Today I have been reminded of something which happened back when I was at school. I was 15, studying for my GCSE's. The incidents I am thinking about happened primarily in my French class, over a number of weeks.
I'll be honest, as a teen I was awkward both socially and physically. I wasn't a popular girl, though I had a small but tight knit group of friends and a few acquaintances. The sort of people I got on with, who seemed to like me but would studiously look the other way or even join in when I experienced the occasional bout of bullying.
One of these acquaintances was a boy I will call K. K was very good friends with two of the girls I hung out with. He'd known them for years, grew up with them and their parents were close. So, I came in contact with K quite often. By the time we were 15 I was starting to think of him as a friend. He would talk to me even when our mutual friends weren't about, and engaged in some harmless teasing of the sort that is usual between kids of that age.
At the start of the Easter term our French teacher decided to alter the seating arrangements. I ended up sat next to K. I'm sure I've mentioned that I was a very anxious child and teenager, so I didn't like this change. I was relieved that at least I was going to be sat with someone I liked however, and tried to look at it as a chance to get to know him better.
During the first lesson we were sat together, he placed his hand on my knee, over my skirt. I shifted it off. He apologised. No problem, I thought. The next lesson, he did it again. This time when I moved it, he grinned. A few minutes later it was back. He scribbled in my note book. 'I'm just being friendly.'
By the end of the lesson I was really upset with him. Touching me wasn't 'being friendly' not when it was a touch I didn't want. I told him in no uncertain terms not to do it again. He apologised once more. Next lesson, he slid his hand up my leg and under my skirt. I removed it. And the battle continued.
There were more scribbled notes - was I frigid, a lesbian, a racist (we were of different ethnic backgrounds). Was there something wrong with me, that I wouldn't want a nice boy like him to touch me? Two weeks after this all started he told me I should be happy of the attention, it wasn't like anyone else was showing an interest. He also made it clear he didn't fancy me, so I shouldn't get all arrogant about it.
Needless to say, this really confused me. I considered seriously talking to someone about this. My form tutor, perhaps. First, I decided to raise the issue with my friends. They plead for leniency. It would be problematic for them, if there was a falling out. It was true he was behaving in an annoying and upsetting manner but apparently he 'didn't mean anything by it.' It was made fairly clear that if I kicked up a fuss about a bit of casual touching, then I would be completely over reacting, earn an unpleasant reputation for myself - after all, nice girls didn't get groped in class - and force my friends to pick sides, which they didn't want to do.
So, I didn't tell anyone. Instead, this carried on. Until one day, when his hand managed to travel so far up my leg he was brushing against my knickers before I managed to grab and remove it. I had had enough. I told him to fuck off and leave me alone, then burst into tears. I was sent out of the class for making noise and creating a disturbance. The teacher never asked me why I shouted out, or what was happening. Later, when talking about it I was told not to make excuses for my own bad behaviour. No one was interested in listening to me about what had happened, or why. The important thing for me to understand was that swearing, talking in class and disturbing other students was never acceptable.
Needless to say, this gave K the clear message that he could carry on with what he was doing, safe in the knowledge that any attempts to stop him would lead to me being punished, rather than him. So, I refused to sit beside him. I was sent out of class again. I was told I must sit where the teacher told me to. I explained that I understood this, and would sit anywhere else I was asked. But I would not sit beside K. In the end, they moved me back to sit beside one of my friends. K was never asked what it was he was doing that made me so determined not to sit by him.
K and my friends considered the change in seating arrangements to be the end of the matter, with all issues resolved. The whole situation was hurtful and hateful, though paled in comparison with what else was going on in my life at the time.
The thing which brought this to mind was coming across a disgusting 'game' called 'Nervous.' This is a 'game' where school boys sit beside their female classmates and see how far up their legs they can move their hands before the girl objects or twitches, revealing her 'nervous' spot. I wonder now if what happened to me was part of a similar game. Apparently, this charming 'game' has been around for while.
When people ask me why I am a feminist, this is why. Because the casual abuse of peers is not acceptable, ever. It is not a game, it is not funny, it is not a compliment. It is a disgusting, vile act and the fact it happens in our classrooms, so often unchecked or unnoticed is an atrocity.