I was 16 years old. My father used to drive me to school early in the morning (earlier than most of my classmates, at least) on his way to work, which meant I was usually the first one to arrive. Then one morning I came in and there was this girl from my class, sitting alone, in the darkness. It was winter and I remember it was cold. I went to turn on the light and she asked me not to. I noticed she was sobbing. I approached her and she was visibly shaken up. Her hair was disheveled, a mess. She had dirt in her uniform, her eyes were swollen. She made me swear I would never tell anyone. She made me repeat that I swore never to tell. I did. We were not close friends, actually, we weren’t friends at all. She was this mestiza girl, too shy, too oppressed to speak, too many put downs in her life and I was the punk girl who always got away with everything. We just didn’t know each other. But in spite of that, I swore to her I would never tell. And by god, I’ve kept my promise until today. I never told she was raped by a stranger on her way to school. She was intercepted by someone and taken to some abandoned house where she was raped at gunpoint. I didn’t say a word. I promised to her I wouldn’t. When the headmistress arrived, I went to her office and said the girl had had an accident and needed help. I refused to explain further claiming ignorance on the subject. I said we hardly knew each other so how could I know. The girl was taken away by school authorities. She didn’t come back for a week. When she came back, we remained distant but I took it upon myself to do her homework sometimes. I felt obliged to do something, only I didn’t know what to do. To this day, I still don’t.
Then, a few months later, we had this “end of the year ritual” that took place when kids at my school were in their last year of high school, the trip to Patagonia. In that sense, my school was less bad than others, as it made sure everyone got to attend: the richer kids, the kids on scholarships, the mestizo kids who had never left their hometown, etc. The rule was that everyone had to be included or nobody was allowed to go. We got a couple of chaperons and off we went, for a week of booze, discos and mildly exhausting trekking excursions during daytime.
So one night, on the way back from a disco, this girl got lost. I believe it wasn’t so much that she got lost as the fact that nobody remembered to tell her we were leaving. We just left and got back to the hotel. One of the chaperons came around to check we were all in and that’s when they noticed the girl had been left behind. We heard the noise around, the chatter, etc. They were organizing a group to go and pick her up (the disco was 15/ 20 mins walk max from the hotel). Then the girl walks through the door. I remember how lonely she looked. Solita, I thought. And I felt responsible for having left her behind. Not that I was supposed to have made sure she was there, but I was the one who knew her secret, I should have protected her. Then the chaperon sees her. It was a fury like I had never seen before. The screaming, the vicious words thrown at the girl. “SLUT, SHAMEFUL SLUT, WHO KNOWS WHERE YOU HAVE BEEN”, on and on it went, calling her morals into question, shaming her in front of everyone, telling her how inferior she was because of course, she was a mestiza and they are all whores, sluts, loose women without morals. She tried to explain, in vain, that she was left behind and when she realized, she just walked back on her own. It was pointless. Every misogynistic word was thrown at her. I stood there, silent, and I felt the rage grow inside me. I felt the violence bottle up, I wanted to scream to the chaperon, I was furious. But it was the silent fury of a 17 year old girl. It was a fury that didn’t yet have words to articulate. It was the outrage of knowing, instinctively, what slut shaming was. It was the rage and anger of impotence.
It was that night that I knew I was a feminist, even though I didn’t have a word to define it yet. That very night shaped me in ways I would never anticipate. And it made me vow to never be silent again. It’s been over 20 years since that night and I have never kept my mouth shut ever since.
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