“It’s not like I was raped”

This is something I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while – but I keep putting it off. A select few in my life have been privy to hushed conversations and implied sentences, but nothing of depth, because honestly they don’t seem to care. It’s not exactly something I’ve felt able to bring up, or wanted to talk about to begin with. But now I do want to talk about it. I need to talk about it. I’ve experience sexual violence.

I don’t exactly know how to phrase that, because it’s not liked I was raped or that I see myself as a victim. It’s taken me years to realise that I have experienced sexual violence, because “It’s not like I was raped.” Being left bruised and bleeding, and in pain for the following few days was perfectly acceptable because I felt like I had led him on, and it’s not like I was raped. It was something I was ashamed of, hiding my battered body tactically behind high necked clothes, because it was something to be embarrassed of. I had led the poor boy on, I was tease, a slut. No one ever said these labels to me, but they were what I slapped onto myself because I had been conditioned to have these thoughts by society. Kissing a boy I had only met that night is not something I am proud of. It is certainly not something I would want my family knowing, so events ensuing after that are not something I feel comfortable enclosing to them. I don’t want to evoke their shame or disappointment at my “loose morals”. I don’t want them to feel sorry for me.

It was a college night out and I had been drinking. Safe to say I was drunk, but not incoherent drunk. The stage of drunkenness where the night is still fun. Having a stranger show interest in you is flattering – there’s been a shortage of male attention in my life and I haven’t had the best role models. Having a complete stranger want to be with me is flattering – out of all the stunning girls in the club he has eyes for me. It’s not creepy or vain, it’s a confidence booster. Throughout the night we kiss and drift back and forth between our respective friend groups, never just having a conversation. The club turns on the lights, it’s time to go, I invite him to walk me back to the friends’ apartment where I’m staying that night. A group of four of us walk back together, but the other two head into the building while we say goodnight. We’re up against a wall, kissing each other in a residential area on campus. He doesn’t go to the college, he’s up with friends and they’re staying in a hotel together. I commute to college, hence why I’m staying with a friend. She said she was okay if I want to bring him upstairs, but I don’t. The night is ending here, with me going to sleep alone.

We’re still kissing and his hands start to wander. I roll with it, until he’s unwrapping a condom and I tell him to slow down. He doesn’t listen. Trying to redeem the situation, I take the condom out of his hand and playful hold it out of his reach, all the while still kissing. He gets it back, and puts it on. His hands are still wandering. I try to placate him in other ways but he’s a man on a mission. I tell him he’s hurting me. We keep kissing.  He’s going in for the kill and I’m trying to delay the situation, unaware that saying no and walking away remains an option to me. My feeble protests finally get through to him, and suddenly says “I’m not a rapist” and walks away from me. He wasn’t a rapist, so I wasn’t just sexually abused.  After all, I had asked him did he want to walk back with me.

He wasn’t some stranger in the night jumping on me out of nowhere. He didn’t put me at risk of pregnancy or an STI. I had seemed to have enjoyed his company earlier in the night. Where was the issue exactly? The next day it hurt to urinate, and asking a friend if this was normal she was taken aback, but the matter was left there. The next weekend I’m getting ready to go out. I’m tactically using boob tape to stick my clothes down so they don’t move during the night and reveal the finger print sized bruises all across my chest, but I wasn’t careful enough. My friend and her boyfriend see them, and they know I had an encounter with a boy that didn’t end well, but we leave it at that. I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t know how.

This year I read a powerful letter from a woman who wasn’t as lucky as me – she actually was raped. She had written a letter to her rapist, Brook Turner who went to Stanford. It evoked something inside of me and got me thinking.

I go to America for a year, and have the opportunity to take some Women and Genders studies classes. It opens my eyes on so many levels, and I feel as if up until now I’ve bene blind to the world around me. Overnight I realise that gender is a curse if you’re a female living in the patriarchy, and that I make up part of a statistic now. I’ve experience sexual violence. In a monumental baby step, I have a brief conversation with a friend who had a friend force himself upon her, but stopped only when she was glistening in her own tears. She wasn’t raped, bruised or bleeding, but had openly said no. I finally admit to her and myself, that I have experience sexual violence. We carry on as if this is normality and it never comes up again.

