I am disconnected from my body, I am moving somewhere far from here but this is not me, it can’t be. This photo I hold of this girl, this soft girl with rosy cheeks and tight curls, this is not me. She fades, the photo blurs and I am here, I am somewhere looking back at this child with tears in my eyes because she is dead and I have taken her place. Me, this broken, ruined, somehow distant and far-from-here girl has taken her place. But this girl, this child with massive brown eyes and little blue overalls, this child is me. Somehow, she is me and I am her. I feel as though I have travelled an endless distance from the place where that photo was taken. Since then, the world has changed me.
When I was in grade eleven, a junior in highschool, I had my first boyfriend. We met at our school music show and I thought he was adorable because he had striking blonde hair and bright blue eyes and despite his quiet demeanor, he played the drums which was wonderful and bold and drew me to him in a desperately sweet sort of way. He kissed me in the forest on my sixteenth birthday and it was awkward and terrible and I went home quite upset because my first kiss was supposed to be magical and give me butterflies but instead it left me with a pit in my stomach and the bad taste of guilt in my mouth.
I felt I had betrayed myself somehow, that I had gone to a place I could never return from, that I had grown up too fast.
From then on we would go biking almost every weekend, always kissing on a fallen tree we had found off the side of a forest biking path between our two houses. I let him touch my thigh and because he was nervous I always kissed him first, not because I really wanted to but because that was what you were supposed to do. I was under the false impression that I needed to give myself up to make him happy and so I did; I gave myself up.
When he broke up with me because he “ just wasn’t that into me,” I felt betrayed and emptied as if someone had taken a knife and gutted me. I felt hollow because I had allowed a boy to become my identity and now he was gone. I let this boy take my body from me because I believed that was the right thing to do, the only thing to do. And that child from the photo, that sweet girl with rosy cheeks and a weightless smile, she was gone.
When I was about ten or eleven, a man in Ottawa grabbed my ass while passing me on the street. For years, I believed it must have been an accident. I was young and naive and it wasn’t until I told a friend about the incident that I realized what had truly happened. Some man believed he had the right to touch my body without consent. Some faceless man took all the power he had been granted by society and used it to steal the body of a child; my body.
Where I am now, I have learned to expect this kind of behaviour. At school dances, boys touch you without consent, reaching their hands up your skirt because it is short and you are accessible. At one particular dance, I held my crying friend inside the bathroom because her body had been “violated”. I am still afraid to go to parties because I have heard nightmare stories of girls passing out and getting raped or touched in inappropriate places. With every incident, fear grows and I feel further and further from the girl in the photograph who lived in sweet innocence, unaware of the reality of the world she was about to face.
Every woman has a story like this, and that is a terrifying truth.
Feminism represents a broad spectrum of issues ranging from cat calls to trans and queer rights to women who are abused, beaten and raped to young girls being sold into marriages and female infanticide and genital mutilation and on and on and on. This past year, I participated in the women's march to stand up for the rights of women everywhere who have faced trials of oppression and exploitation beyond comprehension. I marched because feminism is about more than my small life. I marched to spread awareness and to empower myself and the women and men around me so that we can pave the way for real change around the globe. I marched for the girl in that photograph, as an apology for the actions of the world, as a promise to fight for a better future.
The time for change is now.
We must continue to stand for the rights of women so that one day the daughters of this world won’t have to cry over stolen innocence or fight with voices raised and fists held high. We stand so that one day women will be able to wear what they want without fear of rape, walk alone at night without keys in their hands and go to the bar without a chaperone. We stand so that young girls will not be forced into marriages with older men, so that no woman will have to sell her body for money and so that women everywhere can be educated and given the same liberties and freedoms as their male counterparts. We stand so that the women of the future will know what I did not: they do not owe men anything, especially their bodies.
We stand for our futures, we fight for our lives.