©2017 Jo Leath, Part of a manuscript in progress,

posted in response to Me, too

mid 1970s, BC interior.

The first restaurant where I had applied I was given the job: they were happy to find someone with experience. It was operated by a married couple from Hong Kong. They worked all the time, and at least one of them was in the kitchen during opening hours.

The wife had interviewed and hired me, and I liked the way she treated me. She had a happy outlook, joking with customers, laughing with table servers. She was very direct and I always knew where I stood with her. The husband, on the other hand, I did not like at all. When he was alone with staff he propositioned the women, and found times and places to consummate the deals he had struck. Those who fell for his lines were usually the teenagers, new to the industry. They believed him when he promised better shifts and simpler tasks: promises never fulfilled. After the deed was done, he suddenly remembered that his wife was in charge of those decisions, and if she were to learn what had happened, a firing would ensue.

When other staff-members rejected his advances he blamed his clumsy English, saying they had misunderstood: he would not dream of suggesting such a thing. Don't say anything, because people who think like that will be fired.  

I made friends with other women working in the service industry, and their lives were much the same. The men in charge, and even a lot of the boyfriends lived in the One Track Mind that began and ended with women providing or not providing them with sex. Women were available, and therefore sluts; or they were unavailable, man-hating bitches. Bosses wheedled for sex in exchange for better working conditions, and landlords pretended they would reduce rent if only tenants would put out for them.

The town was small and the options I could envisage for myself were limited.


I remembered a colleague of my parents, a man called Ford, who had visited our home often. When I was ten or eleven he used to find reasons to touch my back and arms in a possessive way. It was the mid-1960s, and my parents reprimanded me when I shuddered and withdrew; they told me not to be rude and silly.

Sometimes, late in the evening, he would appear on the landing, a looming presence outside the bathroom door. He wanted to say goodnight, he said. He would wrap an arm around me in a hug that pressed my face to his tie. I turned my head and looked at the pen in his jacket pocket. While I was pinned in place, his other hand would cup and hold the newly grown breast that was in his reach. His hands were hot and meaty and I felt sickened by his fingers kneading at my flesh.

His body against mine was dense and overpowering. Anyone witnessing the embrace would see only a doting uncle at bedtime. He would sigh into my hair, telling me how lovely I was.

It was compliment, and it was a lie. I didn’t feel lovely, I wondered what was wrong with me.             

 I stood and endured. Too weak to push away a grown man.


1972 Nanaimo


          At 15, I babysat at several houses in the neighbourhood. I was expected to generate spending money for myself.

          Child-care was deemed to be an unskilled labour in those days: efficacy presumably being lodged on the second X chromosome. Despite a total absence of experience or training I was left in charge of assorted infants, toddlers and school children with only an emergency phone number as a support system and the promise of a full 50 cents each hour.

          I did little more than put children to bed, and then watch television until the parents came home. In the dark lateness I was always driven home, usually by the father, while mother checked on the children.

          Harry was dad to a family recently arrived in Canada. He would park between his house and ours, and talk to me. We would converse like adults. I enjoyed his lilting Welsh speech, and I shared his criticisms of the absence of correct British ways. He invited my opinions, and treated them with respect.

          He never dismissed my expressions of unhappiness at school. He did not shrug off my dislike for all things Canadian as I struggled with culture shock. He treated me, instead, as though I had some value in the world.  It was a new sensation for me: I was grateful.

          He told me stories about his growing up near Cardiff. I listened dutifully and on the night that he reached out and drew my face to his, I did not resist. I didn’t know what to do. He kissed me gently and softly, caressing my lips like a fragile treasure, and I felt my belly flip, as though something within me had melted.

          For several weekends this ritual was repeated, with gradual additions: his hand on my breast, my hand invited towards his thighs. He remained respectful as he took these liberties, and I began – not to enjoy them, exactly – but to look forward to the exchange, the conversation, the validation that my acquiescence bought.

          Then he started to ask how we could meet, at some other time, when we could enjoy “more”. I knew, in theory, what this meant, and I was happy enough to comply. I had cultivated the idea that virginity was limiting, and that a person should not be burdened with it unless she made that choice.

          Harry was 32, and knew enough to wait until after my 16th birthday, as though this assured my adulthood. It was as if a particular day, and a cake with candles, would expunge all the previous years of socialization; compliance would transmute into consent.

          When the day dawned, I went to school as usual and then left to meet Harry. He had arranged for an apartment downtown. It belonged to a friend of his, and I had been entrusted with the secret of a concealed key.

          Though I got there first and had plenty of time to change my mind, I was quite determined that this was something I wanted to do. I wanted rid of my unchosen hymen, and I wanted a deeper relationship with Harry. I sat patiently still on the edge of a chair, careful not to leave any evidence of myself. The room was unwelcoming, decorated and furnished with a collage of beiges and browns.

          When Harry arrived he seemed surprised by me, as though he had only stopped by to confirm my absence. His schedule allowed for the briefest of breaks and he had no interest in talk. Kisses and touches were not as gentle as I was accustomed to, and he quickly reached a new state of urgency. Although I had some book-learning about the act he was performing, I was entirely without context. I knew nothing of either an emotional response or my own participation.

          I did know, from the all the caveats and lectures delivered by my mother, that this was something men did to women. This was what men wanted. It was, really, the only thing they were interested in.

          It was not terribly interesting. I stayed still until he had completed.

          “You really were a virgin” he announced, as though I might not know. “I’ve never been with a virgin before.”

          This was shocking to me. I understood that marriage is available only to virgins, and Harry had a wife. “Wasn’t Marie?” I asked, quite incapable of imagining a deflowered bride. He mumbled something about her being “pretty close” and continued to fasten his clothes.

          We left and locked the apartment. He strode down the corridor to the stairwell, instructing me to wait five minutes before summoning the elevator.         When I got to the street there was no sign of him, and I caught the bus back to school. I had missed an English class, and was back in time for Geography.

          I thought I ought to feel different, yet I didn't. Despite what had been done to my body, and the knowledge that I was now released from the duty of wifedom, I didn't feel changed or grown up or wise. I had believed that sex would change everything, yet I remained as I had been that morning. My mood had shifted slightly perhaps, in intensity. I might have become fractionally more lonely and empty and sad. The anticipation which had moved me towards the tryst was now dissipated in a miasma of anticlimax. What in the world was all the fuss about?