When I was 15 a sexual video of me went around my school.
It was back in the days when my friends and I would go and hold field parties. Telling our parents we were going to sleepovers at each other’s houses, we would collect in a green part of town, and drink.
I remember the evening when it happened, very clearly. It was the Friday after the first week back to school in Year 11. I had been drinking gin, straight – I obviously knew nothing about alcohol.
I’m not sure how it happened, but I remember getting drunker and drunker, and taking off my jacket first. My friend and I were giggling and dancing around, and our male friend told us to take off our tops. We did. He then told us to pull down our bras. We did.
I was vaguely aware of him holding up something with a bright light pointing towards us.
I staggered home, holding onto a rail for support. And that was that, until the next Monday at school.
It transpires that he had taken a video of us, flashing our breasts, and it quickly spread like wildfire. I don’t know how many of the boys in my class, my year, my school, the surrounding schools saw it. But, I do remember walking down the corridor and passing three boys in my year who just gave me that look.
I was horrified, it was invasive.
I never actually saw the video, I couldn’t put myself through it. I was obviously distressed at school and for the following three days I hid away in a classroom with a couple of friends. I couldn’t bring myself to go up to the field where everyone in my year would usually hang out.
My friends tried to console me, saying it was okay because I was obviously drunk – apparently I could barely stand in the video – and most horrifying of all, because I looked good.
A few days passed, and everyone began to forget about it. I felt slut-shamed though, and tainted. An irony because at the time I was still a virgin, and had only ever kissed a couple of boys – not that these details should matter, of course.
I still burn with shame when I think of it now, and am not quite ready to put my name to this piece. The worst thing is I feel like I let the team down. I have always been a feminist, and so I should have known not to take off my top. I was a straight A student, and have gone on to get a degree and am doing my Masters. I am articulate and an active supporter of women’s rights. I would hate for my mum to ever know.
I shouldn’t feel like I need to detail these facts, once again, but this is an example of internalised misogyny. Girls like me aren’t supposed to be so stupid, and do things like that.
It recently hit home when watching 13 Reasons Why with my boyfriend and his housemates. In one of the episodes we see that a boy took a sexual picture of Hannah and spread it around their school. At the end of the episode I told my boyfriend that I wanted to go to bed. I burst into tears in his room, explaining how something similar had happened to me, apologising to him about it. He told me not to worry, it wasn’t my fault, and was a very long time ago now. This was nice.
Of course, I know I am being irrational, because it is the boy’s fault. He took the video and spread it around. He had his own reasons for doing so, I speculate because he has since come out as gay, and maybe wanted to prove his masculinity. Of course, this does not absolve him in this, but should prompt feminist debate on hyper and toxic masculinities – these attitudes are detrimental to us all.
Our victim blaming culture is just so strong, even as a committed feminist it is hard to work against your own internalisation of shame. We must teach young boys not to commit sexual harassment, assault and bullying, and be aware of the digital ways this can happen.