence as a sexual being was through these men who turned me into meat.
I came of age feeling passive not active in my own desire.
Some of you reading may have teenage daughters, and they might not be telling you about the incidents that they are already encountering, because being sexualised still feels embarrassing at that age, especially in front of parents who still see you as a child. You discuss these things with friends the same age.
They don’t know anymore than you do, so you never hear anyone saying: that’s not normal, or what happened is really bad. And when you are a teenager, you are — despite what the angst and drama might indicate — incredibly strong, and quick to normalise aggressions.
If you are treated like meat, you think that is normal. You think that is how men are. You think that you are supposed to like it, because to be a successful woman — to be a woman with any value at all — is to be desired.
You also don’t realise yet how deeply some men lack respect towards girls and women. You know you are human, and it seems obvious to you that they are treating you as such. Sure, they might want sex, but they would never forget that it is sex with another person. That is the part you become aware of afterwards. That this respect that you presumed was there — because it is the basis of most social relations — disappears completely when it comes to sex.
I watch men, friends, boyfriends, continuing to fantasise about barely legal teens, about not legal at all girls who are still children, even if they are playing dress up in high heels and bright eyeshadow and low cut tops.
It’s scary to think of what the world is like for teenage girls.
Looking back, I’m scared for the teenage me, knowing now how she was seen then.
Then again, I also know she was strong. And fearless. She knew what was happening was wrong — even if she couldn’t put words on it. She knew sometimes that living her life — going running, going partying — would mean encountering scary men. She did it anyway. because she knew that was her right.
She couldn’t talk about these things with grown-ups because they would tell her to stop doing all the things that made her her. And she was so thirsty to start living.
Looking back, my main wish is that she hadn’t been so alone.