In my story Genevieve, there’s a woman, a social worker, fighting for the girls (and boys) she fights for but feeling stagnated by the system she fights in. The society blames the girls for the behaviour of the men who have abused them, and judges them for not having the right attitude.
I was in the check out at the supermarket recently and a woman, an older woman, struck up a conversation with me that soon turned to a recent headline about a man being convicted for rape of a minor and getting what she judged to be a hefty sentence. I said something like, good, they need to learn to see children and leave them alone. To which she responded, yes, but “the girl and all…” – implying that the girl should have avoided the path she’d travelled, avoided catching the man’s eye, avoided attracting his advances. I stressed in this conversation that the girl is a child and the responsibility was on the man, and the man alone, to leave her alone. No matter what path she took.
In the story Genevieve, the title character is herself an abuse survivor. She walked in the ‘wrong’ place, caught a grown man’s attention, didn’t know what to do with that attention once she had it; how to reject it, how to feel about it, how to let it go. It followed her into adulthood and no doubt directed her feet to the social services office, where she sees girls who are her, who don’t even know abuse when they experience it. Trying to do her work, she bucks up against a society that doesn’t want to call an abuser by his name.
Genevieve is not strictly speaking ripped from the headlines but it is influenced by stories of this type, those that make the headlines, and the many more that don’t; from the lone man who abuses with his words as the girl goes about her business, in her school uniform no less, to the crime sex ring populated by powerful men whose power is not diminished by media exposure of their bad behaviour.
What I try to do within the world of the story, is understand the girl, the girl who wakes up one day in a body she has to relearn in an environment now vaguely, sometimes overtly, hostile. She has to adapt. And best case scenario she survives to adulthood without once feeling someone’s inappropriate eyes, touch, or words. Best case scenario, fantasy.
If you survive to womanhood, whether you figure you’ve been bad touched or not, you know that you are not unaffected when you see how you react, even as a grown woman, in certain situations – when, for instance, you have to pass a clutch of construction workers who can’t simply reply to your “good morning” and keep it moving.
I didn’t write Genevieve, nor do I write anything that I write, because I have answers; honestly, most days, I’m still trying to figure all this stuff (to put it as mildly as I can) out. Writing is how I do that.
I’ve always said that as far as Caribbean stories go, to reference Buju, the full has never been told; and as far as my own life and my own stories go, I’m still exploring, still discovering, still processing the world I know; and, thinking on the ending of Genevieve, maybe a bit of the world as I hope it could be.