After we were grown, my mother once casually commented, indirectly, that at least she hadn’t had to worry about our father sexually abusing his children. Too taken aback to answer, I thought What is wrong with you?!? The absence of sexual abuse goes in the PLUS column?!? Gratitude is the appropriate response here?? Moreover, the phrasing centered on her, her problems, not us. The passivity of her statement made me also believe that had it been an issue, we’d have been on our own. Which shouldn’t have surprised me, but still, sickeningly, it did. I wasn’t “grateful” I’d missed a bullet but freshly irritated with my mother’s feigned helplessness and self-involvement.
After an incident, I heard him tell his girlfriend, the mother of his baby, that he had almost punched her in the face. He said it twice. He did not sound sorry, concerned, or appalled. He sounded like look what you almost made me do.
The world of a little girl is a scary one, whether she knows it or not. Too often young girls are (the ones) preyed on inside their homes and out. I am glad that, no matter how un-delightful my childhood was, I was for the most part, left physically unscathed. Given the odds of a girl being physically or sexually abused, that is saying something.
I was raised to believe the world was a dangerous place, but it was all very vague; shadow monsters, not much I could hang my hat on. Even so, no one taught me how to defend myself, physically or with my wits. The minimal advice my parents gave me, when I spoke of being bullied or otherwise having problems with other kids, had little to do with my life. (Oh geez, I wish I could remember who said – Margaret Atwood? – that children look little and unthreatening to adults but to other children, they are life-size. Or words to that effect.)
There was one time when I was in grade school that my mother took us aside and rather seriously said if we ever saw anyone watching us playing in our large back yard, we should come tell her. Much later I learned that a man had exposed himself to a female classmate in the woods behind our house, hence the obscure warning. Imagining that incident bothered me for years. It still does. Had I been the child victim, I would not have known what to do or how to react.
Not too surprisingly, big men scared me. It was their sheer size, the booming voices, the brash manner. That’s all it took. A tiny thing before adolescence, I shrank easily. I’m told I was frightened of the captain on a ferry boat ride we took as a family when I was probably 3 or 4. I don’t remember this at all. The uniform – there must have been a uniform – probably was a factor. (I’m not saying I was afraid of uniforms, just that a uniform likely added to the intimidation factor. Like fire men, police men, soldiers.)
Although there were myriad unpleasant incidents, I never was beat up by other kids. I do remember a particular time at the local swimming pool, a girl and her friend said they were going to beat me up when I left the pool. I was so scared. I didn’t even know what it meant. Thankfully, they didn’t follow through. In separate incidents, a boy punched me in the stomach once and another snipped off a piece of my hair, both inexplicably and with no context. A pack of older girls once dragged me around the school yard. (Aren’t children swell?)
My sister (closest in age) and I tussled occasionally, but nothing all that serious. We would have caught holy hell if we bruised or bloodied each other. And neither one of us knew squat about how to fight. (My sister would tell you we fought each other with wooden ping pong paddles but I will tell you that once and only once, we aimlessly swatted the things at each other, not even making bodily contact.) It would never have even occurred to me to pull someone’s hair (which apparently is a quite popular pastime for females of all ages).
When I was older, I observed retrospectively that most of the men I’d dated or had relationships with were typically just a bit larger than I was in size, i.e., not big men. However, that turned. I think it had something to do with me and the surety I felt within myself. I’d become a (fairly) decent judge of character and size alone wasn’t going to be an intimidation factor (consciously or not). As a grown woman, I had a relationship with a man who was 6’6″ and pushing 300 pounds. He had dark hair and a beard and struck a very imposing figure. (Naturally he rode a motorcycle too.) However, I never felt physically threatened by this man. Whatever my issues were with him (why I stopped seeing him), they were utterly unrelated to his size.
What’s very interesting to me is that the men who have physically threatened me or tried to or intimated they might, were smaller men, again men a bit larger than me (and one smaller). I can think of three specific people, none of which cut an imposing figure. I’m not sure what to make of that, but it’s given me something to think about over the years. It does seem there is little correlation between size and threat, which is not to say there aren’t lots of men who use their superior size to intimidate the women in their lives. Rather, my larger point is that there isn’t a direct cause and effect between a man’s physical size and what goes on in his psyche in terms of women.
When I was a child, living my versions of Lord of the Flies and Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye, there were any number of traits that targeted someone for bullying and abuse. There was the kid with leg braces. The darker-hued Puerto Rican kid who got treated to racial slurs. The messy kid. The geeky boy. The slightly effeminate one. The unathletic kid. The girl with thick glasses. And so on. I had several: bookish, artsy, bespectacled, and tall-skinny. But no kid got it worse than the fat one.
I wonder, with so many U.S. children being overweight, how, if at all, that has changed.