When I was 17 years old, I really liked this boy.
He was about 6’3” tall, he had big ears and a really cute smile. And although I was a measly 5’9” with my basketball shoes on, I could beat him in basketball. This proves that not all tall guys can play basketball.
He came from a very religious family who was adamant about us not being left at home alone. So we weren’t. But one night, he asked me to go on a walk with him to a bridge in his small town. It was a very lovely fall night, so I went on a walk with him.
When we got to the bridge, we started making out, like teenagers do. There was kissing and touching and kissing and touching. And then he unzipped his pants. And I touched him. Then he unzipped my pants. And I looked at him and I said that I wasn’t ready to do that.
And do you know what he did? He zipped his pants back up, said he was sorry and that he didn’t want to force me into anything I was not ready for.
Do you know why he did that? Because that’s what human beings do. They listen to and respect it when another human being says no.
He did not ask questions. He just said he was sorry. He zipped up his pants. I zipped up my pants. And we walked back home.
As a 37-year old woman, I can look back on that night knowing that I was safe, even though I am very aware that that night could have looked very differently–that there are many, many nights that turn out very differently for so many girls.
Maybe we should pause here to say that I have not been a victim of rape or sexual assault. But I was a child who was a victim of abuse and no one listened or believed me or stepped in.
So, I want to turn the tables on this event when I was 17-years old with another 17-year old and talk about what may have happened if this situation looked a little bit different.
Let’s say that I was kissing him, which I consented to-but then he unzipped his pants. And I was okay with that, but then he asked me to touch him. Let’s say that I didn’t want to touch him, so I told him that.
But he forces me to do it anyway.
Are you uncomfortable yet? Because I, as a young girl would be. I would be terrified. And scared. And embarrassed. And ashamed. And mortified that people would find out because I wouldn’t want to be labeled as “that girl.”
(By the way. I have been “that girl.” I was 20-years old and had sex with my then boyfriend. He was the first person I had ever slept with. We got pregnant.
Suddenly, all of my friends, the ones who slept with the entire football team, all shunned me because I was the “immoral” one. So, I know what it means to be “that girl.”)
No female wants to be “that girl.” Let’s be honest here: we never hear the term “that guy.” Because socially it is acceptable for boys to do whatever they want sexually.
We even have a saying for it. You ready? “Boys will be boys.”
Did you know that men cannot control their sexual desires? Did you know that they are controlled by their sexual organ? Did you know that it’s okay for men to have sexual relationships with whomever, whenever and wherever they want because “boys will be boys?”
Oh, you didn’t. Because these are not fair statements, right? Because you, whether you are male or female, know that your father, your uncle, grandpa, neighbor, brother, son, church leader or nurse does not act like that. Do you know a man who knows how to control himself?
My guess is that you know more than one male who is able to control himself, his sexual thoughts and desires. And my guess is that you know more than one male who has not forced himself upon another.
So, where did this phrase, “boys will be boys” come about? When did this become an acceptable way to look at the male person?
When I look at my son I don’t say, ‘Well, you know, he’s a boy. You’ve just got to let him be a boy.” No. We talk about how we treat other people. We encourage him to talk about his feelings. We talk about how we are a part of our community. And you know what? I talk about the same things to my girls.
My children are not just sexual animals. They are humans who have so much more to contribute to this world than just what’s between their legs.
So, let’s rewind for a second. I am 17 and he is 17. We are both 17-years old.
I am his peer. And he is not over the magical number of 18-years old, so should he force himself upon me, he is not having sex with a minor. Legally, we are in the clear to do whatever we like.
The key phrase there is “we like.”
Two people being together with full consent. No matter how far this thing goes: kissing, touching, pulling, rubbing, etc. it’s consensual.
What if we get all the way to the end and we’re naked and we’re having sex, and all of a sudden I decide that I am no longer comfortable having sex with him. So I say, “no.”
And what if he continues?
There’s no one there with them, but the girl feels violated.
She keeps quiet for a while. Then she decided to tell her parents. Her parents follow the proper channels to hold the boy accountable. The proper channels launch an investigation.
They question the boy. They question the girl. They compare their stories. And then they come to the conclusion that “what we have here is a classic ‘he said, she said’ situation.
The proper channels can’t say what really happened because they were not there. I understand that. But what I do not understand is what usually comes next.
The boy, who, you know is just a boy, walks away feeling like a champion of the universe. Whether he did something wrong or not, we now label him as a stud because either he showed his manhood by being with a girl or because he got off without a tick on his record. He didn’t get into trouble so he didn’t do anything wrong.
The girl, on the other hand, faces a few different consequences. First, she’s “that girl,” you know the one who messed around with a boy (or boys).
Second, she will always question going on that walk. She will question whether or not she really said no. She will question the kiss. And the hug. And the phone call. She will always, always doubt herself.
Third, it was probably her fault. She probably shouldn’t have worn that dress or went on that walk or gave him the wrong idea. He is only a boy, after all.
Fourth, she feels unheard. She knows that that moment, no matter how far it did or did not go, is not something she wanted. But the proper channels, after listening to both sides of the story, cannot recognize what happened because what she is saying is something different than what he is saying.
So, instead of believing her, the proper channels dismiss the whole account. And they show that by letting him walk away: not only does he not face a suspension or jail time, but he also does not have to go through counseling, apologize or have his parents talk to him. Nothing happens to him from the outside or the inside.
The girl, though, will live with that story in her heart and her head for the rest of her life. She will never forget the moment she was forced to do something she did not want to do and she will also remember the moment that her voice was not heard or credited.
I’m not sure which consequence is worse, actually. I’m not sure if replaying that sexual event over and over and over in her head is worse. I’m not sure if the shame and questioning is worse. Or I’m not sure if the silencing is the worse.
Because ultimately, what she’s learned is that only what he said matters. Her body doesn’t matter, her desires don’t matter and her voice doesn’t matter.
I have to say that I am really glad that this is not my story. I’m really glad that I had a boy who was decent human being and could respect the fact that I said, “no” at the moment I did.
And I also know that my heart and my voice has to go out for those girls whose story ended up differently than mine. Because if my sister does not have a voice and I do, then I should speak up for her.