By the time I was ten, I could count with both hands the number of times I had been sexually objectified. There was this one time when I was sitting in the cafeteria with my friends, laughing and joking about dumb things that ten-year-old girls laugh about. All of a sudden, a skinny blond boy that was in my class group came up from behind me and tried to open my bra clasp with one hand, as a “joke.” I turned around suddenly, my face visibly expressing anger. He laughed and walked away. My best friend was present through the entire thing and her face was surprisingly devoid of shock, anger, or honestly any emotion. The only thing she said was:
When I was thirteen, a guy who liked me called me a bitch and a whore because I said I didn’t like him. He made me feel ashamed for not reciprocating those feelings. I told one of my friends what he said to me and she said:
[Read Related: #MeToo: Sexual Assault is Real and No One Deserves It]
One day, it happened. It happened so fast. Too fast. Before I could even think of speaking, I was silenced. The ceiling began to blur as tears clouded my eyes. In every breath he took, all I could hear was:
“You are worthless…you are my property…you will be destroyed.”
I suffocated in my own lack of power, in my stunned silence. All I wanted to do was scream but nothing, not even a whisper, came out of my mouth. At one point, I surrendered in the battle and went limp, almost like I was dead. Nothing around me mattered anymore. After he left, I walked to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. The person who stared back at me wasn’t the same. In fact, never again did I see the same person in the mirror.
It didn’t stop there. The pain echoed for months and months on end. Days became longer and longer, the nights became more traumatic. The nightmares forced me to wake up with scratches on my neck and drown my face in tears. With every passing day, I got angrier at myself. With every passing day, my self-worth reduced itself to nothing. With every passing day, I was punishing myself for a crime I didn’t commit. I sentenced myself to a lifetime of self-loathing and self-blame.
On September 18th, 2015, Lady Gaga released the song “Till it Happens to You.” I was in my friend’s dorm when we heard it. Tears streamed down my face uncontrollably, forcefully, angrily, painfully. My friend held me in her arms and through her tears whispered:
More often than not, women are bound together by horrifying experiences like these, as opposed to being bound together by positive forces. We get sentenced for something we didn’t do, something we didn’t have control over, something we had no say in. Instead, the world tells us we had a choice, we had power, we had a voice, and that we just chose not to use it.
“You should have covered yourself more.”
I was wearing a t-shirt, leggings, and socks.
“You should have said no.”
The choice was made for me before I even knew I had one.
“You should have fought back.”
How? He was much larger than me.
How much longer do we have to bear the burden of an epidemic that we never started or caused? How many more girls need to bear the pain of objectification and inequality for people to realize that this can no longer be a silent issue? How many more women need to become martyrs, only to be forgotten until the next Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby or Donald Trump is brought up?
Women are doing their part by creating the conversation. It’s now high time that men step up and start carrying the burden that they should have carried centuries ago. We are not asking for men to stand up for us, we can do that ourselves. We are asking men to stand with us.
I went from being a victim to a survivor, so that way another girl who has to bear the weight of the trauma no longer has to do it alone. A single woman has power, but a pool of women have the power to move hell. It’s time we all stop being ashamed and start being loud. Men, it’s time you start being an ally by shutting down the toxic masculinity within yourself. If we work together, maybe we won’t ever have to hear another woman say: