|Me in high school.|
The gentleman who led the bell ringers at my school was a quiet and serious man who was my father's age. He would escort us across the close and up the tower to the bells and ask us about our studies and other matters. He was always very respectful towards us. Anyway, on one of our weekly treks over to the bell tower we were chatting in a group, as we always did. I said something to the teacher - I truly cannot remember what. But his response is forever seared in my mind. "Well LOOK at you!" he barked angrily. "You have your belly half hanging out of your shirt and God knows what! What do you expect?!" I froze. My stomach felt like it had been kicked and my face turned bright red. He was shaming me. He was visibly angry at me for my appearance. I felt so small and so embarrassed and very, very bad.
By the way, not that it matters, but here is what I was wearing: jeans, Doc Martens, a white V-neck undershirt that had the bottom cut off so it fit me and a flannel shirt tied around my waist. I remember thinking, "My shirt is too short. I'm inappropriate." Never mind that my school had a dress code that prohibited midriff exposure and I surely would have gotten detention that day if I was in fact violating the dress code.
I left the club eventually. But not before we took a road trip with this same teacher to ring in different bell towers in New England. (I know, it's so WASP-y.) Because we had long trips in the van, it was suggested that we bring some reading material. So I did. I brought my sexiest, dirtiest romance novels. They are tame by today's standards, but at the time they were pretty bold. And much to the delight of all the girls, I offered to read them out loud. They agreed. And so, in my best voice, I would carefully turn to the dirtiest parts of the novels and read them loudly and clearly to the entire van, including our teacher.
He claimed he never heard a word. But I took great pleasure in watching his ears turn red while he
tried to tune out the filth that was pouring from of my mouth as the girls exploded in shrieks and laughter.
I'm not sure I knew quite what I was doing at the time, but in hindsight it seems like clear payback for making me feel like I needed to cover up, or be ashamed in any way of my appearance or my body or my sexuality. I do remember taking great pleasure in what I perceived to be a fair humiliation of my teacher.
What I wish I had internalized then, and what I hope every woman learns early on in her life, is that another person's shaming behavior towards your sexuality or your body is never a reflection on you. Rather, it's a reflection of their own discomfort with and prejudices about sexuality. I do not think this teacher is a bad man or that he did something evil and wrong. But I do think that this story, much like the one about the TSA agent, illustrates the insidious and damaging cultural beliefs we have about who has agency over the female body - particularly when it comes to a woman's ability to arouse.