I start to acknowledge the underlying fear I have towards intimacy. I don’t kiss strangers on a night out, unless I’m black out drunk on a rare occasion. When I do, I feel inherently guilty the next day. I’m not a prude, and want to own my sexuality but don’t know how. I only seem to be able to source companionship through reliable sources, like friends of friends who I’ve met sober and feel safe with. An ex-boyfriend makes appearances, he knew what happened, and while we never openly discussed it I feel safe with him.   I haven’t had a relationship since, and still insist that my night needs to end with me going to sleep alone. I also realise that walking home alone is safer, and brush up on my self-defence course. Not like the original one I had done had stood to me- but at least I hadn’t been raped.

It’s been nearly three years since I was sexually abused, and I’m only just beginning to process it. Today I read an article where a girl discloses that on two separate occasions she has been raped twice, by separate people. She was raped, and she wasn’t sure at the time if it was rape. This breaks my heart and empowers me at the same time. Knowing other women out there have been sexually abused and have the strength to address it head on makes me feel like I’m not alone. I wasn’t raped, so I don’t know if I fall in the same category as them. Yet I’ve realised that what happened to me was wrong, even if it wasn’t rape.

He walked away from me saying “I’m not a rapist.” but he didn’t say “I don’t sexually abuse people.” It took me two years to realise that he is no better than a rapist. I’m a smart girl on track to graduate with a first class honours degree, I should know better. But I don’t. I don’t know what is classified as sexual violence. I don’t know what the appropriate response to these situations is. I don’t know how to say no in such intimidating situations, and I don’t know to have the expectation that there should be express consent. I don’t know how such vital information has slipped through our education system. I don’t know how our society has shaped such an acceptable rape culture. I don’t know how our country is okay with letting its women down with its support systems and acceptance of such norms. I don’t know how to not feel powerless.

 

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“I expected this of other girls, but not of you.”

Despite attending an all girls school, most of my closest friends have always been boys. It’s not for lack of trying on my part that I’ve a dwindling number of female allies -segregated all girls education for 12 years, playing hockey on a girls team for a combined 10 years, joining an all female work out group and I now live in an apartment with three other girls. Don’t get me wrong, I am friends with girls, just my closest, best friends, the ones you go to in times of trouble, all happen to male. I’ve been called one of the lads, get invited on boys night out and even told “I don’t really count as a girl”. I’ve never felt overly feminine, but I do have my girly moments.

When I was 18 I wore a long sleeved skater dress with a plunging v neckline to a New Years Eve party with friends. I’d worn this dress before, on my graduation night out with all girls, and felt amazing in it and that New Years Eve party was no different. That was, until my male friends started to comment on how I was dressed.

“Nice tits”

“Never you had boobs”

and even ” I expected this of other girls, but not of you”.

These weren’t cat calls from strangers across the street, but direct comments from friends who I thought valued me beyond the superficial of what I was wearing. I felt so uncomfortable as my friends made eye contact with my chest, yet didn’t know why exactly I was so put out.

That was, until over 2 years later and a “compliment” from someone who barely reaches status of an acquaintance, told me he “never realised what big boobs I have”. This occurrence also took place over snapshot to add to the sleaziest of the situation.

I’ve suddenly realised that I may always be objectified, and will most likely have to fight to be valued for my mind and soul over my physical appearance. In school, naïve as I was, I thought the sexualisation of women was a thing of the past and something I would never have to deal with, particularly when I don’t even think that I am that well endowed. I don’t want to have to spend my life worrying if I’m dressed modestly enough to be taken seriously. What female friends I do have don’t share this worry, and even pass judgement on my attire if they think my dress is to short or not. I don’t want to fit into glass slippers but break the glass ceiling, and break it in my short dress with my tits flying free if need be.

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Searching for Summer

My last exam was on the 17th of June, which I took seriously. If you count taking a two hour nap in a three hour exam as serious. Physics is not my forte, so I dropped levels on the day of the exam and don’t plan on counting it for points anyway. But when I handed up my sealed blue script, the feeling of closure never came. Yes, I was extremely happy, my 14 years of education were finally coming to an end and I did pursue greasy fast food from a Mickey D’s drive-thru and run around a park with a friend, but the feeling of completion was lacking. 

