*Content warning – teenage sex, porn, abortion.*
This Bank Holiday weekend I’ve mostly been reading old diaries. It’s strange reading the voice of 15/16 year old me.
Reading them has coincidentally corresponded with the vote repealing the 8th amendment in Ireland. I followed that closely. It hit very close to home to hear people casually discussing the rights I should have. It reminds me that our rights are not for granted.
Almost a third of people in Ireland think that I shouldn’t be able to terminate a pregnancy if I am raped. That my daughter shouldn’t be able to. That someone else’s choice should be able to determine the rest of our lives.
I’ve seen very little talk online, in relation to the Irish referendum, about the culture young women grow up in. About how we are told, by pornography, by advertising, and by TV shows, that our worth lies in being able to make men want to have sex with us.
Nobody talks about that. And yet so many people will talk so casually about how we should be allowed to deal with the pregnancies that inevitably result from us fulfilling this role we are given.
I wasn’t prepared for the anxiety that would come with being a mother to a daughter. Since I was a teenager, the smartphone was invented. The widespread availability of porn is changing lives for our youngsters beyond that which we can imagine. I can look back and see how my own life was touched by it. But that was before the smartphone. What is life like for them now?
In porn, a woman is only as good as the appearance of her body and the sex acts she makes possible.
Every day, our young people have almost unlimited access to these videos on their phones, for free. Our daughters are sitting in classes with boys who will be watching a lot of these videos and some girls get asked for pictures of their own naked bodies. I am the first person to love my smartphone but I can’t imagine what this is doing to our young women (and also to our young men).
We leave our young woman growing up under this pressure, we don’t talk about it, we rarely prepare them, and then if they have an unplanned pregnancy, they are the ones who bear the weight. They are the ones whose bodies are marked and changed by termination, pregnancy and/or childbirth. They are the ones who carry judgment for abortion or an unplanned baby.
There is a lot of talk about consent these days. We all want sex to be consensual. But how consensual can it really be when boys are taught that real men are virile sexual conquestors, and girls are taught that sexy, desirable women say yes?
But what about the internal damage? The damage of growing up to believe that you are only worth something if a man wants you? That if you aren’t having sex you are failing? And then of course, it’s your responsibility as a woman to make sure you are contracepted – of the 15 kinds of contraception listed on the NHS website, 13 are suitable for women and only 2 for men.
The message our young girls so often receive is: be sexy, be available, but also make sure your body is prevented from fulfilling it’s natural function.
I’m happy for the women of Ireland but THERE IS STILL SO MUCH TO BE DONE. It is not freedom when women are granted abortions to relieve them of the mistreatment of a patriarchal society. We need to make sure that all sex is freely and fully consensual and enjoyable.
It has upset me a lot, reading my diaries. It has answered a lot of questions. There’s a lot I don’t remember, so, it’s useful that I wrote it down. When I was 16, I spent a year at boarding school, and had a breakdown. I’d really forgotten how bad my mental health got that year. A whole breakdown, forgotten. Trauma does that to your brain.
Now I’m 32, I feel free to use my brain. I feel that I am worth so, so much more than my dress size or how many men find me attractive. I stopped dying my hair last year, as a symbol to myself of how far I have come. It’s important to me to reclaim my body.
But I guess I forgot, somewhere along the way, what I was reclaiming it from. So I’ll let my teenage self speak. These are some excerpts from my diary:
[After I had kissed someone I really liked]: “From the moment things started everything felt wrong, I knew it wasn’t right. He treated me like a whore, and it wasn’t fair.”
“The thing with [crush] is that he never wants to go out with girls, he just wants to treat them like whores.”
“It’s the law that girls should be less experienced than blokes. Sexist but true. I want to be with a bloke who knows what he’s doing.”
About Paris: “And the blokes. Really chatty. Perhaps they come on a bit strong – ‘Smiles’ wanted me to stay and learn ‘French’ with him! – but it’s flattering. I was glad [companion] was there, I felt safe. The barman was sweet – he stroked my face!”
“I feel so insecure about my face. I hate my moustache – I bleach it but it’s still really obvious in my mind’s eye. And my nose is too big and my skin bad. I’m confused coz when I look in the mirror I see me – not ugly really at all, not the prettiest girl in the world but not the most minging either. But I guess boys must be right. I wish I’d been born pretty, life would be so much easier.”
“I like being at a girls school because no one judges you on your attractiveness. Some of the ‘in’ girls here are so minging compared to Warnie [old school]. There they were all size 10 at most, here… Well [popular girl] is size 16, to name one. [Popular girl] is fairly hefty too. Sorry if I seem bitchy, I really don’t mean to be, I’m trying to point out that this should be the way all groups are. Here I can look people in the eye, lift my head up and expose my spotty face because I don’t feel the eyes of 100 blokes on me, thinking ‘she’s minging’.”
“[Male peer] said I was ugly last weekend. I know my face isn’t great. But why do boys feel the need to comment on girls unattractiveness? It’s so degrading. I wouldn’t dream of doing it to him. It’s not fair. I hate him.”
“Boys don’t need to prove themselves to anyone. And it pisses me off the way women are prized for beauty. It’s just something some women are born with. Most aren’t and are disadvantaged. I hate society.”
Underneath all my entries, particularly as time goes on, is a panicky feeling that I have ‘failed’ by ‘still’ being ‘a virgin’ at 16. I rarely write about anything beyond my appearance, boys, friends and my mood – despite having an English teacher for A level who was really excited by my promise.
I’ll finish with a poem I wrote a couple of years later:
“To look at me
And see more than an attractive girl:
The glass plated doll
With the suggestive eyes.
To listen to me
And hear more than the ego massage
The loving words trip so willingly
From the trusting mouth.
To talk with me
And hear my thoughts and ideals:
Rather than using this sounding board
For your self-trumpeted wisdom.
To spend time with me
And realise I am more than an accessory
A fully-functioning dancing doll
Yours upon request.”