Allison has hairy legs, he whispers loud enough for the kids around us in the next row to hear. I remember his voice and how I always thought he was especially creepy in a predatory way, the kind of kid who would grow up to be the kind of sleazebag who would do disgusting things and smile and breathe a little too heavy while doing them. He sat behind me in the sixth grade and for some reason on this particular day he decided to brush his hand up over my entire lower calf and announce to everyone within ear shot that I had hair on my legs. In an instant I went flush with… embarrassment? Shock? Confusion? Up until that very moment I hadn’t given a damn about shaving my legs, it wasn’t even a thought in my young mind. Mostly it was disorienting in the way most girls’ initiation into a culture of normalized violation is disorienting- the world you used to live in evaporates and disappears to be replaced by a world where you are constantly on guard against being touched, seen, objectified. In the space of a few sudden seconds I was conditioned to expect and accept “facts” which in hindsight I can clearly see were false about myself, my body, and my place in the world as a female human. I was to be touched whenever a man wanted to touch me just because I was there, and close enough to reach.
I was expected, when being touched randomly against my will, to be clean shaven, that is to feel good to him. Never mind how it made me feel: violated, gross, angry, disturbed, ashamed, embarrassed, uneasy. Be ready, your body is not for you anymore. It’s not for enjoying freely and you are not protected, anywhere you show up you are vulnerable. Your legs, you suddenly learn, aren’t for riding bikes or playing hopscotch anymore, they are for boys to look at and fondle, any day at any time. Be ready. Always be ready for it. And if you are caught not ready, not shaven, not smooth, not pleasing, you will be shamed because you have broken the rules. You didn’t keep up your end of the bargain-you know, the one where you exist to add to a man’s enjoyment of his surroundings. After all it’s not the man’s fault that when he touched you he was disappointed. It’s yours. You had been warned, remember. The creepy kid warned you back in grade school to always be ready for it. But you weren’t.