I was bullied by girls for a lot of my childhood and teen years. I was a tall, skeletal, clumsy, opinionated, ginger - an easy target. I was teased, called names, tripped over in corridors and ostracised. To it's credit, my school dealt with this quite well; the girl were excluded, separated from their friends and the threats sunk in.
But that wasn't the case when I experienced the worst bullying at the hands of a boy when I was 14.
I'd known this kid for most of my life, so I thought I had the measure of him. He was shorter than most boys and girls our age but mean, overtly crude and had much bigger friends. I thought I'd managed to escape him by knowing him for so long, we definitely weren't friends but I was almost invisible to him.
I came into his sights when we were assigned to sit together. He needed something to amuse himself for a few hours a day and teasing me seemed to do the job. It was a strange form of bullying I had never experienced before: he'd have jokes with me and help me with my work but also tease me, loudly proclaim untrue things about me to make others laugh and encourage them to bully me too.
Most of his taunts I've forgotten, but one always stuck with me. In the middle of class he leant over to me and hissed "what would you do if I raped you". When I told him I'd scream and fight he laughed and told me I'd love it. We were 14.
Most of his victims gave in, stayed silent and let him say whatever he wanted. And I think that's why he kept going, I didn't let it go and allow him to make my life a misery. When he made up crude things about me I'd shout back; if he tried to get me to do something for him I'd reply with an obscenity.
Then it got physical.
One day, we were on our way to class and he was behind me as we were going down a flight of stairs, shouting things with his friends. I retaliated and swore.
He pushed me down a flight of stairs.
I was taken to hospital with concussion. He denied it, and although my friends corroborated my story so did his. I "tripped". It was his word against mine and there was no other proof. We were both kept out of school for two days.
When I returned our head of house called us out of class to "sort out this silliness". She demanded we both tell her what our problem was with each other. I said mine was he'd pushed me down a flight of stairs. Exasperated she proclaimed:
"What is this? Do you fancy each other?"
And that's when I finally realised how seriously this was all being taken. He'd been bullying me for months, but as far as they saw it he was a boy and I was a girl. He was clearly subjecting me to this because he liked me.
He was never punished.
Women are blamed for men's behaviour constantly, to the point where it's almost ingrained in us to excuse their behaviour. If a little boy pushes over a little girl at nursery she's told it's because he likes her. Teenage girls are routinely sent home from school for wearing "revealing clothing" that may distract boys or even male teachers . When men catcall young women in the street it's because we're dressed sexily or they're just giving us a compliment. When a woman is raped at a party or dragged into an alleyway it's because she led him on, shouldn't have drank so much, shouldn't have been walking home alone, shouldn't have been wearing that dress. When a woman stays in an abusive relationship society asks "why did she stay?"
It seems to get worse when fame enters the equation. Famous men who have been accused of abuse or violence towards their partners routinely face no repercussions or affect on their career, while the woman is dragged through the press (in Amber Heard's case), kept from working (Kesha) or even killed (Reeva Steenkamp).
We need to stop blaming men's actions on women, and we need to stop equating male violence towards women with their love for them. But to do this we need to stop giving men a free pass from such a young age. Little boys don't pick on little girls because they like them, they do it because they can and if we keep giving these little boys a pass they will never learn.
I know that boy didn't bully me because he liked me. He bullied me to keep me silent.