Dear 12 year old girl forced to live in the horrible 21st century by Michelle Yesudas
I‘m no longer 12 years old but I really think I need to write to you a letter. Initially I thought of addressing this to a 16 year old, but all of her ideas of boys, girls, morals and sex would have been cemented at the time. You are 12 years old and I know you already have a fairly decent idea of what sex is. Even if you did not, your friends would have hinted it to you and laughed a lot. And if you have no clue, you would probably want to know about it, because you see it on television, you see it in movies, you see it being the most gloriﬁed of all things that a woman can give. And yet no one talks about it.
Your friends will start to change. So will you. You may think you are still staying the same with your pretty dresses and stuﬀed animal friends (I still keep mine, you don’t have to grow up don’t worry), but you will change. You will all have diﬀerent bodies. Everyone’s skin, hair and body shape will be aﬀected diﬀerently by these changes. There will be a lot of talk about who is changing the best and there will be a lot of talk on how to correct your changes if you are not changing ‘according to plan’.
They may take you to dermatologists, to dentists, to dieticians or they may leave you alone to fend yourself and you wish they did take you to those doctors. I don’t really know how parents deal with these things. This is the time you realize that everyone is grasping for a familiar idea of beauty. Your friends (and maybe you) will start dressing like great people you know, politicians, actresses, celebrities, musicians, people on TV or you may just dress the way your mother dresses.
All great people.
When you get older and people tell you that you (or your friends) are dressing in a provocative way that invites rape tell them this is not true. Everyone usually dresses in a way that best expresses themselves or an ideal of themselves usually borrowed from TV. Call them out, because our society does NOT have a culture of calling out our bullies, telling them they are hurtful and telling them to stop hurting us because our parents are good at tolerating oppressive regimes. We should stop tolerating this.
It is always acceptable for men to objectify women, to utilize them for their own ends, as long as the woman is not present during the decision making process.
When you are old or young, people will say a lot of things regarding rape that will sound like absolute nonsense to you. This is because as a society, we have not dealt with the harrowing truth, that everyone has the potential to be a rapist. Instead, we behave as if we are a nation under siege, where our women must be boarded up as they were during the war and that women must be kept out of the public sphere as much as possible. Resist this.
We have also failed to take responsibility of the fact that we have created a culture where women are not able to positively indicate they want to engage in sexual activity. I know when you’re 12 years old and when you tell a boy you like him, he may go into a state of shock because he is unable to process the fact that a girl likes him. Things are still like that now. It is always acceptable for men to objectify women, to utilize them for their own ends, as long as the woman is not present during the decision making process.
This is probably why the question of ‘consent’ in Malaysia is so alien. If a woman decided to say ‘Hey, I like that you are ogling at me, don’t you think I’m really beautiful?’ I don’t know if people would be so happy to reply that they are beautiful, because that is how things are in Malaysia. You don’t say things that you mean, you allow them to hang in the air and things happen. I don’t think there are English words to describe this culture, but that’s how a lot of things are, in Malaysia, there just aren’t enough English words to describe a lot of things.
How can you change things? I guess you can talk to everyone around you, write articles, go into a line where people will hear you and tell people that rape is just not possible to be encouraged. If it is encouraged, then there is consent and not rape. If it is rape and the person perceives encouragement, it is either a ﬂimsy excuse or you need to dig deeper into the situation to understand what has transpired during the interaction between the alleged rapist and the victim. Never assume, because we will never know everything.
If you are faced with people who genuinely believe that it is a tough decision to make between a disembodied voice of a dress that said ‘Yes, rape me’ and a human voice of a woman that said ‘No, please don’t rape me’, resist those people, because they are clearly very ill on the inside. You could try to change them by picking a ﬁght by making them see how illogical they sound, but illogical people usually don’t wake up from their illogical comas. You ease them out of it, bit by bit.
I don’t know how old you will be when they start trying to make you realize that you are a woman and start telling you what women ‘ought’ to be. I think they have always been doing it since you were born when they gave you pink blankets and pink towels or something like that but always remember that it is all a creation of society. There will be girls who do not like pink, boys who want to put make-up on for other people and some people who do not think that boys and girls are the only two ways of looking at their gender.
Read Judith Butler. Read Catherine McKinnon and a bunch of other gender/queer theorists. They may not always be right, but they will make you see that there is more than one way of looking at what a woman is and who a woman can love. And then make your own decision. A lot of people in your church, your family, television and schools will make you aware of your sexuality, your virginity and your beauty.
You probably know my advice for this. Call them out on it. The concept of a woman’s virginity and sexuality existed during a time where women were treated like objects rather than people. That is why the dialogue around rape prevention sounds very much like the protection of private property.
You should decide what you do with your virginity and what it actually is. You can save it, you can give it away to people you know, you don’t know, but know that it is yours to give. I don’t really have an opinion about what you do with your virginity, but if you want my advice on it, please do not EVER attach worth or value to it. There will be girls who feel that this is the only thing that makes them a good girl, a holy girl or a good commodity to sell on eBay. I am not saying that it is a morally wrong thing to do, but it is something that may harm you on the inside, because there is nothing more dehumanizing than commodifying an aspect of yourself when you are young and still understanding yourself. You are not an object. You are human. The dialogue of worth and value is always and SHOULD always be reserved for commodities. Do not attempt to value any human life in terms of dollars and cents or the job they will grow into. It is dehumanizing and the fastest way to emotional bankruptcy.
Of course when you grow up, you will have to choose which part of yourself you will have to commodify to earn a living, your brains, your hands, your body, your sexuality. You will have to go through this dehumanizing process as a grown up, and you will feel inexplicable unhappiness. This inexplicable unhappiness is because you just feel like you don’t know yourself anymore or why you’re doing things because you’ve been doing them so often that it has become meaningless and doesn’t add value to your human existence. This will happen and it is your duty to ensure that you survive this process, know that you are more than that commodiﬁed aspect of your body and if you cannot believe it, then give it meaning.
No, I don’t know if you are going to ﬁnd Prince Charming, or if you will be rich. at is not the important part (I hope). I know that it is what a lot of people will be hoping for you and if someone sings that Que Sera Sera song, please tell them to stop and call them out on it. Find something you love now, you are 12, this is when all your loves are the least pretentious or societally manufactured. And stick to it, no matter how mean people attack you. I know a lot of people say be yourself and you ﬁnd it hard because we are bombarded with images of how we ‘should be’. That is all just marketing. They want to take your money, really and your bad self-esteem is a side-eﬀect.
So all the best on being a woman in the 21st century, where everyone wants to tell you what to do with your sexuality but no one really wants to be with you for the big plunge. Resist all the things that make you feel bad and if you don’t know where to go for answers, I’d tell you to read. And read. And read. Read Rosa Luxemburg, read Clara Zetkin, read Engels.
WRITER’S PROFILE: Michelle Yesudas is the Legal/Campaign coordinator for Lawyers for Liberty and really believes that human rights is not a zero sum game. She thinks that it is easy to think otherwise, since we have been so oriented to believing that rights are dependent on resources and we have been conditioned to fight with each other for these resources, instead of attempting to make each other’s lives more liveable. She would like to think that is time we stopped doing that sort of thing and look to supporting each other to create safer spaces, to cultivate stronger voices and to keep on organizing ourselves. She is also going through this phase of being incredibly interested in traditional art around the world, so if you do have any suggestions for art or other things, do email her at michelle.das87[at]gmail.com.