Must have been the dimness of the lights, or maybe the thick haze of cigarette smoke that masked the truth of my age, because the doorman didn’t flinch as my sister led me into the crowded bar. Rows of long plywood tables lined either side of the room, each one overflowing with bodies, more men than women, I noted.
The raucous was so loud I could barely hear my sister’s directions, so I hung onto the waistband of her jeans hoping to we wouldn’t be separated in the throng. We squeezed between patrons until we found the rest of our party, then wriggled into the closely packed chairs that had been saved for us.
I must have accidentally elbowed the person behind me, because he jumped up and hollered at me. Before I could respond, a large hand grabbed him by the collar and shoved him back into his seat.
“You’ll not be messing with this little lady,” a gruff voice said.
I looked up to see a mountain of a man, with thick curly hair tumbling over his shoulders, and an excessive growth of facial hair. Deep set eyes twinkled down at me, and I found myself both terrified and intrigued.
“They call me Mother,” he said offering me a meaty hand to shake. “This here is my turf, and if anyone gives you trouble, you let me know. Mother’s got your back.”
“Thanks,” I said, trying to act much more mature than my twelve years of age.
My sister’s boyfriend pushed a glass of beer at me and made a ‘cheers’ gesture with his own drink. I lifted the glass, reciprocated, and took a sip. Despite the coolness of the liquid it burned with the slightly sweet edge. I set the glass back down and glanced around, feeling out-of-place in this very adult environment. I’d been exposed to alcohol lots of times before – Dad taught me how to bartend a few years back – but this was my first foray into an actual bar.
It wouldn’t be my last.
Prowling night clubs with my much older sisters would become the norm for me, a side that I kept hidden from my peers who were still stealing liquor from their parents stashes and drinking out in the woods. Being accepted into this world made me feel powerfully wild. I thought I was invincible.
I suppose it was only a matter of time before real trouble found me. It happened in Mother’s bar, where I guess I was becoming too comfortable. The man who joined our table that evening was a stranger, and not unattractive. When he offered a group of us a ride home if we stayed to last call, we jumped on the opportunity.
Except, he didn’t take me home.
I would not return home until the next day, any semblance of innocence that I had left stripped away from me.
The police said it was my fault.
They said no court of law would convict a man for picking up an underaged girl in a bar, especially a girl dressed as I was. They said a judge would say I was asking for it.
They said I was lucky to be alive.
It didn’t stop me from going into bars – I just drank harder to numb the shame – and stayed mum about what happened. Later, I started to cut myself to counter the numbness.
After fourteen years, the memories of that night flooded back, and I finally sought out the help I needed, and there are times when I think I am healed, and then I hear about another victim who is blamed for the crime that was perpetrated against her, or men excusing lewd sexual behaviour as boys being boys, and the rage rushes back to me.
In any other form of assault, the victim’s behaviour is not brought into account. No one says: “He’s a jerk; he deserved to be stabbed.” It’s a non-issue. So why, when a woman falls prey to unwanted sexual advances, are her motivations questioned?
What happened to me in the early 1970’s should be archaic, but in light of recent incidents, it is clear that inequality still exists. Women’s rights remain an issue.
We need to continue to raise our voices until it is safe for women to explore their wild sides, take risks in life, and make a few mistakes; without being blamed for the criminal acts of others.