Call to self-worth: They got it wrong, but I know how to make things right
Disclaimer: This is a story about my path to realization of how my early encounters with men changed the way I see myself and my own self-worth.
This year, I have turned 25. At my last dentist visit, he told me: “Wow, the things that happened in the past year to you! It’s been quite a ride!”.
What he referred to was me moving to a new city with my now ex boyfriend, starting a new job, breaking up, moving out, moving in, moving out and finally moving in again to a new home. All that in a six month time span.
But things that have truly occurred this year, have been going on in my head, and uncovered some unsettling truths and long overdue realizations about what has been happening in my life for way longer than these six months and which had way deeper consequences.
I have grown up in Prague, Czech Republic. Growing up, I have identified strongly as a tomboy- i liked barbies but I preferred cars and I very convincingly got my head completely shaved at the age of 10, making my hairdresser cry as my waist-long hair fell to the ground.
At the age of 12, things have started to change. I have entered the period (ha!) of becoming a woman. Within a year, I’ve changed physically so much, that people thought the short haired boy on the photo in my sisters wallet was our (non existing) little brother. I have also entered an era of a disconnect with my body, where I was still a child, but my body very clearly screamed the opposite.
What I am about to start listing below are events which I have never, until this year, seen as events that fit into one bigger picture. I always considered them as outliers, independent occurrences of shitty (male) behavior, while taken together, they have made me who I am today.
- At the age of around 12, a man has flashed his penis at me in the public transport (twice). Only in one of these cases, someone stopped him (a woman!). Later, people told me I should have screamed to bring attention onto me. Sure. Let’s see if you wouldn’t be paralyzed if an old man’s penis hangs at your eye level. And you’re 12.
- At around the same time, maybe a year later, one of my sports teachers made sure to pick me and another girl (both of us were more “mature” looking than the rest of the class) to demonstrate something. He touched both of our butts.
- Few days after turning 13, a son (French) of our family friends in France forced himself on me during a period of two weeks when I would stay at their house to learn French. What at the beginning was a cute first ever “romance” (I never kissed a boy before), became him trying to get his way. I would be terrified to leave the room in the morning knowing that I’ll be stuck in his for the rest of the day. He was 15. I thought it was normal to let the older ones do such things, like an initiation. Little did I know this encounter would in great part shape my perception of intimacy.
- At around 14, two older teenagers in a club asked me for how much would I show them my breasts (I was a DD). They stopped at around 500 crowns (not even 20 Euros), as I was unresponsive and they got bored.
- I went to a French school and as of 15 had a French boyfriend. Because of this, a lot of people thought I was a tourist, when speaking with him in public transport. On many occasions, way older men would make remarks on my looks in very derogatory ways. I have never heard an apology or never seen a look of shame once they knew I was Czech and understood them.
- My tennis coach (Czech), while doing so “innocently”, approached me many times to propose me to have sex with him. It started at around 14. He was over 35 then.
- My first boyfriend managed to say to me during a fight (which was based on the premise of men starring at me in the tram, see above), that there’s no reason a man should look at me, if not for my breasts, as there’s nothing else to look at. He later apologized, but this sentence was another building block in my tower of insecurity for years to come.
- In college (in Europe), three German boys I knew, offered to walk me home. I was drunk a little to the limit. They took me to the main square underground parking and one by one started to kiss me as I was pressed against the wall. I do not remember if much more happened, but I am pretty certain I asked them to walk me home, and one of them did. One week later, at a party, one of them came to me to apologize for what happened. The other two stood behind looking absolutely uninterested in the event.
- During an exchange to the US, at a party, a friend of a friend (Chilean/US) forced himself on me in the staircase of the building opposite of where the party took place. I pushed him away twice, before I got truly annoyed and almost kicked him away. He got angry and never spoke to me again.
Sadly, the list could go on. The list of moments where I stayed silent, because I felt like “giving the men a pass on this one, just this one time”. At the end of the day, the fact that men felt entitled to behave this way was:
- independent of nationality
- independent of age
- independent of education
Now- when I opened up to some people about these events, I found myself in situations where friends (male) would say things like: “Well, maybe you were too nice to them and they got the wrong idea. You’re too friendly. You’re too direct in the way you are open minded about sexual things or…my favorite one: “You look very good and combined with the confidence you have, you kind of make it look like you’re asking for it”.
Excuse me? The fact that I am a friendly, open minded, sexually emancipated 21st century woman makes me “too welcoming” for predatory behavior? It is not me who has a problem- it is those who subconsciously live in medieval ages and clearly are unable to deal with an actual woman (I emphasize the word-woman), who is smart, has humor and looks good (hell yeah, I will engage in self-praise).
I also want to give a shout out to all the great men out there(You’re great!) and I want to point out instances where I have seen some truly respectable (how sad that I cannot say “normal”) behavior:
- When a boy asked me whether I really want it when we were both drinking. Shocked, I replied: Why are you asking? And he said: Because I want to make sure that you don’t feel like I have raped you. I thought it was crazy and he said: I care about my future and I would never do it with a girl who’s unable to answer the question in that moment. Buzzkill? No way. I wish more would ask that question instead of taking it all for granted in these rather hazy moments.
- My last boyfriend- who for many reasons, was the man who had the most respect for me.
- But I wish the list was longer than this.
All this to say, that my 25th year has been truly a year of reflection and is nowhere near an end. It is just the beginning. The idea, that it took me over ten years to realize certain things, is truly scary. The fact that I am only now realizing the impact of early encounters with men on my perception of intimacy to this date, is even scarier. How I grew up with the deep inner belief that in a way, it is okay to let men have it the way they want. That in intimacy, they are the center of the universe. Hell no.
I encourage everyone to embark on this path- but I also warn you. What you will uncover might truly trouble you for some time, and in that time, be positive. You are strong and made it all the way here. Your insecurities don’t have to exist. You are more than your body. You can say no, and still get your way, be liked, be loved. And those who cannot accept it, do not belong in your life.
Written by B.