I’ve contemplated doing this for a long time but I was advised not to. Don’t make it about yourself, they said. As I advocate breaking the silence around violence against women, as I advocate to girls and women that they are enough, as I advocate following your heart; I feel like a farce being silent about my own journey.
As I begin to write this, I’m not sure exactly where to begin. It’s taken a long time for me to come to peace with my outer self and it’s a work in progress. Though my goal in life is to be a change maker and a thought leader. I still want to feel beautiful. As a feminist, I’m embarrassed to even admit that. There are 2 voices that live inside my head. The logical one that says, you’re a good person and your family, friends, partner have to love you for all that you are. For all your flaws, for all your strengths and weaknesses, for your quirks and scars, for your emotional baggage and your enormous heart that wants to help everyone and right every injustice. This voice wins most days. But then there’s another voice. It criticizes my chin for being too fat, my “man” arms, my thunder thighs, my dog bite or burn scars, my inability to hide emotion, my unorganized room, my website, my everything. I know what you’re thinking. PMS. Hello? But you and I both know that’s not true. My only assumption is that my feelings are a byproduct of my experience and perhaps some of us share the same feelings. And I can only hope that if you do, by reading this you’ll know that you’re not alone. That someone else out there feels it too but they’re okay and you will be too.
I used to be mortified of the moment my relationship with a boy or man got to the level where my clothes would come off. I know I’m not the only who’s uncomfortable being naked but being uncomfortable in your skin is a different feeling. I’d often prepare them for the worst, in hopes that when they finally saw my body they’d breathe a sigh of relief. I tend not to verbalize this any longer but I still think it. I still cringe thinking about the moment when someone will have to see what I put so much effort into hiding. I fear that they’ll judge me but what’s worst is how much I judge myself.
I was about 5 or 6 when I first touched a penis. I was a little girl with not a care in the world. What happens next didn’t change my spirit immediately. And I’m not defined by any of these stories but I can’t deny how they’ve shaped me. In an odd way, I’m grateful they happened because if they didn’t maybe I’d just pay lip service to girls and women’s rights. It was a relative’s driver. He lived upstairs on the terrace. I was playing outside when he called me into the bathroom with him. My innocent little hand then proceeded, with his guidance, to give him a hand job. And that’s really all I remember about him. There were a few other, inappropriate experiences that followed. And I continue to consider myself lucky that it wasn’t worst than that. As I read about the 5-year-old girl who was brutally raped in India, I am grateful that they never physically violated me more than they did.
Let’s fast forward to when I was 11. I was watching Oprah one afternoon, alone in our basement apartment in Scarborough. The episode was about child sexual abuse and suddenly I thought, this sounds familiar. I had blocked it out but now it was coming back to me. Again, grateful that I don’t recall every detail and I never want to. The brain’s an interesting little thing, isn’t it? Was keeping this inside the reason I was an emotional basket case even when I was really young? I’ve never told anyone this but I once stood at the terrace of our building in India, contemplating jumping. I was about 10. Even then I had no idea why I was standing there. I didn’t understand the angst. I still don’t really. Did it have anything to do with these inappropriate sexual experiences? Who knows.
It wasn’t till years after that episode of Oprah that I finally first told my middle sister and then I remember a family discussion ensued. I don’t know why I never told them or my mom who I have always considered a dear friend. My only explanation is that I didn’t realize anything wrong had happened. I was quite young and as a growing adult I didn’t see the point. Not like we could do anything to change the past by talking about it. What I understand now is that, talking about it helps you close the chapter. It let’s you heal and move forward. I may still be an emotional basket case but I’m okay with that. I am very sensitive about the topic of violence against girl’s and women and in fact I love that about myself. My sensitivity comes with a responsibility to act and I take that very seriously. It is what drives me to run We Talk Women and if there is one life that I can touch, affect, change by running this humble organization, it’s all been worth it. But it can be quite draining. My only words of wisdom are to surround yourself with people that provide you with positive affirmation. Friends and family that support you in those moments when you think you aren’t strong enough to go on. Drink with you after a break-up, start a health kick with you after you’ve eaten all the ice cream, and remind you that it’s okay to take time for self-care.
As I look ahead, my aspiration is to create a world where we are all safe from inappropriate sexual experiences. Though I’m grateful in how it all turned out, I don’t wish any of it upon anyone. It pains me to read about rape cases, and unfortunately there are so many of them. Maybe it’s because I know my story could have panned out like theirs that I feel sorrowed by their fate. If you knew me you’d care. The title of Zainab Salbi’s new book but a concept that I’ve talked about before. It erks me that people are able to distance themselves so quickly. When I mention that I run a women’s rights awareness organization, I often get asked what more I want. The assumption being that in Canada, equality has been achieved. Even if that were true, and it’s not, I want girls and women to be free and equal everywhere.
When the Malala’s of the world stop getting attacked for trying to have an education. When women stop saying things like, “I believe in equality but I’m not a feminist”. When rape isn’t used as a weapon of war. When women in the military stop suffering in silence. When domestic violence ceases to exist. When women from the sex trade industry aren’t treated like animals and murdered without anyone noticing. When human trafficking and sexual slavery become an abolished practice. When little girls aren’t married off because a family needs to repay their debt. When I have no ability to create such a list; I will rest. Until then, I will continue to rise and I invite you to do the same.