Perhaps you think that you can say words like this because no one followed you home on your bicycle when you were fourteen years old. Red car. Windows down. Spring flowers blurring the heart-wrenching view. Terror creeping into your chest so that you pedaled faster up that hill than ever in your life. Engine revving, speeding, going ahead, slamming on brakes, circling back around to further stalk you. Balding man inside with sick look and even more sickening movements with his hand.
Your only thought? Will I be raped today?
Perhaps you think that you can use this slur because your mother, your sister, your brother or your father never told you that women are humans, just like you, not objects that you climb on and conquer.
Your only thought? Words don’t matter.
Perhaps you were reading the same book I’m reading now, about a servant in Iceland in 1828 who helped murder one of the many masters she’d had in her life, one of the many masters who gave her, poor, destitute, orphaned Agnes, the choice between rape or being thrown out in the snow.
Your only thought? Was there ever a time, ever a place, when women didn’t have to succumb to this?
Perhaps your friends think it’s funny, first because you had the guts to speak in front of God and everyone, including your middle-aged, female teacher, second because you’ve said phrases like this before, because you and they have followed in the footsteps of senators, congressmen, movie producers, directors, actors, anchormen, and, God bless us all, the president of the United States who is recorded on tape using words like the ones you said in class today.
Your only thought? These words bring power.
Perhaps you weren’t paying attention in history class, or when we read The Good Braider last semester, or when all the women started openly accusing all the men who have now been fired: perhaps you didn’t notice that harassment, assault, groping, and USING WORDS LIKE THAT are weapons. Weapons of slave masters who have kept black women at the lowest rung of our society’s ladder. Weapons of war to prevent any possibility of peace, because we all know that if women were in charge, they would bring peace. Weapons of corporations and politics, to keep men, self-absorbed, thieving, abusive men, in control of every last woman’s fate from the beginning of time until this day.
Your only thought? If they can say these words, so can I.
Perhaps you didn’t see how many hours I cried last night over your words. How I crept home to my three daughters who have to face a world that hasn’t changed much in all of history, with men like you, boys like you, not even having enough respect to keep those words to yourself in a classroom. A classroom where you have been my student for eighteen months, where Malala came to share her ever-loving, peaceful wisdom, where I wrote you that postcard to share with you all of your strengths, where my words don’t matter, because you have found your weapon.
Your only thought? I’m the showman today.
Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, you will find a different way to entertain your friends. You will look into the eyes of every girl, every woman that you have ever or will ever meet, and see the humanity in them. You will grow into a kind young man who listens to the words of Viola, raped and left to die in the sand of southern Sudan, Malala, shot by the Taliban, of the victims of sexual assault who lost jobs, lost friends, lost respect, and realize that you could just. Use. Different. Words.
Your only thought? Today is the day that I become the kind of man I want to be.