Life is Belief & Struggle - Ahmed Shawqi

Monday, March 18, 2013

There is nothing new under the sun

Ten years after leaving high school my only friend from those days ran into two girls we went to high school with in a Toronto Deli. They did not remember him, but when he mentioned my name the women could not hold back from indulging in their 15 minutes of hate. I was fascinated by their reaction because I did nothing to them, I could not even put a face to their names, but still, their hate for me lived on long after I left their reality.

I did not start out being the most hated girl in my High School but it was what I became. In fact, my last year in Cameron Heights Collegiate started so well. Six weeks into the school year I gave a three part presentation for Canadian Law on ‘censorship’. I delivered it while wearing high heels, nylons, garter belt, panties and a corset. I had a very young teacher who was very unsure of herself and more interested in being our friend than our teacher. This was why I believed I would get away with it. After the presentation, I had a circle of girlfriends, the phone rang for me non-stop. There was not a party I was not invited to attend. My school ‘creds’ were made as the uber wild child.

A funny thing about those parties; there always seemed to be one girl who drank or smoked too much and ended up in a room surrounded by predatory young males. Countless times, it was me pushing my way into the room and drawing a line of 'NO” around the girl. I do not remember a single party where I did not drag a semi-conscious female out the door and into a cab. Amazing what a little bit of chutzpah and ninety pounds of determination can pull off when there is someone willing to say no and call evil by its' name. Only one girl objected into being put in a cab because she was afraid of what her parents would say. I told her if her parents raised objections she should ask them if they would rather she was gang raped. She got in the cab.

Why was I never that girl who was out of control and caved completely under the influence? I had a Bubbe who warned me from the time I was young that I could never afford to 'let myself go' in a party. According to Bubbe, there was always a predator waiting to pounce the minute you were not in complete control. This was the reality of her day, and I realized early, I did not want to take a chance to find out if she was always right. Not everyone has a Bubbe, and even if everyone did, why should a few drinks mean you are open season?

But this wasn't why I was hated. I was hated because I took a stand against my best friend and all round popular girlfriend Linda. Linda came from a privileged WASP home, three years of private school and all the trappings great wealth provides. Linda was ashamed of her privilege and was in full rebellion against her parents and everything they stood for. . Linda loved my 'chutzpah' and envied my life with my meshuga mother, broken home, and ethnic background. This was the end of the Seventies when the cult of victim-hood was born and Linda was one of the first victims I met. And me? I wanted to live her life – sans rebellion.

Linda had bright eyes and the most beautiful laugh. I have never heard anyone laugh quite like her, it was pure music. She ended up shacking with the high school basketball star a few months just before winter break. I had met her boyfriend three years before at a different high school. We were both ‘niners’ together. Chad was always trying to get me to come practice to watch him play. I just was not interested in sitting on the benching going rah-rah every time he got the ball. I just was not that kind of gal.

By spring break, Linda had dropped out of school to support her and Chad. Chad would not drop out of school. He had to study hard and concentrate on his basketball career. He had high hopes of being drafted or winning a scholarship to a US college, and hence, a second shot at being drafted into the NBA. Linda was being the 'good' woman and standing by/supporting her man. Near the end of the Spring break I met up with her and the other girls in our circle for lunch. I was overwhelmed and needed a break from editing a short film I had shot for my 'mass media' class.

It started off like any other time with the girls. We were all laughing and telling stories, and then Linda took centre stage with a tale of jock groupies. She told us, when Chad was at KCI, he and the other players on the team would 'invite' girls to watch them play. Afterwards, the guys would pick one or two 'groupies' and force those girls to do have sex with the whole team in the basement locker room of the school. It did not matter if a girl said no – once a girl came - she was open season. This was the price of being admitted to practice. Linda claimed everyone knew the rules but I didn't. I thought an invite to watch practice was simply an invite to sit on the bench and not lie on it.

I had never heard anything so appalling and was in complete shock. All the other girls at the table went along with Linda and were laughing about those stupid slutty groupies. I was stunned at how close I came to sharing the same fate as those faceless, nameless girls being pilloried as jock groupies, and by implication; defective human beings.

Eventually, I found my feet and stood up to tell my friends what I thought of their morals in no uncertain terms. I gave Linda - and everyone else in the restaurant - an earful on the real deal about her serial rapist boyfriend. I left in a rage and huff to stew in my own self-righteous fury. I was so busy with the film that I did not notice my phone stopped ringing. Nothing prepared me for the first day back at school after March break. No one would talk to me. No one answered my 'hi's', wave or even nod at me as I walked down the hall. By the time I turned the corridor towards my locker a strange silence reined among my peers.

I saw why as soon as my locker came into view. A red lipstick message was left for me and the student body. Hell, even a blind man could not have missed that message. Someone had drawn a picture of me felicitating an anonymous penis with my home telephone number written in red lipstick. It was the first time my locker was vandalize, but it wouldn't be the last. I was called all manner of choice epitaphs from the time.

In the matter of a few days, I was a 'pariah'. Stories of my alleged sexual prowness went around like wildfire. I got suspended for three days for turning around and punching the guy who sat behind me English who started to make disparaging comments about me in class. No one took my side, in fact, everyone in the class claimed he said nothing...I was cut phone never rang except for crank calls and there were no more parties for me. I was gropped as I made my way in the stairwells between classes.

No one would sit with me in the cafeteria and often people would throw food at me. No one would stand with me outside in the smoking section. Within days, I could not even smoke in the designated smoking section and instead had to make my way to a hill which overlooked the football field. My peers would throw their cigarette butts at me if I stayed in the official section. My one and only friend from that period could not handle the bounce I was getting. He had a enough troubles of his own so I never judged him for only seeking me out in private when the risk was discovery was low. Not one of the girls I had 'saved' stood with me. In fact, they became my harshest and most vocal critics. I was completely person non grata. I had three months of this treatment, and when school ended, I left the city and never looked back. There are no 10th, 20th, 25th or even 30th year High School reunions for me.

What happened in Steubenville is not just a one-off scenario - a perfect storm of colliding circumstances but a very old tale which crosses borders, cultures and transcends time. My story is as Canadian as it comes, and it happened over 30 years ago. Steubenville has been happening for a very long time in the lives of girls and women.

I wish I could have been there to cart that little girl home before anything happened to her. I only wish there was someone who felt it was more important to do the right thing and take a stand to protect her when she was least able to protect herself. It is easy to blame the victim for over indulging and her parents for a lack of supervision, but the reality is, we continue to fail to be our brother's keeper and so our children continue to fail to keep each other safe.

There are predators surrounding us every day of our lives and at any age, just waiting in the corner for that one moment when we lose control so they can pounce and feed off our misery. What we can do is to teach our children that any act which degrades, humiliates or exploits another human without their expressed consent diminishes all of us. We can teach our children that passing on nude pictures and/or videos of the worst moments of a human life via social media has no place in public discourse and is an act of appalling moral turpitude.

1 comment:

  1. Hold your head high. Being cut off is very painful when we are young and don't know better, but now that we are more... seasoned we know they were never our people in the first place.

    The Steubenville rapes are horrible but the rape apologists are even worse. You are very, very right.