Take a Joke, Sweetheart This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

April 10, 2011
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He leaned over my desk, his body casting a shadow over my writing. Two fists were suddenly pressed hard next to my book, giving him an air of undeserved authority. “You know they're just joking, right?” His voice was gentle, as if he were speaking to a timid animal.

I nodded slowly, confused, trying to focus on my work as my blood boiled. “I'm aware that they're joking, but jokes can be offensive, and I was feeling uncomfortable,” I said.

He took a deep breath, a small, nearly undetectable smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He shoved his sleeves up his arms. “The more you ask them to stop, the more they'll just keep doing it. That's how they work.” He was telling me what many men had tried to explain before: men don't change, men don't stop, men won't listen to you.

And oh, he was so very smart, his words so very wise. I knew that he thought he was imparting some helpful, kind-hearted wisdom on me. He was trying to save the silly girl who was making a fool of herself by refusing to tolerate something that made her and other girls uncomfortable. He was playing big brother, daddy, the savior on a white horse sent to shut me up.

I looked at him, anger burning the back of my neck and my cheeks. “So, because they won't stop, I should just give up? I should let them make sexist jokes that make me very uneasy?” We were in history class. I thought I deserved to feel safe.

His smirk faltered a bit. “They're just joking. They don't actually mean what they say.”

People were watching us; I could feel their eyes. I was suddenly vulnerable. I wanted them to stop staring, to go away. I wanted this boy to sit down and talk instead of towering over me.

“They may mean those jokes to be harmless, but they're ignorant,” I continued. “Believe me, the jokes don't end at ‘Women should stay in the kitchen.' They continue until they become sexual and inappropriate. I want them to stop now before I have even more reason to be angry.” I'd been down this road before, many times.

“I think you should just give it up before they gang up on you,” he replied, calmly and reasonably, like an adult pacifying a cranky child.

I was so upset I wanted to cry, but the steam gathering behind my eyes made tears impossible. I wondered who he thought he was, standing over a girl he'd never spoken to, telling her that her words were useless, that she could try but she'd always fail. If we had been friends, I would have listened; if he'd spoken to me like a peer, I would have cared. But he was just pushing me down, stuffing me into a box until I suffocated on all of my useless, silly words.

I looked him in the eye and said, “If they're going to be rude, then I will be rude back.”

My comment didn't even make sense. Ten minutes earlier, a group of boys had been trading sexist jokes about women. I had turned around in my seat, looked one of the boys in the eye, and said, “Just please stop, for me. I'm asking you to stop.” That boy looked doubtful but he stopped, and I resumed my work. I ­didn't yell, lecture, or swear. I simply asked. I used words, the only weapon I knew how to use, and everything was okay.

Now this boy had the nerve to tell me that my words didn't mean anything. This boy hurt me more than he realized. He tried to take away the only weapon I had to defend myself.

But he didn't have the power to do that. I will never stop fighting for what I believe is right. I will never stop standing up for myself, my friends, and my gender, and I will never stop using my (stupid, useless, fruitless, beautiful, powerful, amazing) words.

He backed away, easing off my desk. Frustration was apparent in his face, but he kept his features stony and emotionless. “Fine, whatever. But you'll never get anywhere with them, believe me.”

I didn't believe him. To this day, I don't believe him, because I have continually used my knowledge and my words to make others rethink their actions. Sometimes I fail and they don't stop. Sometimes my words get me into trouble. But sometimes I even make a new ally.

Little did he know, that boy didn't break me down. He made me stronger.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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This article has 72 comments. Post your own now!

rainbow_unicorn said...
Feb. 17 at 9:50 am
why didn't you tell. very proud of you for not giving up in what you believe and for not listening to others when they tell you to give up.
SuPerGottAbeNovelist22This teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Dec. 4, 2015 at 10:37 am
Why didn't you tell? He should have known about this. The look on his face would be so shocked.
beAWESOMEstayAWESOME said...
Sept. 22, 2015 at 10:15 pm
o my gosh!!!! I wish that boy could read this and realize that he was dead wrong! loved the story BTW. x thumbs up x You go girl!!!!!!!!!!! :) :) :)
PinkSkies said...
Aug. 17, 2015 at 11:38 pm
But nobody's perfect, though.
Agilch said...
May 25, 2015 at 10:06 pm
I can understand that you were upset with the boy because you felt that he was trying to pressure you into being submissive, but you can not say that he was trying to make you feel useless or that he was trying to "take away your words" because you really don't know anything about him. I admire your commitment to standing up for what you believe in. And until you are perfect, you can't really say negative things about others and be taken seriously.
GillianBorromeo This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 4, 2014 at 5:48 am
I salute what you did. You were very brave to have stood up for yourself, and to put that bravery into words. Good job :)
Dazeeee said...
Sept. 23, 2014 at 3:20 pm
Very inspiring , loved the story !
Baby Pimpin said...
Sept. 23, 2014 at 3:18 pm
Wow ... Good job
__faithyxo__ said...
May 13, 2014 at 11:13 am
I loved how you added amazing imagery and very descriptive details to your story. I am glad that you stood up for yourself. I am very proud of you
caallliiiieeeee said...
May 1, 2014 at 10:18 pm
I completely agree. Most people would think he was doing a good thing and not look at it the same way.
alixvillarreal said...
Apr. 2, 2014 at 1:28 pm
I really like how you showed everything happening instead of just telling about it.
sgriesmeyer said...
Apr. 2, 2014 at 12:20 pm
Great word choice and description!
isamsuarez said...
Mar. 27, 2014 at 3:36 pm
All I can say is AMAZING!!! plus when you said that stronger part i just burst into song. "WHAT DOSEN'T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER!!!!"
2write said...
Mar. 20, 2014 at 5:39 am
Instead of spreading things like this,: ONCE YOU'VE STARTED READINGTHIS YOU CAN'T GET OUT! READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANT TO DIE A year ago A girl named Kathy was hated by everyone. Everyone made fun of her. She was ignored. Even by messages. One day she decided to kill herself. Beca......use..................... even her parents ignored her. She jumed out her window. No one noticed utill people started dissapearing. Kathy haunted them. She made them suffer like the way she did. S... (more »)
AllyInsomnia said...
Mar. 19, 2014 at 9:35 am
I love this so much..Inspired me a lot!!
LouderthanBombs This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Jan. 26, 2014 at 12:20 pm
I love how you showed the true nature of the guy telling you it's pointless to defend yourself, because they aren't going to stop.  Most people in that context would view him as "the good guy" but that's not the case. Awesome article. 
rrottenpotato99 replied...
Feb. 18, 2014 at 9:09 pm
Ain't that the truth
izzy_0314 replied...
Mar. 28, 2014 at 10:57 pm
Good point.
A.M.Geyer said...
Jan. 13, 2014 at 8:46 am
I loved your story. I can tell you, I completely understand what you mean. Words ARE the best defense against bullying. Sometimes it IS all there is. Keep going strong, and please keep writing, I would love to read more of your work.
_tanyagrace said...
Dec. 30, 2013 at 11:43 am
Hi Hun! I just read your story and you did a great job. This was very deep and I understand your situation. Ive been there too. I really liked this however I didnt really understand the begininng. Other than that I loved it. You have great talent keep up the great work!
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