Started thinking again about beauty, which led me back to this essay. It’s another de-construction piece, digging back into the experiences that I’ve carried for so many years. There is a small burst of joy that comes with sending these stories out into the world. It takes the sting out of them.
Thinking about harassment I received from my geometry teacher, James Love, in high school. It’s called sexual harassment now; at the time (1969) it was called teasing and considered complimentary. (Okay, first of all, what a name, who would believe it, right?) Mr. Love teased me steadily, day after day in class, his comments laden with sexual innuendo. I was mortified and definitely believed that it was me who was ‘wrong’, that my reaction of embarrassment and discomfort was somehow evidence that I was ‘to blame’ and ‘asking for it’? He was certainly blameless, I mean, he was a teacher, for heavens sake.
I heard rumors about other, (more attractive and more sexual), girls who spent time with him outside of school, maybe even were intimate with him. I was still somewhat nerdy, but finally thin ‘enough’ and quite shy. I blushed easily, which added to his delight in teasing/harassing me. Naïve. Ignorant? I certainly knew enough to be shocked by the sexual comments he made to me in front of the class. In fact, he made a fool of me, for the entertainment of my more sophisticated (sexualized) classmates, highlighting my inexperience as the root of my discomfort. Somewhere there is a photograph that was taken of me, mid-blush. I was trying to hide behind my hair; wishing I could crawl under my desk.
All the adults, faculty and staff, joked about Jim Love. “What a tease. What a card. Great teacher. Maybe he’s a bit full of himself, but the kids love him.” (Yuck, yuck…) Not funny for me. There I was, struggling to be thin and fit in and be acceptable, to meet the standards of female desirability and at the same time, (or as a result?) I was praying for invisibility.
I can’t really claim that I knew, in some above-it-all way, that appearances were not what mattered; that I was beautiful on the inside. I didn’t believe that. I’m sure I heard those words, but they were hollow, because the opposing message was pronounced LOUD & CLEAR from every rooftop. Yes, Dylan was singing and the times were a’changing, but the message had not been incorporated into the culture. Despite the brilliant writings of second wave feminists, the residue from the socialization of my mother’s generation was still the dominant force. You are second best. Always. That’s it and it is/will be the overriding factor in every aspect of your life: family, home, school, media, relationships, college and the work world.