When I was growing up and going to Catholic grade school, each year on the last day of school, we had a class picnic. It was usually a simple party….like a half a day of recess with milk and cookies. That sort of thing.
As we got older, about 5th grade or so, the boys began to have alter boy duties and we had a nun who taught us and also decided to have a choir for the girls to be involved in.
At the end of that year, we were all taken on what was called “The Altar Boy/Choir Girl Picnic”. We went by bus to a small lakeside amusement park about an hour from school.
The next year, the nun who led the choir girls was no longer there so that was the end of the choir girls. That was also the end of girls being allowed to go on the end of year picnic. Father Riley came to our class to explain things. Since it was, after all, “The Altar Boy/Choir Girl Picnic” and since there was no choir for the girls, only the boys were allowed to go on what was now dubbed “The Altar Boy Picnic”. We girls didn’t think it was fair as we were not allowed to be altar girls. That was a boy’s job. And so the boys alone would be rewarded. We, the girls of the class, got nothing but we did get to see the boys of the class board the bus the last day of class to go to the amusement park.
But it wasn’t just that it didn’t feel fair for the girls to be left out. We also got a lecture about the additional reason that we could not tag along for the trip from Father Riley. It seems that at the age of 11 or 12, mixing boys and girls at a park having fun would not be a good thing. Because it could lead to (gasp) boys hanging out with (gulp) girls socially. Sin could happen. I had no idea what the man was talking about at the time. I just remember thinking even back then that it wasn’t fair and that was a pretty lame excuse.
Perhaps the priests thought that sin wouldn’t happen if the girls were included on the trip. Maybe they wanted a trip with “just the boys”.
This was a different time going back many years now and I was pretty used to gender privilege having grown up with an older brother who got things or got to do things just because he was a boy. Such as he was allowed to go out to play after dinner parties at our house while I was expected to sit at the table and learn to socialize (and clean up afterwards). Simply by being a boy, he was excused from all of that.
I also learned there was a double standard for boys and girls when it came to learning about sex as teens. I learned that boys liked to put labels on girls when it came to sex. I remember being asked if I was a prude because I didn’t kiss someone at a school dance while his friends sat in a circle around us and watched. Being a teenager and dating or making out was like a balancing act….you didn’t want to go to far to one side or the other and be branded a prude or a slut. That’s all I knew. Didn’t know that sex was supposed to be something I could or should enjoy as well. Boys were supposed to enjoy themselves. It was up to the girls to keep things in balance or else they would pay dearly.
After one particular break up the summer after my Junior year in High School, I returned to senior year after a summer of some physical abuse and threats of self-harm from my ex-boyfriend.
The abuse continued when I got back to school. It was particularly tough because this guy grew up with the people I hung out with and they could not believe that he actually punched me in the head one night. So I was kind of on my own in this situation with him at school.
One day he asked me to meet him after school in front of the building so I could give him back a jean jacket. I did meet him…with the jacket….and a friend. There was a huge crowd of people outside of the school just hanging around and talking and smoking and stuff.
So I handed this guy the jean jacket. The jean jacket was covered in snaps….and I think his sister had bedazzled it or something as well. Before I knew it, I was on my knees on the ground and he was whipping this coat back and forth on my head. I just remember feeling the metal snaps…felt like hundreds of them….stinging my head and wondering if someone was going to help me or when he would stop.
Well, nobody stopped him. My friend stood there, mouth open in shock as he said to me….”Three times and you’re out”. Whatever that meant. Sounded like a threat to me.
The next day or so I got called to Fr. Brian’s office. Fr. Brian was a young “cool” long haired priest. I found out that my ex had gone to see him to talk to him as he was feeling troubled. I have no idea if anyone had reported the attack at the front of the building or if he had gone on his own to talk to the priest, but in any case, I was told that from now on, my ex and I would be giving each other our stuff back through Fr. Brian.
I was relieved at that and so I told my parents what had happened. They invited Fr. Brian to our house to talk to him to be sure I was out of danger.
My parents talked with Fr. Brian in front of me in our living room. Sitting there with my parents and the man who represented my protection and my parents’ reassurance, I heard this man of God tell all of us that I had pushed my ex to the edge. You see, I had led him on (I had no idea what he meant by that and I didn’t want to ask in front of my parents) and it was just too much for the guy. And my parents…love me as they might….were hearing this from someone whose judgement they respected.
So there you have it….the priest said it so it must be true….I had it coming. Just by being female. Really. Oh, the reason I had been punched in the head when I had originally broken up with him? He had told me he wanted us to get married immediately after high school and I had said no….that I wanted to wait a year or two and go to college and whatever before marriage. That was it. I didn’t even see the fist come at me. Guess I had led him on.
Raise a girl on a steady diet of misogyny and what could go wrong? I wonder. Perhaps she could end up becoming an adult victim of abuse?