Francisca Mandeya


Mother, Behold Thy Son


Mother, Behold Thy Son


Chapter 1: Male Entitlement and Female Silence

Chapter 1: 

Male Entitlement

and Female Silence

Francisca Mandeya
Author

5 minute read

Male Entitlement and Female Silence

Preoccupied Father, Entitled Attacker

You know the phrase “boys will be boys?” While both women and men have uttered those words, until recently neither thought much about their impact. As the mother of a son and two daughters, hearing that old adage makes me cringe. It irks and unsettles me still. On its own, I suppose the expression “boys will be boys,” could be seen as harmless. However, in the context of how it is usually expressed I can only feel a righteous anger.

This damaging expression must be uprooted; not just from our culture but from all cultures!

I remember a day back in 1988, when I was 18. I was blossoming into adulthood and getting comfortable with my changing body—a developing chest and emerging hips. I was conscious of my darker complexion and how I resembled my father—which I was often reminded of by many who compared me to my lighter and prettier siblings. Since I cared about getting compliments, I took extra care to do my hair and look and smell good. Still, I wanted to excel in my academic life, and I was not as excited by boys.

It was Parents’ Day, and I was lost in thought. All the lower sixth or form five students would be showing their parents their work and having a day of celebration. As the ceremony began, I stood on my tiptoes looking around for my father. Where is he? Is he all right? Surely, he would not want to miss this occasion. Today, he would want to witness my academic progress and meet all my teachers. I had done well so I knew my dad would be proud of me.

With a heavy heart, I realized my father was not coming. My friends’ parents tried to console me, but the heavy load I was carrying did not get any lighter. I felt betrayed by my father. Other dads had shown up, why not my dad? My best friend Felly tried to console me, and others offered a hug or a pat to acknowledge my accomplishments, but all I could do was sob. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. With each pat or hug my friends offered for my accomplishments I kept heaving ragged breaths of distress accompanied by a full chorus line of tears. Nothing would ease my pain except seeing my dad. Have you ever experienced a similar type of disappointment? How is an 18-year-old supposed to be consoled? It was a struggle to come to terms with my absent father. I was his little girl; I was his angel.

While deeply immersed in my disappointment, I was surprised to see a figure in the school garden. No one should be in the garden, I thought to myself. It wasn’t allowed. Even through my blurred, teary vision I could see the figure approaching. My eyes fully opened, and I met the gaze of a young man my age. His eyes were sparking, red like hellfire. When he grinned, he revealed teeth resembling those of a vampire ready to eat. A sense of unease gripped me. He was getting closer.

With a self-possessed expression on his face, he soon was standing directly in front of me, assessing me, sensing what I might do. For my part, I could do nothing. I could think nothing. I could say nothing. He knew he had the advantage. His eyes traveled up and down my body. Then, with a lecherous smile, his hands started to go to uninvited places.

I was frozen. I could not speak, scream, or put up any kind of a fight. I was paralyzed, unable to resist his unwanted advances. Beads of sweat formed on my brow. I could feel the heat in my body rising, not out of desire but fear. A banging noise in my chest was getting louder as my heart slammed into my chest. My ears were on fire. The hair stood up on the back of my neck and my heart continued to race and throb. I desperately wanted to escape but didn’t know how or even if I could get away, where to go. I felt helpless. My thoughts immediately went to my father. Where are you!? Then to my brother; where was he? That is who I was looking for—so we could cry together!

My mind was racing like a wild animal instinctively knowing it must escape this danger. But while in my mind I was screaming, “Help!” I remained frozen. He was tall, hovering over me. What should I do? What could I do? Who can help me? His hands were exploring every part of my body. By my silence had I granted him permission to touch me? No—I had not! Silence, yes, but inside I continued screaming. I was calling out—in silence—for my father, my brother as the attacker’s hands dug into my flesh.

That day I was a young, innocent girl. I had never known a man in this way. He was exploring my body with such a sense of entitlement. I knew this was wrong. His manhood was rising, and all I could do was scream inside “My God! Where are you, Lord?” I need You now. “Where are you Dad?” I needed him, too. And my brother— “Where are you?” No one answered. No one came. No one was in sight, not even God, or so I thought.

