Last night I spoke at my school’s third annual Mansfield Speaks. It’s a TED-like event where students can speak on a wide range of topics, all centering around one theme. This year’s theme was time. Most people talked about time in the literal sense, but I took different approach. I originally was inspired by the #metoo movement, but as I was writing my speech it actually became perfect timing, because that’s when the ‘Time’s Up’ movement came to be.
I wrote this speech because I never had the courage to tweet #metoo. By the time I was brave enough, the moment had passed, so I never did. Because I’ve never been raped or severely sexually assaulted, I didn’t feel like that I could honestly be a part of that movement. I was scared that people would judge me because nothing “that bad” had happened to me. That’s when I realized that that was part of the problem. So this speech was a way for me to say #metoo, and to hopefully help other girls like me realize they can say #metoo as well, without feeling guilty about it. My speech is below.
Every woman I know has her first time. The first time she noticed a man staring at her not as a person, but as an object standing there for his own pleasure. The first time a man touched her in a way that made her feel dirty, and made her question what she could have possibly done to warrant such a behavior from him. The first time a man said something to her when she was walking to her car alone, that made her walk just a little bit faster and grip her keys just a little bit tighter.
My first time was when I was 11. I was at Hawaiian Falls with my family and a few friends of ours. I was wearing a lime green tankini swim suit that I loved. A friend and I were floating on the lazy river when a group of about five boys swam up to us and told us we were hot. I could tell they were a little bit older, so my naïve 11-year-old self was flattered. We said thank you, and continued on in our own private conversation. That’s when one of the boys grabbed me by the arm and said “the polite thing to do when someone compliments you is to give them a kiss. I’ll take a hug please.” I politely told him that I didn’t want to and ripped my arm out of his grasp, but he and his friends continued to follow us down the river. I felt trapped, and I didn’t want to cause a scene. So I got off of my float and hugged him. I tried to make it quick, but he held on just a little longer than what I was comfortable with. After that, the boys left us alone, and my friend and I climbed out of the lazy river at the next exit.
Since then, there have been plenty of other ‘times.’ There was the time that I was alone on an elevator in DC with a man who randomly grabbed my butt as he walked out. There was the time that I was on a mission trip and one of the other guys on my worksite wouldn’t stop calling me ‘sweetie,’ and whipping a towel at me and some of the other girls, even after we asked him to stop multiple times. There was the time that a friend and I were in Fort Worth getting dinner. As we were walking down the street towards the restaurant, two guys who were clearly in their 30’s started catcalling us and laughing about which of us they called ‘dibs’ on. There was the time a different friend and I were studying at a Starbucks when an older gentleman sat down in the chair across from us, when there were plenty of other places to sit. He pretended to read his newspaper, but we could feel his creepy gaze on us as we discussed our upcoming world history exam. When he got up to use the restroom we gathered our stuff to leave, and as we were putting our backpacks in the car we saw him leave as well. We watched his car follow us for three streets. My friend took a different way to take me home. To this day I wonder if those first three streets were just a coincidence.
All of those times may not seem like a big deal to most. But they were all times that I felt a little less safe in my own body. They were times that I’ve had to question “is this the cost of being a woman in today’s world?” And for many of those instances, I never told anyone about it until just now. Right now in America, we as women are in a funky middle ground for equality. By most appearances we are being treated equally, and we’ve seemingly made it so far. Especially speaking as a young white woman. It seems almost silly to complain about some guy grabbing my ass on an elevator when there are women and girls being raped, forced into marriage, sold into slavery etc. all over the world. Or even the way I’m treated compared to women of color right here in America. And trust me, I’ve had that pointed out to me plenty of times when I tell someone I’m a feminist.
But we shouldn’t have to make this a contest to see who is being treated worse. We should be making an effort to stop all forms of sexual assault and misconduct, because it is all bad. We should be empowering those who speak out, and creating an environment where both women and men feel comfortable to say #me too. Because when a woman complains that her male boss often invades her space and touches her way more than what she is comfortable with, the first thing that’s said shouldn’t be “well at least she wasn’t raped.” By setting the bar at rape, we are basically saying that other acts of sexual misconduct are okay. We should be condemning all acts where a man (or woman) treats someone inappropriately. We should be shutting it down at the beginning, without giving it a chance to escalate further. And when a woman does speak up about someone making her uncomfortable, we should be trusting her instincts and not ignoring her.
We should be crushing the idea told to little girls that when a boy is mean to her, it means he likes her. We should be teaching kids consent at the same time that we’re teaching them to share. And we should be reinforcing this message over and over and over. We should be teaching kids from the very beginning that it doesn’t matter what genitalia the person sitting next to them has, because they deserve their utmost respect. Because those kids will grow up and I don’t want a single one of them to be able to share a ‘first time.’
But until we have that generation of kids, we need to be keeping the men and women in our generation, and the generations older than us, accountable. No more, “he was just flirting.” No more, “that’s just how men talk.” No more, “that’s just the way he was raised.” Nothing changes if we don’t start calling people on it. And I know it’s way harder than it sounds. It’s terrifying to go against the status quo and admit when something isn’t right. It’s a constant battle, but one that is so so worth it. The time is up in being complacent. The time is up for not speaking up for those who don’t have a voice. The time is up for not speaking out against those who abuse their positions of power. It is time for women to be treated equally, and I’m ready for it.
If you would like to read my speech from last year’s Mansfield Speaks, it is at the bottom of my Worksite Sexism post. The theme was perspective, and I talked about changing people’s perspective about how men can and should be feminists too.
Photo Credit: Breianna Hasty