I was not quite 9 when it started….

I am preparing to start the research and development phase of my new play for an urban Indian youth audience. It’s about gender and it’s about growing up so it’s got me thinking…

I don’t know if this was the first time this happened. I know it was not the last and I know that it has stayed with me in the back of my mind for a long time.

I am not quite 9.

I am with my mother. We are in a marquee. I am at a craft fair and there is a man with a spinning wheel demonstrating how to spin cotton. I am interested. I have read both the ladybird books – Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin – so many times that their spines are battered and frayed. I have never seen a spinning wheel in real life before.

It’s then that it happens. Actually almost nothing happens. Not for anyone else in that muggy tent. If you blinked you would miss it but for me everything changed.

I looked at the man operating the spinning wheel and I smiled.
I smiled because little girls are encouraged to smile.
He smiled back.

And in that moment I knew that I couldn’t or shouldn’t smile at men any more. I can’t describe exactly what it was I saw when he looked at me. I know that something was not right in the way his eyes scanned my fledgling flesh on the turn to womanhood, my budding chest, my hinting hips, like a hunter surveying his prey. I knew in that moment that I was not a child anymore and yet I was every bit still a child. I felt shameful for making him think those things about me. I didn’t know what those things really were but I knew they were not nice and made skin crawl with shame. I resolved not to make any men think those things again. I resolved not to smile for fear I would prick my finger of that spinning wheel and fall asleep for one hundred years.

“Cheer up darling, it might never happen!.”

It already did and it started when I was not quite nine.