I was lucky to grow up a healthy kid. My childhood scars come from my own turbulent mind, not from my body. I never broke a bone, still haven’t. I thought, with that arrogance that all young children feel, that my body would always be sound. It would grow and be stronger and I would take over the world.
At 19 I experienced an illness more severe than anything in my life. And while I have survived it, I have suffered and it will be a part of me forever. My blood is permanently unsuitable for donation. I’ve knocked myself about. I’ve injured my ankle and knee several times and needed physio. I feel the strain when it’s cold. The nerves in my skin still prickle from a bad rash I had months ago, and that might never fade.
As we age we collect ailments. Parts of us get hurt and won’t ever be the same again. This is something we learn to mitigate in order to keep living. Put less weight on the weak ankle, avoid this activity since it strains that injury. Apply lotions and ointments to skin. Rest more when needed. We live our lives within the confines of our illnesses and injuries.
Misogyny behaves a lot like a disease. We learn very early how to wear its scars. We modify our behaviour once we’ve experienced injuries. We follow the recommended guidelines to keep safe, we feel like it’s our fault when we don’t follow them closely enough, or when they’re inevitably never enough. Like we got these scars on purpose. And most of us most of the time don’t ever talk about it.
The injuries inflicted on us mount up. We might not discuss them all but they live in us forever, like the virus in my blood. An interaction with a foul-mouthed boy as a child. A bra-snap at 12. Street harassment, drunk parties, unwanted touches, unwarranted aggression. Too many to even count. Some of us have deeper scars than others, but every single one of us has scars, no exception. We live with a background radiation of constant fear that male anger will find us. The anger that is directed at us for daring to have bodies and walk around in them. The need to overpower and control us for some invisible transgression caused by being a woman.
These stories are usually heavily guarded secrets, things we hardly even tell each other. Partly because we are ashamed of ourselves, and partly because so many of them are so ordinary, so every day, that they barely register as the horrors they are. We are so adapted to living with the disease of misogyny that we barely see the way it shapes our lives. Or if we do notice, we are ashamed and hide it away.
At times like this we do see it, and it is horrifying. But we will stand together and tell you our secrets, because right now it is important that this information is in the world. We are angry that we have to live this, and that we live it in silence, and that so many of these stories from so many strangers are so so familiar.
You may think it is not all men, but yes, it is ALL women. And that needs to change. We should not have to wear these scars. And they do not have to be the scars that future women wear. We are standing up and sharing our stories, and people are listening. I hope you keep listening, because this is just the first discussion. There is still so much left to say.