I dare you to watch 14-year-old Kayley Dixon read her poem, “A Touch of Sexual Assault” and not be moved. You might even cry. I did.
The poem was read during an announcement that the government would be providing $6 million in public funding for 11 community groups in Nova Scotia that address sexual violence.
After watching the video, most of the women I know said, “Yes! This is what it’s like to be a girl!” while most of the men wondered, “How is this even possible? This cannot really be what it’s like.”
But we know it’s true.
As Kayley said:
“From the age of 12, we were told that if boys pulled our hair or poked us with pencils, it meant that they liked us. But we didn’t like it that much. … We were 13 years old when we would walk down the street and had men look from our feet to our face and we’d listen as they completely replaced our identity from human to object.”
The poem follows each age until that nebulous threat presented by boys becomes:
“We said no, but that meant yes, so they grabbed us, and unzipped our dress. They threw us down, where our dignity sank lower than the ground. They hovered over us, and we pleaded for them to stop. They get on top and you don’t need to know the rest, because we are some of the 68 percent of victims that will never tell a soul. So we’ll just grab our dresses, and go home. Take a few showers, and try to get some sleep.”
The poem wasn’t shocking to me. I was only shocked that men didn’t realize the truth behind her words.
It made me wonder, were they not there when we were growing up? Did they not hear what the boys said to us? Do they not remember what they, themselves, did?
I remember the first time I felt a man’s eyes on my body. I was probably 5 or 6. He was a grown man, somebody my parents knew. It was a big party and we were dancing, surrounded by friends and family. To the outside world, it probably looked very cute.
But there was a moment for me where it all changed. He had an expression I couldn’t name, but I knew that I felt ashamed. I felt I had done something weird or dirty or wrong, but I wasn’t sure what. I felt different about myself then, in a way that never really healed.
By the time I was 11 years old, my bra had been snapped dozens of times and I was already skilled at pretending I didn’t hear the nasty songs boys would sing as I passed, blinking away hot tears. I didn’t know what any of it meant, I just knew it made me feel like throwing up. And it made me angry.
At age 14, I’d grown accustomed to having my butt grabbed in the school hallways, just like almost every girl I knew. My nose was broken by a boy who threw a stick at me in school after I broke up with him. He never got in trouble. The PE teacher said, “It’s not dislocated. You’ll be fine.” My nose still has a bump.
By the time I was 17, I had been groped, cornered, pushed against walls, slapped across the face, thrust against from behind while being held so I couldn’t move, and eventually called a stuck-up bitch for getting mad about it. They were just jokes. Didn’t I know that? Didn’t I know it was funny?
When I was 18, the 40-year-old manager at my work asked me to perform oral sex on him in exchange for a weekend off. He said it in a jokey tone, so I just walked away. I was still a kid. I knew it was wrong, but I felt like it must’ve been my fault. I told myself I should’ve been flattered. Yes, flattered by a crime committed against me by a married father of two, while I was still in high school.
At age 38, while walking my sons to the bathroom in a Mojave gas station, I was called a “hot slut” and asked, “What’s wrong, Baby?” when I pretended not to hear them. When I got into the bathroom with my sons, ages 11 and 8, they asked what those men had said to me. I said, blinking away hot tears, that I’d tell them when we got in the car.
As soon as we pulled out from the gas station I turned to them, white as little ghosts, and explained that some men believe women’s bodies are public property, and they find it fun and exciting to make women feel afraid. I told them that those men believed they had a right to make me feel bad, and so they said words they knew would make me scared and embarrassed. The exact words didn’t matter. It was how they said them, and the fact that they felt they could.
My husband hit the brakes asked if he should turn around and confront them.
“No,” I told him. “This isn’t new. This is what it’s like to be a woman.”
It wasn’t worth the risk of them hurting my husband, or him doing something that might land him in jail. They were just like the hundreds of other men who had felt entitled to act that way toward me, throughout my entire life.
One of my sons started crying.
I held his hand and told my boys, “Remember this moment. And remember how I felt in there, and how I feel now. And never, ever make a woman — or anyone — feel that way. You are not like those men, and you never have to be.”
Kayley Dixon has given us a gift in her poem. She has given us the opportunity to sit down with our adolescent sons and listen to a girl describe, so eloquently, what it feels like to be a girl.
But we have to do more than just show them a video. We have to let our sons know that society is going to try to teach them to be mean, to be cruel, and to humiliate others. It’s going to try to teach them that because they are boys, it’s normal to stare and embarrass and shame and harass girls and women.
And it’s our job, as parents of boys, to undo all of that.
Every boy, starting with yours and mine, needs to know that he has inside of him a profound goodness. He isn’t an animal. He is a thoughtful, caring, intelligent boy who can make a different choice. He can respect the girls in his life. He can grow up knowing that nobody’s body or being is public property.
He can be the one to help change the world, to make it safer, and to inspire other boys and men to do the same. But we have to teach him how.
h/t: HuffPost Parents