I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this. When words are written they are read, and if they are read, it makes everything seem real. I am writing this though, because I feel strongly about it.
I should probably start off with this: I have an affinity for poems. Haiku, free-verse, slam poetry. Often times I like to listen to political and social slam poems because they provide creative insight on a serious topic. Specifically, I have become intrigued by slam poems about women receiving verbal harassment.
Most poems center around the first time someone was cat-called, verbally or sexually harassed; It seems to happen at a frighteningly young age and that a majority of girls have experienced it. At the time, I was one who had not. For that, I was extremely grateful.
However, just a few weeks ago at my high school, I was early one morning and wanted to work on a digital imaging project I hadn’t finished yet. It wasn’t due for another week, but visiting with my art teacher is fun, so I decided to go.
Now, just a heads-up, I don’t consider myself to be one of the types to get a boy’s attention. I’m awkward, shy, and anxiety-ridden, but granted, I was alone that day.
It was still pretty early when I finished working on my project, but the buses were starting to roll in, and I knew my friends would be coming soon. I bid my teacher a farewell and left the art room. I wanted to get where I was going before everyone came into the building – maneuvering around high school kids with backpacks filled with half their body-weight in books is not an easy feat.
There was no one else in the courtyard except two boys walking together ahead of me. I was walking fast, and I ended up passing them.
Immediately, the boy on the right said to his friend, “Hey, I bet she’ll call you daddy.”
At first, I tried convincing myself that they were talking about someone else. But then, laughing, the one on the left joined in, yelling, “Hey! Call me daddy!”
I sped up, my face undoubtedly turning red with embarrassment. I didn’t know these boys. I still don’t.
I was almost at the door when he yelled again, this time much louder, “Hey, look at me when I’m talking to you!”
His friend laughed, and almost instantly afterward I was in the main building. Like I predicted, many students were coming in from their buses. I noticed my friends standing where we usually met and made my way over to them. I can’t remember if I told them what happened.
At first I didn’t recognize the incident as verbal harassment. I told myself that I should stop being so sensitive. They were just being boys.
That was the moment I knew I had been verbally harassed.
They were just being boys.
I was just being a girl. A girl who left her art classroom happy and had her morning ruined. It was wrong of me to excuse them and say they were just being boys. I have friends who are boys and would never do what those two did.
I wanted to know why they did it and why I felt too afraid to respond. What drove them to call out to me like that, even after it was clear that it made me uncomfortable? In that moment – and all the moments since – I imagine they gave no thought to their words and actions. They just did it for fun.
Those boys are nameless and faceless, and I will probably never meet them again, but I will remember their words and their actions forever.
Now I can write my own slam poem, and the first words will be:
“I was sixteen the first time I was verbally harassed.”
And that … is just sad.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.