Letter  to  My  13  Year-­Old  Self   After  Freddie  the  Gardener  Touched  my  Breasts  

  By  Jane  Gilgun    

  Summary   This  article  is  a  letter  I  wrote  to  my  13  year-­‐old  self  about  the  time  that  Freddie  the   gardener  touched  my  breasts.  As  I  look  back,  I  see  the  conflict  and  confusion  that  I   experienced.  On  the  one  hand,  I  had  an  innate  but  unarticulated  sense  of  my  own  worth  and   dignity.    On  the  other  hand,  there  was  a  web  of  meaning  that  said  I  was  at  fault  and  others   would  not  back  me  up  but  further  humiliate  me  if  I  said  anything.  This  web  of  meaning   permitted  Freddie  to  get  away  with  molesting  me.    I  had  nothing  to  draw  on  to  tell  him  to   keep  his  hands  to  himself  and  to  tell  my  parents  and  others  what  he  had  done.  Times  have   changed.    There  is  a  rising  tide  of  rhetoric  to  push  back  against  the  rhetoric  that  silences   women  and  allows  men  to  get  away  with  degrading  us.    However,  it’s  not  over.   About  the  Author   Jane  F.  Gilgun,  Ph.D.,  LICSW,  is  a  professor  and  author.  She  has  done  research  on  the  meanings   of  violence  and  abuse  for  many  years.  See  Professor  Gilgun’s  other  articles,  books,  and   children’s  stories  on  scribd.com,  Kindle,  iBooks,  Nook,  and  other  e-­readers.  

Letter  to  My  13  Year-­Old  Self   After  Freddie  the  Gardener  Touched  my  Breasts  
You  were  13  years  old,  dressed  in  a  plaid,  short-­‐sleeved  blouse,  jeans,  and  riding  boots.   You  may  have  worn  a  bra.  At  that  age,  you  would  have  had  little  teeny  breasts.  Freddie  slid   his  hand  into  your  blouse  and  touched  your  breasts.  You  stood  there,  embarrassed  and   humiliated.    You  didn’t  know  what  to  do.    He  pulled  his  hand  out.  You  walked  away.  He   walked  away.  You  didn’t  tell  anyone.  You  never  were  near  Freddie  again.     You  were  at  the  stables  on  the  Cherry  Estates  in  Wakefield,  Rhode  Island.  You  had  probably   just  put  out  one  of  the  horses  into  the  pasture.  You  were  standing  on  the  lawn  between  the   lane  that  led  to  the  pasture  and  the  wall  of  the  one-­‐acre  garden,  where  Freddie  grew  crops   for  the  Cherrys,  a  wealthy  family  who  owned  department  stores.  The  estate  was  about  150   acres.    Doc  Kaplan  rented  the  stables  from  the  Cherrys.  Doc  bred  thoroughbreds  and  had   about  six  horses  at  the  stables.  You  worked  for  Doc.    You  earned  $5  a  week.  That  was  many   years  ago.       The  Garden     For  the  big  house,  Freddie  grew  many  different  kinds  of  vegetables  and  strawberries  that   grew  on  low-­‐growing  lushly  green  plants.  You  used  to  eat  them  right  off  the  plants.  One  day   the  Cherrys  drove  by  the  far  side  of  the  garden  wall  in  their  big  black  Cadillac.  You  lay  flat   on  the  grass  between  the  rows  of  strawberries  so  they  wouldn’t  see  you.  They  probably  did,   anyway.  They  didn’t  hold  it  against  you  because  they  asked  you  to  feed  two  baby  pigs  they   later  bought  and  kept  penned  in  the  corner  of  the  garden.  The  pigs  had  pink  skin.  You  liked   them.  They  grew  big.  One  day  they  were  gone.  You  missed  them  a  lot  and  might  have  cried   when  they  were  gone,  but  you  also  at  the  age  when  you  more  or  less  accepted  that  people   slaughter  and  eat  pigs.     Afraid  to  Speak       Freddie  was  a  man  from  town  who  hung  out  at  the  bowling  alley  along  with  most  of  the   men  and  many  women  and  children  in  town.  He  was  a  few  years  older  than  your  parents.   Everyone  knew  him.  After  the  molestation,  you  heard  your  father  say  that  Freddie  is  “light-­‐ fingered.”  You  knew  what  he  meant.  You  disagreed.  With  you,  Freddie  was  not  light-­‐ fingered.       Looking  back  at  this,  I  think  about  you  as  a  young  girl.  You  did  not  know  what  to  say  or  to   do.  You  said  nothing  to  Freddie.  You  said  nothing  to  anyone  else.    Decades  later,  I  see  this   incident  as  one  of  many  that  you  interpreted  as  evidence  that  you  were  a  dirty,  unworthy,   girl  then  a  woman,  degraded.  Fortunately,  this  was  not  the  totality  of  what  you  thought   about  yourself,  but  it  lurked  below  the  surface.  It  came  to  life  throughout  the  years   whenever  you  worried  that  other  people  might  think  you  are  an  idiot,  no  good,  unclean,  a   fallen  woman.        

