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I was a late bloomer. This meant that while other girls were getting their periods, going on dates and talking with their friends about babies and sex, I was playing Legos with my younger cousins. I didn’t even get my period until I was 16-years-old, and though I had sex-ed many years before, in sixth grade, my memory of the things we talked about were hazy at best. I understood that babies came from sex, but I didn’t know the first thing about arousal, or masturbation, or sexual harassment.
At 17, when my first boyfriend put his penis in my hand, I simply said, “Oh.” I froze on the spot, my brain desperately searching for a reason that I would be holding some boy’s penis in the first place. What did he expect me to do? After that encounter, he broke up with me in search of someone who would give him some action. This event has followed me my whole life. It was my first experience with sexual harassment.
As life progressed, my memory of the incident began to fade. I had written it off as one bad encounter and didn’t think anything else of it. I focused on my studies in high school while other girls my age were actively experimenting with drugs, alcohol, and sex. Teenage pregnancies and STDs ran rampant in the small population of the school, and it seemed like everyone was susceptible. Guys seemed to have total control of the school and used it to their advantage. I’ve had my ass pinched while walking down a crowded hallway. I’ve listened to wolf-whistles as guys watched girls change from the doorway of the girls’ locker room. I’ve been groped while a guy tried to shove his tongue down my throat. I didn’t understand that moments like these were sexually charged harassment.
In college, boys seemed to get more eager and more aggressive in their pursuits of the female body and sex. I was still clinging tight to my virginity. My college roommate was highly sexually active and had guys over to our dorm weekly. They’d bring friends along that I’d have to entertain while their friend was more or less busy. The ass grabbing became more aggressive. The making out led to heavy petting. I learned the words “no” and “stop” very quickly, but these words were empty buckets that had no meaning to the guys who thought they knew my body better than I did. Even when I finally had sex, the word “NO” held no power against my partner. I was drunk and pleading for a way out as he simply held my arms back and forced himself into me. I didn’t know that this was the worst of all and would be considered rape.
My whole life, I’ve erred on the side of caution, trying to keep my dignity intact as I ran through a dangerous obstacle course in a man’s world. My opinion held no meaning, and I was only worthy if my body could be used to bring pleasure to a man. The word “no” wasn’t a demand, but simply a suggestion that a man could easily override and ignore to get what he wanted. It’s time for this form of thinking to be destroyed. It’s time for women to stand up against these predators and take back our lives.
From this day forward, I make a promise to myself that I will never again be used as an object. My body is a temple created from the finest, most delicate materials, and I will never let a man treat it as anything less than that. From this day forward, my identifiers are no longer “baby” or “sweetheart” or any derogatory titles that a man can come up with. Instead, I will answer to my name and my name only, because I know how much power my name has. From this day forward, those roaming hands I’ve dealt with will no longer roam. When they try to grab at my body, those hands will end up with broken fingers as I take my body back into my control. Sexual harassment is a dead practice and will no longer be tolerated.