Fresher’s Memoirs-Day 5: Stories

Laura’s short story reflects on the struggles faced as a young woman starting university.

From an early age, I was taught never go anywhere on your own. To take my sister everywhere with me. Especially to public toilets. You hear stories, don’t you? Just last week, as well. All over the papers.

Barely into double figures, I was taught never to wear too short a skirt. It’s easier. You’re easy. For the grabbers.

September 2016. I start university. I know the teachings.

You only use a certain taxi chain.

You go out and come back in a group. (If you must go out alone, text a friend when you arrive and when you’re back home. Safe.)

You don’t drink from the same cup twice.

You have a fake phone number handy. An imaginary boyfriend. Maybe they’ll respect him more than you.

You always have it, following you like a shadow, in the back of you brain: the if, the maybe, the one in four women.

And an alarm on your keys.

Burka or bikini. You know there is no way to cheat the statistics. Prude or slut. Only the media obsesses over stupid dichotomies. Grabbers don’t.

October 2016. I have reading lists with stories set in the fifth century onwards. Stories that have passed from tongue to tongue, decade after decade, before someone thought to put them down on parchment.

Stories: mirrors to the past and present and more, mirrors that turn’st your eyes into the very soul of the human race. Stories: bottles sent across time and space, stuffed full of secret messages to decode.

Sometimes, they make me sick. But I’m a woman, and a reader, and I learnt a long time ago to swallow the vomit back down.

If you’re a woman in a saga of antiquity, you pay for any power you hold. The price is your body. If you’re a woman in a story, your body is not your own. It’s ploughed and plundered, and more often than not, it’s simply another piece of the plot.

Leda and the Swan. A myth retold countless times.

Philomela and Tereus. The same horror repeated. Sophocles, Ovid, Chaucer, Gower. The story of Philomela’s mutilation echoes throughout literature like a PTSD sufferer’s recurring nightmare.

Clarrissa. Tess of the d’Urbervilles. Lolita. A Clockwork Orange.

You turn the page. Another woman beaten, raped, murdered. You close the book, enough study for now. Time for a break. You turn on the TV.

Another woman . . .

Again, I am dragged out of sleep at three AM. Some boys on my corridor howl with laughter.

I pull on a dressing gown. Head outside for the loo. Hundreds of crisp-shards litter the floor. There’s a vodka bottle teetering at the top of the stairs and something grey smearing the walls.

A boy calls my name. I remind myself its first term. Don’t want to seem a bitch. I smile, make small talk with him and his friend.

“Alice’s off her head.” They snigger. I don’t know who Alice is. “She’s let every boy have her tonight. Callum’s upstairs now fucking her brains out.”

“Sorry,” I feign sleepy naivety. “Why’s that funny?”

November 2016. America elect their president. He grabs women.

You’ve heard worse stories, though, haven’t you?

Laura Stanley

Featured image courtesy of Georgia Butcher.

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