The  incident  with  Freddie  was  one  of  many  where  you  felt  men  had  degraded  you.  I  think   there  was  a  pile-­‐up  of  humiliations.  Fortunately,  you  did  well  in  almost  all  other  areas  of   your  life.  This  sense  of  being  unclean,  humiliated,  and  unworthy  was  like  a  navel  mine  that   floats  just  under  the  surface,  ready  to  explode  when  its  spikes  come  in  contact  with  another   object.  Mostly,  the  spikes  did  not  make  contact.  The  fear  that  they  might  was  just  out  of   awareness,  there  and  not  there,  giving  you  an  edge  of  anxiety  at  times.     Innate  Sense  of  Dignity  and  Worth     Now,  when  I  look  back  at  you  as  a  girl  of  13,  I  see  the  conflict  and  confusion  that  you   experienced.  On  the  one  hand,  you  had  an  innate  but  unarticulated  sense  of  your  own   worth  and  dignity.    On  the  other  hand,  there  was  a  web  of  meaning  that  said  you  were  at   fault  and  others  would  not  back  you  up  but  would  further  humiliate  you.  This  web  of   meaning  permitted  Freddie  to  get  away  with  molesting  you.       As  a  girl  of  13,  you  had  no  idea  what  to  do  except  to  stay  silent.  I,  now  an  adult,  have  an   inkling  of  what  happened.    Intuitively,  you  knew  what  Freddie  had  done  was  wrong.  You   felt  wronged,  humiliated,  and  degraded.    This  is  your  inner  sense  of  your  right  to  self-­‐ respect.  You  knew,  even  as  a  young  girl,  that  you  had  an  in  alienable  right  to  being  treated   with  respect.  You  knew  that  Freddie  had  violated  your  sense  of  dignity.  Every  human  being   has  an  innate  sense  of  their  right  to  respect  and  dignity.    When  Freddie  touched  your   breasts,  the  discourse  of  girl  and  women-­‐blaming  was  all  you  had  to  draw  on.       You  said  nothing.  You  had  no  language  to  express  your  right  to  respect  and  dignity.    As  in-­‐ built  as  the  intuition  of  the  right  to  respect  and  dignity  might  be,  young  people  require   language  and  webs  of  meaning  that  make  it  natural  for  them  to  speak.    The  language  and   webs  of  meaning  that  you  knew  when  men  touch  girls  sexually  was  of  blame  of  girls.    You   were  afraid  to  tell  anyone  else  because  you  were  afraid  you  would  be  blamed  and  further   humiliated.  You  wanted  to  avoid  further  humiliation.  You  stayed  silent.     You  were  afraid  to  say  to  Freddie,  “How  dare    you.  Get  your  hands  off  me.”  Saying  these   words  did  not  occur  to  you.    When  he  touched  your  breasts,  your  mind  was  blank  at  first  in   shock  and  then  blank  because  you  had  no  store  of  knowledge  about  what  to  say  and  to  do   to  stand  up  for  your  own  dignity  and  worth.     A  Grand  Void     When  you  were  a  girl,  there  was  no  web  of  shared  meanings  about  girls’  worth  and  dignity.   There  were  no  lessons  about  what  to  do  when  someone  violates  your  sense  of  worth  and   dignity.    There  was  a  grand  void,  a  blank  space  about  what  to  do  in  your  own  self-­‐defense.   The  rhetoric  and  the  webs  of  meaning  that  you  were  available  to  you  favored  perpetrators.     They  could  do  whatever  they  wanted  to  you,  and  you  could  say  nothing  because  other   people  would  ask  you  what  you  did  to  cause  the  molestation  and  why  didn’t  you  get  away   from  him  before  he  touched  you.    

