At my high school, one of the senior perks was that we could park our cars in a special reserved lot close to the school (the better to stumble into chapel just barely on time in the mornings). One day during a free period, one of my classmates came into the senior lounge looking upset. We asked what was wrong, and with a look of bewilderment, she said “I just got called into the Dean of Students’ office.” The Dean had sat her down, given her a very stern look, and said “Classmate, I saw what you were doing out there.” Classmate, confused, said “What? What do you mean?” “Why were you crossing the street just now?” “Oh, just now? I was dropping some books off in my car in the senior lot and picking up my gym bag?” “You really need to be more aware of how you present yourself, young lady. You looked very suspicious, the way you were crossing the street, and someone passing the school could have gotten the wrong idea about our students and their values. Kindly bear that in mind.” With that, she was dismissed.
The lesson that we and Classmate were apparently meant to take away from this BIZARRE chastisement is that young women are presumed to be behaving criminally or promiscuously at all times, and therefore it was up to us to conduct ourselves as nuns whenever we were out in public? I guess? The lesson that crept in subconsciously was “whatever you think you’re doing, be it crossing the street, talking to a man, going for a run, or speaking up for yourself, you’re a woman, and your body will tell the world a different story. If someone takes it the wrong way, it’s your (and your body’s) fault.”
The worst part? When Classmate told us her story, I sat listening to her and studying her. While I listened, my brain worked hard to see not her point of view, but to see the Dean’s. Because an authority figure had said “this is so”, my mind immediately began to override everything I knew about Classmate’s character and conduct. I said to her “Oh Classmate, that’s so weird, I can’t believe that happened,” but a voice inside me said “I sort of see how that could be true” and “well, I hope no one ever thinks that of me”. I knew exactly what the Dean was suggesting, and without being aware of it at all, I turned on Classmate.
Tomorrow: Part IV