As his behemoth hands continued gripping me by my hips, finally, finally, finally I found my voice. I screamed so loudly that I could swear the ground shook beneath my feet. “Stoppppp!” I screamed. “Get your hands off my body! No! No! Don’t touch me.” Once they started, the words began tumbling out: I had found my voice! From a place deep within, a surge of energy coursed through my body, accompanied by the strength of King David. I shoved him hard and he fell. I did not recognize it at the time, but God was there with me. God was the speed in my feet. God was speaking to me, reminding me that even though neither my father nor my brothers were present, I was not alone.

The assault was my first experience of unwanted attention. Are girls really supposed to be exposed to such unwanted sexual attention? Are we supposed to put up with being assaulted for the enjoyment of boys? Really!? As long as the attention pleasures the boy, it’s just “playing”, right!? Absolutely not! My head was throbbing. Where is my father? Doesn’t he feel I need him now? What happened to our connection?

As I caught my breath and gathered my wits, I started down the hill toward the gate where vehicles entered school grounds. Despite feeling so hurt that he hadn’t been there, my connection with my father was extraordinarily strong. At that moment, it was as if my cry of despair had somehow summoned him. I looked up and there in the distance was his car heading toward me. Instinctively, my feet began a happy dance, and I ran to meet him.

“Where were you, Baba? It is almost time for parents to go!”

“I had some business to finish Fraa. You know how hectic it can get. We were at Portland Cement. I am here now. Don’t cry.”

“Yes, Baba!”

“How is school?”

“It is perfect. I came in first in Physical Geography.”

I said nothing about what happened. My lie by omission nagged at me, but I ignored it. It crept into my thoughts with each sentence to my father. “I no longer want to be in this school, Baba. I want to go home.” Those were the words I wanted to say, but they were stuck, unspoken on the tip of my tongue. I couldn’t access them even though my father and I have a remarkably strong spiritual connection. My father also carried a gun. He had a fiery temper that I inherited. He was aptly named, Ignatius—fiery one. If I told him what had happened, I imagined he would want to use his gun on the man who violated me. So, even if I had wanted to tell, I couldn’t.

It is 1986 and I am 16. I remember as if it were yesterday. I am sitting—dazed, bewildered and confused. I see my father surrounded by 16 nurses. Was there something magical about that number? Was this merely a vision or reality? The coincidence was so surreal. At that moment, it was only a vision, a dream. Later it would become reality.

Because of the vision I never spoke with my father about the horror I experienced that day in the school garden. My lips remained sealed for all these years. Until now; I am telling you. While I always trusted my father and his intentions, I feel I know exactly how he would have reacted to the humiliation I felt. Things would not have ended well, for him or the perpetrator. Back in those days schools usually dismissed pleas girls made to be protected from abuse. Shamefully, all they would say is that useless phrase, “Boys will be boys!” Dad would have seen what happened for what it was; a clear violation of his darling angel, Fraa.

Most boys grow to manhood socialized to believe they are entitled to privilege. Too often, when boys and men abuse girls and women, we survivors keep quiet. As a result, the abuser gets away with it, goes unpunished. As girls and women, we feel afraid we’ll be blamed for what happened. And it is this sense of blame that creates the conditions in which shame can grow and in which boys can shrug, hiding behind the “boys will be boys” façade. It is the basis for so many injustices perpetrated against girls and women. They take it lightly; we take it hard.

Unbelievably, years after he sexually assaulted me, the perpetrator actually sent me a friend request on Facebook! “Do you remember what you did to me in the school garden?” I messaged him back, wondering why he wanted to be my friend. “No, I do not remember,” he lied. And here is the worst of it. I do not know why but I accepted his friend request. Later he unfriended me.

In 2018, 30 years after that terrible time, one of the boys I went to high school with made an astonishing statement to me after exchanging a few messages on social media. “I can’t even believe we are chatting with all the stupidity and immaturity I had during our time together in school. I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive me.” He was not involved in bullying me, or body shaming, or groping me. He was just a passive bystander, yet he felt guilty for all that had happened to me. He felt the need to apologize on behalf of the boys who were unkind to me. His apology gave me a sense of hope that mothers can behold their sons becoming the best versions of themselves. It also demonstrates to boys that they can be active bystanders (and avoid carrying guilt over the years, kicking themselves saying, “I should have protected that girl.”) Change is possible; we need more men who are honest and transparent enough to speak up, to break through the male code of silence

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