You  should  have  had  multiple  webs  of  meaning.  As  soon  as  he  reached  for  your  breasts,    I   wish  self-­‐protective  thoughts  and  actions  had  come  to  life.  I  wish  you  had  thought,  he  can’t   do  that.  He’s  about  to  touch  me  where  he  has  no  right  to  touch  me.  I  have  a  right  to  protect   myself  from  men  who  touch  me  sexually.    Other  people  will  back  me  up.  I  can  tell  him  to   stop.  I  can  tell  him  to  keep  his  hands  to  himself.  I  can  tell  him  that  I  will  tell  Mr.  and  Mrs.   Cherry.    I  can  tell  Doc  Kaplan.  I  can  tell  my  mother  and  father.  I  can  tell  my  Uncle  Pete,  the   police  chief.  Instead  of  believing  these  people  would  back  you  up,  you  believed  no  one   would.  The  rhetoric  of  blame  silenced    you.  The  rhetoric  of  your  own  sense  of  dignity  and   worth  was  not  strong  enough  to  push  back  against  the  rhetoric  of  blame.       The  rhetoric  of  girls  and  women  being  to  blame  for  their  own  sexual  abuse  was  too  strong.   No  one  had  helped  you  to  form  webs  of  self-­‐protective  meanings  that  would  spring  to  life   as  soon  as  Freddie  reached  for  you.  These  webs  of  meaning  didn’t  exist  for  your  or  for   other  girls  and  boys.  What  sprang  to  life  was  fear  that  no  one  would  stand  up  for  you,  that   you  were  alone  with  this  man  who  had  that  silly  look  on  his  face,  and  the  calloused  hand   that  touched  your  little  teeny  breasts.  How  soft  they  must  have  been.     Rush  Limbaugh  and  Sandra  Fluke     A  few  months  ago,    Rush  Limbaugh  called  Sandra  Fluke  a  “slut”  and  a  “prostitute.”   Limbaugh  had  invoked  the  rhetoric  that  had  silenced  you  as  a  girl  of  13,  silenced  you  many   other  times,  and  has  silenced  uncounted  numbers  of  women  for  uncounted  numbers  of   years.    Fluke  had  testified  before  a  Congressional  committee    to  advocate  for    health  care   laws  that  provide  contraception  for  women  at  Roman  Catholic  institutions.       When  Limbaugh’s  degrading  language  led  to  a  national  and  international  uproar,  he  said  he   was  using  humor  in  response  to  the  law  student’s  advocacy.  He  apologized  unconvincingly   a  few  days  later.  Limbaugh  may  not  have  realized  how  degrading  his  language  was.  He  may   not  have  realized  that  he  had  called  upon  webs  of  meaning  that  had  humiliated  and   silenced  women  and  girls  for  hundreds  and  even  thousands  of  years.       What  Limbaugh  did  not  realize  that  there  are  now  webs  of  meanings  and  language  that   women  and  girls  can  call  upon  to  respond  to  the  degradation  that  Limbaugh  and  men  like   him  hand  out,  impervious  to  expectations  that  there  will  be  pushback.         Discourses  of  Dignity  and  Worth     Over  the  decades,  you  as  an  adult  had  helped  created  this  pushback,  these  webs  of  meaning   that  many  people  evoked  to  tell  Limbaugh  that  he  was  out  of  line.  Through  your   membership  in  women’s  groups,  including  the  National  Organization  for  Women,  in  your   advocacy  for  the  Equal  Rights  Amendment,  and  in  your  research  on  violence  against   women  and  children,  you  helped  to  create  webs  of  meanings  and  language  that  stood  up  for   the  innate  dignity  and  worth  of  women  and  girls,  including  yourself.  You  helped  to  create   language  and  webs  of  meanings  that  push  back  when  men  attempt  to  degrade  women  and   girls.  You  and  millions  of  other  women  helped  to  create  this  language  of  pushback.  If  this   language  had  existed  when  you  were  13,  you  would  have  given  Freddy  a  good  “what  for”  