It’s now just over 2 weeks since I put down my pen and that feeling I was expecting has still eluded me. The day after I finished, I was up early thanks to my internal body clock and declared war on the dust in my room. The four following days after that, I went out every night and had a brilliant time. It could be argued that I over did my partying, since I was coming home when it was bright out again and there may have been 3 days I went without seeing the mother, combined with arriving home on a a Sunday morning at 11:30 am, having forgotten to go to bed. But you only finish your Leaving Cert once right? (unless you repeat of course, but that is never going to happen in my case.)

I had another reason to go all out in my celebrations as well, since a week the Monday after I said goodbye to the Leaving Cert I said hello to an intensive course of antibiotics. This two week course of medication has been planned for a while back but with the copious amount of side-effects that came in association it was decided best to post pone it until after my exams. A logical decision by my doctor, particularly since those side-effects have had me regularly curled up in a ball trying to ignore my spasming stomach and debating baking brownies at 5 in the morning because I’ve turned temporary insomniac and might as well be productive. I’m getting even less sleep than I was on my string of nights out, yet none of the fun (or alcohol!.) 

Despite taking so many tablets that I would rattle if you were to shake me, I have kept busy. The on-going search for a job has been intensified, the amount of CV’s my printer has been churning out is making trees everywhere cry. The mother has rightly shown no sympathy for my health state (because at the end of the day, it could be a lot worse) and has ordered me not to come home until I have no more CV’s left or a newly secured job. That outlook got back tracked yesterday evening though, with a text saying “Hey I was only joking. U can come home even if u still have CV’s. Let me know” after I failed to come home for dinner (It was 20 past 6 at this stage after all.)

I’ve engaged with other minor projects as well that are still works in progress but will hopefully stand to me in the future. I haven’t spent a single day lying on my backside (though there have been a day or two where I was caught wearing one of my beloved onesies.) and I think that’s why I’ve yet to feel closure from my exams. I had envisioned the summer to be one of leisure, with a holiday in Magaluf being the highlight. I should have known better than to have such realistic expectations though, it’s never acceptable to be lazy in my household and I’m too restless anyway. Magaluf for me has gone bust thanks to  spontaneous health aliments but at the end of the day, there’s no pressure to study and I finally get to see natural daylight again. (even if it is saturated with rain from the Irish climate.)

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“An object of contempt, an object of desire”

My life revolves around physical objects. Judgements are made on appearance, but based on clothes and accessories rather than facial features or body shape. Self worth and confidence stems from the value of what I have, and is expressed through material possessions. Emotions are in sync with these possessions, a new iphone determining whether I’m happy and a broken watch deciding I’m sad. Without objects in my life, I’m lost. 

The start of any given day greets me with one of my favourite objects; my bed. During the night we worked together to create a nest for myself, assisted by a duvet and some pillows, cocooned against the rest of the world. The warm embrace my bed offers me is simple yet very much appreciated. I love the cosiness of the situation and passionately hate the moment I have to leave its comfort, to say goodbye. No matter how late I’m running, I carefully make my bed bed, aligning up my pillows with the childhood baby blanket resting on top. It’s my way of showing gratitude to my bed, saying thanks for all the times its spent with me. 

The next object of the day that makes a significant impact on me is a much hated one, the school bell. It makes me run in the mornings, taunting me with a late mark as I sprint through the school doors. It’s rude as well, constantly interrupting conversations. Despite living in a place of education it has yet to learn social etiquette or patience. Our relationship is a love-hate one, just without the love. The bell disregards everything I happen to be doing, telling me to drop everything and switch to something else. I try my best to treat it as it treats me, ignoring it just as it ignores my opinion but this rarely ends in my favour. Apparently disregarding the bell in not deemed an acceptable excuse for being late to class. That painfully shrill noise the bell emits defines where I have to be, what I have to do and for now long I can do it. It defines my life. 

The transition from my school uniform to my own individual clothes is the next material landmark of the day. I get to trade the itchy woollen jumper that smells like wet dog if I get caught in the rain, for something of my own choosing. I always opt for comfort clothes, either “fat man pants” , a pair of oversized tracksuit bottoms, or a a “onesie”, novelty one pieced pyjamas that have become common in recent years. The horribly impractical school skirt gets left on the floor as I caress my favourite clothes. My zebra print onesie welcomes me with open arms, The milkman has finally stopped being surprised when I open the door with an unnecessary tail swinging gaily behind me. True, I might look a little abstract but my feet never get cold. 

