Letter 70: Be Louder

18 Oct

Dear me at 18,

That did just happen. You’re not crazy.

You’re standing on a crowded subway car, people jammed in elbow-to-elbow during the mid-week rush hour. Seconds ago, you felt a hand take a firm grasp of your ass. Right cheek. Fingers wrapped down and beneath to that spot between your legs where one private part becomes another.

Your initial reaction was denial. I must have imagined that. It must have just been the corner of someone’s briefcase. The shoe of a passenger sitting cross-legged.

But no. A beat passes as you realize that what you felt was unmistakably a hand. You felt the fingers move individually before they pulled away.

Next, you wondered if it was someone you knew. You glanced behind you, hoping you’d see one of your girlfriends playing a (weird) joke. But as you turn your head, you recognize no one.

All alternate options dashed, you now begin frantically searching the crowd for the perpetrator, scanning the bodies nearby for a sweaty, hairy, wild-eyed face gleaming with the satisfaction of having violated you in public.

Instead, no one makes eye contact. No one looks out of the ordinary. Everyone looks normal and clean and sane and engrossed in their own commute.

There is a small voice inside of you that wants to yell, “SOMEONE JUST GRABBED MY ASS! HELP ME FIND THIS FUCKER AND BURN HIM!” but something bigger inside you tells you to remain quiet.

This something is your second reaction: Embarrassment.

IMG_5286

Me at 18

Though you are only 18, this is not your first experience with unwanted sexual advances. In the summer, a man followed you to your car late at night, and showed you his penis when you stopped to get out your keys. Last New Year’s Eve, a boy you’d just met forced a kiss on you and grabbed your breast while he pushed you against a wall, lights low and music blaring.

This will also not be your last experience.

In a few years’ time, you’ll start your career. Shortly after starting a new job, you’ll walk in on your boss watching pornography in his office with the door open. It will happen when he knows that you’re the only two people left at work, late on a Friday evening.

Later on, working as a freelance writer, you’ll be introduced into conference calls as “The beautiful Miss Kyra”, and called “Darlin”, “Honey”, and “Baby” more times than you can count. In the same breath, your male colleagues will be referred to as “Sir”.

At 34 years old, you will consider yourself lucky because you have never been raped. Many, if not most, of your friends cannot say the same. And because of this, for years you will brush aside the many varied incidents of sexual harassment in your life because they are “too small to count”.

But then, an interesting thing will happen.

You see, dear girl, in 16 years, the United States will elect (another) President who will use his power to carry out predatory behaviour on women. In Canada, we will wring our hands and secretly feel superior because our current Prime Minister is a self-proclaimed feminist. But then we will think of Jian Ghomeshi and remember that our country, sadly, is no different in this respect.

As I write to you, the current scandal in the news is surrounding Harvey Weinstein’s elaborate network of sexual predation. Subsequently, right now, the world is talking a lot about how high profile men use their power in the workplace to force women into tolerating inappropriate behaviour. And that is absolutely, 100% true.

But what will be on your mind is this: In that moment on the subway, when that strange hand grabbed you, why didn’t you speak up? No one was going to blacklist you from Hollywood for asking for help. No one was holding a paycheque over your head, threatening to take away your livelihood.

No.

Instead, I think it was this: The moral imperative placed on your shoulders at birth. Though wrapped in a satin bow, it’s heavy like a block of cement. It’s the need to “be nice”.

As girls, we were raised to BE NICE above all else.

Don’t make a fuss.

Don’t be dramatic.

Don’t be loud.

Don’t be gross.

Don’t be a prude.

…But don’t be a slut either.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Rape is the culmination of thousands of tiny, ignored nuances that take place each and every day, pushing the boundary of acceptable behaviour so far over the line that, when someone grabs your ass on the subway, you actually think that your best option is not to say anything. They push the boundary so far that when you’re 22 and walk in on your 48-year-old boss watching porn in his office, you will quietly walk away, crossing your fingers that he didn’t see you catch him (though that was undoubtedly his plan).

These “small” incidents push the boundary so far that many of us (men, women, trans; gay, straight, and otherwise), have internalized the belief that going on a mutually consensual date means that we have no recourse if the night ends in rape. Maybe, we say to ourselves, we were “asking for it”.

Dear girl, I am writing to you to tell you something: Be loud now. Be loud, and then be louder. Don’t wait until you’re 34 to start using your voice to protect yourself and the women around you. Make a fuss. And do it today.

Throw away your fear of “looking crazy”. Crazy is the word patriarchy uses to discredit women who fearlessly speak their truth despite suffocating pressure to stifle our anger, repress our discomfort, look pretty, and stay quiet.

In this respect, you could choose to wear “crazy” like a badge of fucking honour.

You have every right to “make a fuss” on the subway when a stranger grabs your ass. Anyone who thinks you’re the crazy one for calling out inappropriate behaviour should be the one questioning their sanity.

It doesn’t matter how small the act is. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who noticed. It doesn’t matter if your talking about it will disrupt the delicate balance of power/peace/or protocol. If something ever happens to you again that makes you uncomfortable, and that voice inside you urges you to speak up, do it. Take a stand, and know that in that moment you are nudging the needle, no matter how slightly, towards a healthier, fairer, more respectful landscape that will benefit everyone, regardless of gender.

Small steps taken today make the journey less arduous tomorrow. We have to scale the mountain anyway. You might as well get started on the subway.

Love,
Me

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One Response to “Letter 70: Be Louder”

  1. Carmen October 18, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    Thank you for finding the words I couldn’t string together.

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