I was 14 years old, getting money out of an ATM, while two young men behind me heckled and made aggressive sexual comments. One then grabbed my ass because I was ignoring them.
I was 16, walking down a sidewalk, when a man approaching stopped and started slow clapping while I walked past.
I was 20, nearly run over, scrambling into a ditch, while walking down a street because the man driving by wanted a smile.
I have woken up (from sleep or from passing out drunk, there is no difference) to a man I did not know grabbing my body.
I have woken up to a man I did not know trying to stick his penis in my mouth.
I have felt uncomfortable in a room, alone, with a man, and listened to him tell me, with a laugh and a smile, “I’m not going to hurt you!”
I have shown up to a guitar lesson in high school and been immediately told by my male teacher that I was a very beautiful girl but he was 33 and married with two kids and he didn’t know what to do about it. I said nothing then. Soon after, that same teacher was asked to leave (not fired) for sexually assaulting another, younger student.
I have been with friends and family members who have been raped, assaulted, abused by men and have never said anything.
I have been with friends and family members who have been raped, assaulted, abused by men and have blamed themselves.
I have watched friends and family members stay in unhappy relationships because they did not feel they had the strength and support to leave or be independent of their male partner.
I have lost meaningful, positive friendships with men because they “wanted to be more.”
I have considered giving them “more” because I was afraid to lose their friendship.
I have been begged, guilt tripped, negatively reinforced into having sex.
I have used sex to hurt other men.
I have used sex to hurt myself.
I have used sex to heal myself.
I have bought into the belief that sex is a tool of power and manipulation.
I have bought into the belief that sex is meaningless.
I have been followed around bars, stalked repeatedly by strangers, by harmless guys, by friends.
I have been called a bitch for protecting myself.
I have been called a bitch for ignoring a man’s aggression toward me.
I have been called a bitch for calling out a man’s aggression toward me.
I have been paid and tipped based on my appearance, how much I flirt with a customer, whether I laugh or not at their sexually charged and degrading jokes (“it’s all just words, don’t be so sensitive”).
I have been made uncomfortable, enraged, or simply disappointed by words from men. When I have said something I have been laughed at, ridiculed, and shamed for “overreacting.”
I have been taught to be small, to be thin, to be fragile.
I have been taught to not get too heavy, not get too strong, not get too big.
I have been taught “how to lift weights without bulking up.”
I have been taught that “a man should always be taller and stronger and bigger than me.”
I can think back on how I was lucky enough to not be physically and forcefully raped.
One in four women cannot.
My own experience is certainly not an authority on women in America. I am extremely privileged. Extremely protected. Extremely naïve.
But I am not ignorant enough to believe that words don’t have power. Or that subtle actions and behaviors by men AND women haven’t compelled me to be afraid, to be weak, to not engage.
This is Rape Culture.