A few months ago, my mom shared with me over dinner a local tragedy that a friend working in the legal department had told her. A girl not much older than me had been raped by what doctors estimate were more than 30 different men, all whom had taken turns violating the girl. The rape was so brutal that she was hospitalized due to severe damage to her vagina and intestines. Her family later learned that she had been on a date when the incident occurred. She had met the boy online, and after meeting up at a McDonald’s, he took her to a nearby club where he drugged her and then raped her with the help of his friends. The story never made it to the papers. It was shut down by the publishers because the boy was underage, and no one wanted to ‘ruin his chances at a successful career path over a silly children’s issue.
My mom’s reaction was as expected: she was shocked and sickened by everything our justice system stood for. She couldn’t believe how someone could be so rotten inside to cause this kind of pain to someone, but worst of all, to stand for it. As we finished our meal my mother looked at me in the eye, and said: “As long as you live under my roof you are not going anywhere with people who are not part of your close group of friends. It’s too dangerous.”
Of course, I wasn’t thrilled about this. I was 17 years old, at the peak of my teenage years, and I wanted to enjoy my youth like anyone else my age. I begged. I argued. I reproached my mom for mandating such nonsense. Nothing worked.
That night, I lay in bed unable to sleep. I thought about everything that I had learned over dinner and wondered if my mom would have reached the same verdict if I were a boy.
In reality, I am lucky. Unlike most women in my country, El Salvador, I was never denied an education because of my gender. I have never had a partner who has treated me as an inferior, and my family loves me as much as they would love a boy. However, as blessed as I am, I have faced sexism. Over the years, my parents have imposed several rules which limit me. I can’t go on dates or parties of people I’m not close with. I can’t go out with my guy friends unless there are a certain number of girls present. I can’t wear shorts when boys are around or show any cleavage. I can’t talk about sex, regardless of the context, or show any signs of my sexuality. I must be proper. I must act like a lady. I must behave myself so boys will respect me and to protect my reputation.
Don’t get me wrong. I won’t pretend my parent’s expectations are completely ludicrous. After all, we live in a society in which ‘the woman always loses’, or so my mom says. I understand that their only purpose is to protect their only child from any harm. Regardless, I must ask: Why do parents feel the urge to limit their daughters rather than teach their sons how to treat women? They say that boys will be boys, but can’t we see how twisted this type of thinking really is? Why must we be apologetic of this kind of behavior, yet shame girls whose only ‘fault’ is wearing their skirt a little ‘too high’?
A wave of emotion overcame me as I lay dumbfounded in my bed, desperate to find the logic behind the society in which I live. Yet the truth is, I never found it. To this day, I don’t understand people’s reasoning over this matter. I hear women complain all the time over how much they wished men thought of them differently, but slut shame that girl who kissed that guy at that party. I will never get it.
My parents haven’t changed their parenting style, nor will they. Like me, the vast majority of young women in El Salvador live with this kind of expectations from their family. Perhaps the day will come when women are no longer accused of being the reason behind a man’s misbehavior. Perhaps our justice system will one day learn how to truly recognize a criminal when they see one, but in the meantime I can only be sure of one thing: however revealing the her outfit was, however flirtatious she may have been, the girl my mom told me about never asked for anything that happened that night, and it is time to stop pretending otherwise.