Learning to Speak Up for Myself

I am generally a nonconfrontational person. I felt bad when I was seven and I told my mom that I wanted a different doll than the one she had picked out. I felt bad when I was eleven and I told my dad that I didn’t want to go to the haunted house because I was too scared. But I didn’t feel bad when I told someone who I thought was my friend to stop sexually harassing me.

I was caught off guard when he first started messaging me. I was only fourteen and was still very unfamiliar with sex. So when he first started asking sexually explicit things of me, I laughed it off. He was persistent, though. It went on very inconsistently for several years. Being young and awkward, it was hard to see beyond that he seemed interested in me when I felt like I was unsure even about who my friends were. But it was the wrong way. I never wanted to be rude about it so I entertained him for a bit but always avoided giving in. This only made him try harder and become more explicit. During my senior year of high school, I met new people. They gave me a sense of value that my friends before never had. They helped me understand what it felt like when others really cared about you. So the next time he messaged me, I stood more firmly. I did not feed into his demands. Even though I had told him no so many times before, it came with much more force when there was confidence behind it.

I knew a lot of guys who were the same way, so I can only imagine how many other girls went through the same thing. When we were at our most vulnerable, they took advantage. That time in everyone’s lives is a toxic mix of confusion and curiosity that in some cases produces life-altering consequences. Since then, I have met a lot of people who brush it off as trivial and typical, but it is much different when you are an adult than when you are fourteen. Years later, he apologized for what he later realized was very inappropriate behavior. There are still people who think that teaching sex education to kids still in elementary school is wrong, but that is when they start developing sexually. It is important to get ahead of this and teach young men and women appropriate sexual behavior.

This seems all the more relevant now in the time of #MeToo. Women have a platform to address all of the behaviors they have experienced that have caused them great stress and discomfort. I have talked to older women who at first did not understand what the big deal was with everyone speaking up until they realized that they had encountered the same inappropriate behavior their whole lives but were taught to accept it. It was an awakening for them to know that women today are not accepting it anymore.

Because of my experience, I felt more empowered to take action when a customer sexually harassed me at my job and to get involved when news broke that one of the professors at my school had been repeatedly accused of inappropriate sexual behavior. In my career, I hope to give others the opportunity to speak up and feel empowered also. It is true that everyone has their own voice, but some people are not willing to listen to them. They may think that their concerns are trivial or unimportant. Or they may be unwilling to admit that what has served as an advantage for them has created a disadvantage for others. During my time working with the homeless community, I have heard so many negative things about them. But none of what I could ever say would be as effective as what I have heard from some of them myself. The law can be used to deny so many things to so many people. I want to give people the opportunity to use it to make their lives better. I don’t want to speak for them; I want to create a platform for their voices to be heard.

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