My final stop of the day is in tune with your stereotypical teenager. My nightly routine comes to a close by listening to my beloved ipod. The services it can provide are endless, acting as a calculator or possibly an alarm clock but its moment of glory is playing music, its what it was born to do. It acts as a device to quiet down the babble of noise in my head, to allow me to unwind and simply enjoy myself. I set it playing on the same artist every night, snuggle back into the bed I was cruelly separated from that morning and let the day fade away. 

The next morning, the cycle starts itself again. The objects around me condition a routine. The monotony of it all is broken when a new object of contempt or an object of desire is thrown into the mix. Without the objects of modern life, valued or not, I would be lost. They define the world around me. 

 

I was looking back over my “mock” exam script as a poor attempt to prepare myself for my upcoming exams and the above is what I wrote for the composing section. The task was to write a personal response to “an object of contempt, and object of desire” as the theme of the paper was relics. It was written under exam conditions, including the quiet yet noisy exam hall, time management, and not forgetting hand craps. Obviously it isn’t perfect, but would love feedback in terms of how I can improve, thanks for reading! 

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Dear 16 year old me

Hello! First of all, it seems like just yesterday I was 16 (clichéd I know!). I really can’t believe its been two whole years already, and I know these letters are usually written in 10 years time, but with it being said that time speeds up as you get older, I won’t have a second to sit down as it’s already flying by. So, lets get started. You’re in for a rocky ride.

First of all, you have yet to reconcile with the father, so don’t waste any time or hope on that front. In fact, the last you heard of him was the usual card on your birthday, which was over 2 months ago.

Secondly, 5th year will be the worst year of your life so far. But, you will survive it so it’s all good. There will be many tears shed and many breakdowns, but things start to look up during the summer.

Next point of business, that medication you had to go on? You will gain about 2 stone from it so keep your fitness up to scratch! Become one of those clean eating machines because you really loose the will power to watch your chocolate intake during 6th year.

So, the scary concept that is your final year in school? It isn’t so scary once it starts because you have yet to accept the fact that you are a 6th year, and I am writing this after you’ve graduated. You don’t study when you should and are very slack with your homework. Also, finding out the schools wi-fi password is a very bad idea.

The first week of 6th year you change a driving lesson in favour of hockey practice. Do not do this! You will end up breaking the thumb on your right hand, spending an embarrassing three days in a sling and a further six weeks with a splint. You will not be able to play hockey for the first half of the season, but on the plus side your handwriting will be hilarious. You still can’t drive though.

So I guess your wondering where you stand with your relationships with everyone. Well, in a nutshell they all go on roller-coaster rides that you’ve yet to get off. But for the most part its in a fun way so keep hanging in there.

I think that’s about it really, I don’t want to give too much away so life remains a surprise for you. (Even though I know you hate surprises.) So, I’ll leave you hear with a cheery wave, and if I get the chance I’ll write to you again in another 5 years or so and we can compare notes.

All the best!

P.S. Those iron tablets you started to take halfway through 5th year? Start taking more of them and demand stronger ones because you may or may not end up in hospital because of it.

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School Conclusion

The biggest exams I’ve yet to face in life are fast approaching, and despite my multiple failed attempts I’m close to accepting the inevitable. In primary school I excelled academically. Then Secondary school hit me, and I was doing just fine, but slowly and surely I slipped up. Where exactly is a mystery, but my first set of state exams I did fine in but not in the standard I was capable of. That was okay though, because that was the year my parents decided to separate so it was treated as my “get out of jail free” card. Also, those exams counted for nothing, I was only 15. 

Now, three years later and there’s less than two weeks to go until I sit the exams that determine my future in terms of whether or not I attend collage, and if so which course. Firstly, I don’t know what course I want because I don’t know where I’m going in life but if you have any suggestions please let me know. Secondly, I have just found out that I have been severely anaemic these past 15 months and that is the reason why I couldn’t focus in class or sit down to study, especially when my iron levels dropped so low I collapsed and ended up in hospital for blood transfusions an hour after sitting my German oral, which counts for part of these upcoming examinations. I could take advantage of this as my second “get out of jail free” card but that won’t get me anywhere in life. Thirdly and most importantly, I am stupid. I used to think I was smart, and was a straight A student but these past two years I have been failing nearly every subject spectacularly. I could accept that, if I wasn’t making an effort. But when I do make a consistent effort of attending classes, doing homework and studying, there is never any improvement. I just don’t have a brain designed for the education system.

