I’ll call her Diane. I hadn’t seen her for two years. She’s in her mid-seventies and has been a family friend since I was 11 years old, though we’d never been close. When I bumped into her in a café recently, the first thing she said to me was, “Give us a hug.” With a new-found confidence and sense of worth, I refused. Whilst she soon left me, unhappy with my response, I felt empowered.
There’s a quote seen frequently on Instagram that says, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.” This person is different for each of us. Perhaps you needed someone who would take you seriously. Perhaps you needed someone to provide stability away from addiction and violence. There were two things that I needed: a voice and control over my own body. These are basic human rights that, as children, we may have lacked and that, as young women, we may even deny ourselves.
Violation of our bodies leaves a lingering mark. A decade after I stopped being sexually abused, a stranger sidled up to me and touched me inappropriately. I stayed silent. I told myself that one more incident wouldn’t make a difference, that other people had free reign over me and I just had to accept it. NO!
An older woman telling me to hug her may seem a world away from the secrecy of abuse, but the demanding of a physical action reignited the anxiety of that time. Thankfully, Instagram’s wisdom struck me, as I thought, “You don’t have to do this.” The powerlessness that I lacked as a child didn’t have to be a part of my adulthood. The voice silenced by men could be as loud as I asked it to be. This is what I now call My Body, My Rules.
You can always say, “No.” Even if your voice shakes or you’re afraid of the response you’ll receive, you can say, “No.” I was aware that my refusal to give a hug could come across as stand-offish, but I also knew what self-respect I would gain from it. You don’t have to explain your response (“I don’t appreciate a hug being demanded from me as if it’s an obligation!”) as long as you know why you made it. It doesn’t have to be rape or inappropriate behaviour. You can question anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, I can’t change my past, nor, if it happened today, could I necessarily prevent abuse from reoccurring. Abusers aren’t focused on the desires of their victims and so a refusal would likely have no influence. But for the little girl who had no choice, I will still say, “I’m worth more than that.” For who I am today, a young woman with value and with dignity, I will say, “This isn’t okay for me.”
Our bodies are ours. It is okay to protect them. In fact, it is of paramount importance that we do. You are precious and one of a kind. Your rules. Always.