and  told  him  off.    You  would  have  told  your  parents.  Uncle  Pete  would  have  hauled  him  in   to  the  station.     It’s  Not  Over     The  dominant  discourses  throughout  the  world  and  in  the  lives  of  individual  women  and   girls  continue  to  be  the  discourses  of  women  and  girl-­‐blaming.  Today,  men  still  get  away   with  degrading  women  because  of  this  discourse.  Women  sometimes  use  this  discourse   against  other  women.  Many  social  institutions  such  as  laws  and  everyday  practices  support   the  degradation  of  women  and  assault  their  innate  sense  of  dignity  and  worth.  Who  knows   how  many  girls  and  women  do  not  have  the  language  and  webs  of  meaning  to  push  back   against  this  assault  on  their  dignity  and  worth.       In  many  parts  of  the  world,  social  structures  are  not  place  to  stand  in  back  of  women  who   do  have  the  language  and  meanings  to  resist  and  invoke  their  innate  right  to  dignity  and   respect.  Mothers,  fathers,  neighbors,  legislatures,  the  courts,  teachers,  and  others  may  not   stand  in  back  of  girls  who  assert  their  sense  of  dignity  and  worth.     Girls  and  women  throughout  the  world  may  still  experience  conflict  between  their  sense  of   dignity  and  respect  and  the  treatment  that  women  and  girl-­‐blaming  rhetoric  permits  other   people  to  use.  Rush  Limbaugh  is  the  point  person  for  the  discourses  that  blame  and  silence   women.     Maybe  we  should  thank  him  for  being  so  obvious  in  his  obliviousness  to  the  dignity  of   women  and  their  rights  to  respect.    He  gave  us  something  clear  to  push  back  against.       You  as  my  13  year-­‐old  think  about  Freddie’s  hand  on  your  breast  and  the  silly  look  on  his   face.  You  can  still  conjure  up  anger  at  him  and  the  webs  of  meaning  that  permitted  him  to   molest  you  and  to  get  away  with  it.    You  don’t  see  the  end  of  these  indignities  for  other   women  and  girls.    Women  and  girls  remain  vulnerable  to  assaults  on  their  dignity  and   worth.    We’ve  got  a  way  to  go.     References     Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2010).  Child  sexual  abuse:  From  harsh  realities  to  hope.    Available  for  Kindle,   iPad,  Nook,  and  other  e-­‐readers.     Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2011).    It’s  time  for  the  Roman  Catholic  Church  to  show  the  world  what   penitence  is.    Available  for  Kindle.  http://www.amazon.com/Catholic-­‐Church-­‐Penitence-­‐ Violence-­‐ebook/dp/B004ZN2JTI/ref=sr_1_7?s=digital-­‐ text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336423478&sr=1-­‐7         Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2011).  Nujood  Ali,  10,  divorces  her  30  year-­‐old  husband.   http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-­‐alias%3Ddigital-­‐text&field-­‐ keywords=nujood+Gilgun    

Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2011).  Standing  up  to  rape  in  Libya.  Amazon  Kindle.   http://www.amazon.com/Standing-­‐Rape-­‐Libya-­‐al-­‐Obeidy-­‐ ebook/dp/B004VGUH2A/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=digital-­‐ text&ie=UTF8&qid=1336423287&sr=1-­‐1-­‐fkmr0     Gilgun,  Jane  F.  (2012).  Women  are  sluts?    Oh,  Yeah?     ttp://www.scribd.com/doc/91318738/Women-­‐are-­‐Sluts-­‐Oh-­‐Yeah     Wondra,  Ellen  (2012).  What’s  the  good  news  on  the  ground?    Audio  recording.         Here’s  a  poem  I  wrote  several  years  ago  about  Freddie.     Freddie  the  Gardener       Freddie  the  gardener  fondled  my  breasts.   little  things  they  were,  barely  there  at  all.   He  slipped  his  dirty  hands  under  my  shirt   and  rubbed,  tongue  rolling  around  in  his  mouth.     I  was  paralyzed  like  a  rabbit  in  a  snare,   with  the  hunter  above  rifle  cocked  and  about  to  shoot.     Later,  I  overheard  my  daddy  say,   That  Freddie  is  light-­‐fingered.   I  knew  what  he  meant.   I  wanted  to  say,   No,  he’s  not.      

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