Welcome back to part 4 of Ayala’s story. This is the one where you go “Wait, what would I have done at 14?” I’m honestly not sure. But I think it’s fair to say that one thing Bais Yaakov and all it’s tznius rules does NOT teach anyone is that women own their own bodies.
What I didn’t expect to see was four block’s worth of “rebellious” teenagers gawking at me, standing in a semi-organized formation so they could watch the drama. No wonder Bina had fled. These looks were not looks of admiration for my fighting prowess or astonishment that someone would dare to fight their principal’s son; these were hostile looks. It was time to leave, before they collected themselves and tore me to shreds.
Fortunately, this formation made it easier to pick Suri out. “Suri, we’re leaving!” I barked at her. I marched down the makeshift aisle, plucked Suri out of the crowd, and escorted her to Dunkin Donuts. I figured that it was the safest place nearby.
“Wow,” Suri told me, as we waited for my egg and cheese bagel. “You sure know how to kill your chances out there.” Her tone was deliberately neutral, but I sensed her disapproval.
“Now no one will ever want to be your friend or talk to you.”
“Stein was that popular?” I wrinkled my nose. “Are you serious? He seems low-energy, a real downer.”
“It’s not Stein. It’s that you overreacted.”
“No I didn’t!” I cried. “I just didn’t want him to touch me!”
Suri sucked in her breath. “Same thing.”
My anger flared up again. “You’re mad at me because I ruined your chances of being “friends” with guys who don’t even like us, who just want to grope us publicly or have their stupid arms on our shoulders, as conquests or “girlfriends”? Is this really what you want?” I glowered at her.
Suri started to cry. “You’re right. We don’t need them. We need guys like Rafi. Oh my God I miss Rafi…” I patted her shoulder, passing her some crumbly brown napkins. “Here I was going to throw him away for one of those jerks and all I even saw him do was like some photos of this girl.” She blew her nose. “I’ll call him after I walk you home.”
“Oh god. We’re going to have to go down Hangout Avenue, past all of them!” I glanced sharply outside, heart racing. “I don’t’ know how much strength I have left. I was talking big out there, but… what if he really does get me expelled?”
“Eh, you’re a genius. You’ll figure it out, take the GED or something,” Suri flagged down the server to order me another sandwich. “You always figure it out.”
“My parents would flip if I got kicked out of high school. No school is going to take a street-fighting public school girl, even if she pays full tuition.” I started twirling my hair.
“Why did you fight Stein?” Suri asked again, but curiously this this time.
As I looked at Suri, it crystalized. “I would be honored to get kicked out of Bais Yaakov under the banner of feminism.”
“What are you talking about?” Suri was not a person who read for fun.
“Feminism is the idea that female humans are people who eventually turn into adults, own their own bodies, and have the same voting, legal, and financial rights as any man. I would definitely be down to be a martyr over defending my right to control what happens to my own body. It’s expulsion, not being burned at the stake.”
“Feminism is about not shaving or wearing makeup and about acting like a man.” Suri retorted. “So really, why did you do it?”
I sighed. “Because I just did.”
To her credit, her loyalty was much more robust than her intellect, and she walked me the entire mile home. She also stuck by me through the gossip in the following months, and changed her tune from disapproval to exaggerating the volume of tears that had poured down Stein’s face.
When I was 20, I told this story to some women my age that were loosely affiliated with the rebel group from back then about what had happened. They toasted me three times because they had also had similar unpleasant interactions with Stein and finished two bottles of wine in the process.
I have no idea if Stein ever told my principal that I said “Hi,” but I never heard anything and I finished up high school in that same Bais Yaakov.