When I was in first grade, I was told that if a guy was mean to me, he liked me. I would go tell the teacher that Billy stole the ball I was playing with, and he wouldn’t give it back.
“Kaleigh,” I was told, “He likes you.”
“Sam pulled my hair.”
“He likes you.”
7 years later, I’m lying on a school bathroom floor, and I’m wondering if these guys are showing me they love me. And now I’m walking on egg shells around every guy I meet, not wanting to be loved again, because if this is how a guy tells a girl he loves her, I’d much rather be single forever.
I was taught in school how to protect myself from rape. Don’t walk alone. Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t go out at night. Keep your body hidden. Don’t give them a reason.
If the reason was turning him down when he asked me out, because he was a jerk, then yes, I gave him a reason. Maybe I gave him a reason because I was too quiet all the time, and too loud at the wrong times. And apparently, his friends decided I was the worst and decided to punish me too. And now I’m stuck keeping it a secret because I don’t want the blaming questions.
“Why were you alone?”
“What were you wearing?”
It’s been 8 years, and I’m still getting told by some people to praise God I don’t remember it all. Let me tell you, I remember it enough to know I don’t want to remember it all.
It’s been 8 years, and sometimes unexpected contact is still the worse, and sometimes it burns as if I’m holding the sun in my hands.
It’s been 8 years, and sometimes I still have to defend myself against judging glances. Because, apparently, as someone who has been blessed with two x chromosomes, instead of one, the only job I have in life is to not let myself get raped.
Hold up, let me tell you something.
My job as a female is to do whatever the heck I want to do. I am not part of the “weaker sex.” And I may not be able to bench press as much as you men, but I know how to be strong. I may have wider hips, but I have a fighter’s stance.
And I don’t want to hear these excuses about men having a voracious appetite for sex. The word appetite should only be used when talking about food. I am not food.
Sometimes my thoughts threaten to eat me alive.
But, I will not be silenced. I am a statistic, but that doesn’t define me.
Because one day in my first week of college, somebody said, “If someone hates himself so much they want to die, they’re better off dead.” And then, “If someone gets raped, they probably deserved it.” So I told my story, and then he had the audacity to defend the other guys’ actions.
I’m pretty sure the “Bros Before Hoes,” part of the Bro Code does not apply in this situation. Because he wasn’t justified, and I didn’t provoke. I was in the wrong place in the wrong time surrounded by the wrong people. And their touch is woven into the deepest part of my skin, and 8 years later, I still get shivers down my spine. I was told no one would love me, and I believed them, until I realized I have the most amazing friends.
I was told not to get raped. They were not told how not to rape.
Guys tell one another, “You throw like a girl!” Since when is being a girl an insult? Some of the strongest people I know are women. Being a girl is not an insult.
I am not an insult. You are not an insult. I will tell my daughter she is not an insult.
I may be a girl, but I know how to fight. And so will my daughters. My sons will learn the meaning of “no.”
“No” is not “maybe.” “No” is not “convince me.”
And I will teach them both the two best things I’ve ever learned: How to love myself, despite everything. And how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again.
Because repetition forms habits.
I’ve found my voice again. So yes, I may be ‘beautiful’ or whatever, but I am so much more.
I am woman.
I am a fighter.
I am a survivor.
And I will teach my children to be the same.
I will teach my Children what love is, and what it’s not. Because you shouldn’t be afraid of love.
I’m not afraid anymore.