When I was 8, a classmate was picking on a friend of mine. When I told him to stop, he punched me in the side of the head so violently, I lost my hearing in one ear until the following morning.
When I was 13, I was chased around the neighborhood by a boy who thought it was fun to slap me with a wet towel until he finally tackled me and put his hands down the top of my bathing suit. I had bruises for two weeks.
When I was 14, I realized my sweater was inside out after gym class and asked a teacher if I could use his classroom to change. He barricaded the door so no one else could get in, but stayed in the room and didn’t avert his gaze once while I took off my sweater.
When I was 15 and in my first year of high school, a male student verbally and physically harassed me so horribly, I begged my mother to let me transfer schools. When a teacher witnessed the abuse in the hallway, he chuckled and said, “Oh, I think maybe he has a little crush on you.” I had a breast reduction that summer to avoid more abuse.
When I was 16 and a part-time cashier at a local grocery store, a 50-something year old man who knew my parents went through my line. When I finished packing his groceries, he took my hand in his, circled the inside of my palm suggestively with his middle finger, and whispered, “You sure look like your mother.”
When I was 17, my boss at my part-time high school job winked at me, handed me a banana, and asked me to deep throat it in front of two other employees.
When I was 19, my boss thought it would be funny to put his fingers in my mouth to show his friends what I might look like giving a blow job.
When I was 28 and working in a bar, the verbally abusive manager (he usually just told me I was stupid and useless) nodded toward me and told the six men I was waiting on: “When a girl looks like that, you know she’s probably fucking nuts but is probably the best lay you’ll ever have.”
When I was 34, a manager at the company I worked for would regularly saunter up behind me at my desk, rub my shoulders, tell me he liked what I was wearing, and ask if I wanted to join him on his lunch break at a strip club near by.
When I was 38, a friend saw a photo of me on Facebook wearing a low-cut shirt and commented: “I didn’t even realize you had a face.”
When I was 42, a male co-worker told me I didn’t need to understand math because I was pretty.
When I was 43, a man who knew several of my friends sent me a friend request on Facebook. He then proceeded to message me almost daily, once going so far as to describe what kind of outfit I’d been wearing and where I was when he saw me in it. When I removed him from my list, I failed to block him, so he was able to send me one more message: “Fucking bitch.”
I will be 44 in December.
Not allow anyone – male or female – to dictate how I live my life.
Not allow anyone – male or female – to determine that my dress is too tight or my make up is too heavy.
Not allow anyone – male or female – to tell me I’m too loud about politics, sexuality, body image, science, or feminism. You don’t like it, don’t know me. It’s that simple.
Not allow anyone – male or female – to reduce or dismiss my opinions or intellect because they find them threatening to their own moral, ethical, or religious code.
Stop making jokes about the size of my breasts before someone else does. Or any other body part, for that matter.
Stop blaming myself for the bad behavior of strangers, co-workers, friends, or anyone else who decides I’m not operating within their comfort zone.
Give a voice to friends, family, co-workers, and strangers who are struggling.
Hear other opinions, but not feel guilty if I don’t agree with them.
Fight for the maligned, the tired, and the silenced.
Be free and allow others to be free.
Stand when I want to and kneel if I don’t.
Listen. Learn. Evolve. Repeat.