The student sitting next to me never engages in anything intellectually stimulating, such as reading whereas I do, yet because they can memorise anything and everything they are star pupils. At least once a week if not once a day, I hear a teacher say “You just have to learn it off” and I get scolded because I don’t. Its not for lack of trying, I spent forty minutes today trying to memorise one sentence in Irish today. Find me any memory trick out there and I promise you I have tried it. I’m just not designed that way, and I can accept that. But because the education system in Ireland is built solely around rote learning, I must also accept that I am stupid. What upsets me, is that I feel like I am. 

Try spending day after day receiving bad grades despite your best efforts, try looking for help from teachers yet never getting anything constructive, try constantly being a failure and not feeling like one. I’ve held onto some hope that it’s the system that’s corrupt and not me, yet it’s time I face the fact that I myself and the failure. 

I am now terrified I will fail my upcoming exams, and if that happens there are very few options out there for me. However, the thing that scares me most is not ending up working a 9 to 5 minimum wage job that I hate for the rest of my life, but disappointing myself. The mother will accept my failure and blame it on the illness because she still has hope for me. Personally, my hope has been crushed. If I fail these exams, it’s more than disregarding the pursuit of further education, it’s facing the cold hard fact that I am not smart. 

I am stupid.  

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Running to a Rainbow

It’s 11pm on a Friday night, I have a free house and yet I am snuggled up in bed like the good 18 year old that I am. Despite that being very much true, the reasons that led to me being wrapped up in a duvet are not necessarily by choice. That being said, I am extremely happy right now.

Today I managed a full day of school and stayed back for a 2 hour study session (which I may have spent an hour of hacked on the schools wi-fi, but that’s beside the point) and did not fall asleep or anything along those lines, even walking home after the long day. I then let myself in like the latch key kid I am at 6pm, as the sister is out partying and the mother is away on a business trip. I proceeded to make my own basic dinner of pasta and relax on the computer. Up to this point the day has been an accomplishment, as this past month I have missed more school than I’ve attended thanks to a sudden hospitalisation.

Earlier in the month, less than an hour after my German oral for my leaving cert (biggest state examination I will ever sit that my entire future is currently resting on) I collapse very publicly in the corridor, and embarrass myself. Long story short and two blood transfusions later I’ve been diagnosed as severely anaemic and have apparently suffered chronic blood loss. How I’ve lost all this blood is beyond me, and my doctors. But after multiple return appointments and tests no further insight has been gained and as of Wednesday, I’m classed as stable and was given the all clear to ease back into exercising again.

As a school student in the the most stressful and final year of my 14 years of schooling, exercise has been the most prominent “de-stress” pastime I have. I play hockey, but as the seasons now over I’ve been going for more and more runs and throwing in more strength training to mix it up. So when exercising got taken away from me because I kept blacking out, I wasn’t the happiest bunny in the world, especially as I had hospital appointments to stress over as well.

Wednesday, I couldn’t jump right back into the swing of things because I’d been under general anaesthetic. Thursday, I got through a full day at school and counted that as my victory for the day. Friday, today, after 8pm I decided to go for a run, and although I got absolutely lashed on it was all the more exhilarating.

That 4km run had to be the best of my life. Not the longest I’ve ever ran but I made good time for me, especially considering I’ve been a complete vegetable lately, and was overjoyed at the mere fact that I was running, and not losing consciousness. Usually I grumble and groan through my runs, a battle of mind versus body with my mind always giving in first, but today it was the opposite. When the rain finally did begin to let up and I could see past the raindrops sliding down my face, a perfect rainbow was staring back me. It was just one of the those magic moments where every worry is no longer relevant because suddenly (excuse me for the corniness) you’re wrapped up in the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

Arriving back on my doorstep and soaked to the skin, I tested my limits some more with some heavy duty strength training. Dripping in sweat I took an ice cold shower to ease my painfully tight muscles, and now I’m writing this.

Without a doubt it’s been a good day. Oh, and there was a spontaneous conga line around the school today too.

This isn't my rainbow, as I would have had to stop running to take a picture which would have ruined the moment. This is just for the benefit of anyone who doesn't know what a rainbow looks like.

This isn’t my rainbow, as I would have had to stop running to take a picture which would have ruined the moment. This is just for the benefit of anyone who doesn’t know what a rainbow looks like.

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