“I always like a good dare,” an older white man said to me at the Trump rally. He sneered, looking me up and down. He had chosen to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat. I wore a plain white t-shirt featuring the message, “Grab My P***y, I Dare You.”
I have been fortunate enough to have had a multitude of strong female role models throughout my life. Women like my mother and grandmother have helped shape my view of the world, instilling in me a strong moral compass and a strong will. From a very young age, my mother raised me to always unapologetically express my opinions and stand for what I think is right, even when faced with what seems like overwhelming opposition.
It never dawned on me that there are people who do not share this belief — that, as a woman, I am just as powerful as any man and have the same right to speak my mind. It never occurred to me that growing up with these beliefs was not the norm for everyone. That is, until I was in junior high school.
It was a warm, sunny, late summer day, and I was in the fifth grade. I was on my way home from school on the school bus. I remember feeling very mature because I had just started riding the bus home, but was also deeply concentrating on the stops the bus was making (the day before I had missed my own). It was in the midst of my unwavering vigilance that something lightly hit my face.
Unhurt, but a bit startled, I looked down and saw what had been thrown at me: A crumpled piece of paper sat on my lap. I uncrumpled it, and read the word “p***y,” scrawled in capital letters. Puzzled, I looked around to find a culprit. I saw two boys, a grade or two younger than me, snickering to each other and peeking back at me from their seats. I frowned. I didn’t know what their message meant, but I could tell by the way that they were acting that whatever it was, it was not meant as a compliment. I looked at it again. Were they calling me a scaredy cat?
I decided to find out exactly what the note meant as soon as I got home. After typing the term into Google’s search bar, I was immediately confronted with disgusting, sexually explicit, and overall horrifying content. That’s where my mother found me: scrolling, wide-eyed and confused. She told me what the word meant and tried her best to explain what these search results meant about womanhood. How does one teach an 11-year-old that she is growing up in a culture that objectifies her?
I suddenly became very aware of my gender. If I ever wore a skirt that was a bit too short, which is a common occurrence because I am tall, I found I received disapproving looks and snickers from classmates. I learned to become deeply offended if someone told me I was “acting like a girl.”
I realized that from an alarmingly early age, girls are taught by the world they live in that their gender is synonymous with weakness and inadequacy. A multitude of mainstream advertisements feature overtly sexual content and, dishearteningly, most of these ads specifically degrade women. Women seductively eat cheeseburgers, women sexily drink beer, and women wash expensive cars scantily clad — all the while maintaining a sultry, yet also unnervingly torpid, gaze at the camera. These depictions don’t promote positive models for how women can proudly own their sexuality, but rather send the message that female sexuality exists for the gratification of a consumer — of men.
I also realized that instead of buying into this negative, media-based depiction of female sexuality, women must resist and employ their sexuality for themselves. They must lift other women up, and in turn, each other as well.
Throughout this most recent presidential campaign I have been reminded of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s famous quote, spoken at the close of another critical election. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Roosevelt proclaimed in 1932. That quote has stuck with me throughout my life — not just because of the powerful message it conveys, but also because I, and every woman in this country, has something to fear. Sexual assault is a real and tangible fear for every woman, and we cannot risk having a presidential candidate who brags about sexually assaulting women, whether it be in public or in private.
That is why I wore that t-shirt to the Trump rally. All women, young and old, have felt a tangible fear at some point (or many points) in their lives. I wore that t-shirt for every girl who has ever been catcalled. I wore that t-shirt for every girl who has ever felt unsafe walking to her car at night. I wore that t-shirt for every girl who has ever felt victimized and oppressed by comments made solely to tear her down and undervalue her opinions. I wore that t-shirt to let whomever it may concern know that yes, I have a vagina, and that in no way, shape, or form makes me weak. I cannot be groped, grabbed, and humiliated into submission. That is sexual assault, which is illegal no matter the context during which it occurs. I wore that t-shirt in protest, to show every narcissistic and hate-filled misogynist that no, you are not allowed to grab me by my “p***y.”
I did not wear that shirt to defend one candidate over another. I wore it to defend what I care about: the inalienable rights and protections that all women — all people — have. I am the product of a society that, though it may still misrepresent and stereotype women, also challenges girls to question this “convention.” I am the product of a strong sense of self, which family, friends, and others have instilled in me. Like so many young people, I feel uneasy about what I see in the public eye. But, again like so many young people, I also feel I can be an instrument of positive change for the future of the United States of America.
The leader of the free world should serve as a role model for every American. A viable leader should not have a clear history of being hostile toward women, nor should he be “excused” for making demeaning comments. I hope that everyone, both women and men alike, use this election and the negative press associated with it as a catalyst for more conversation on issues that stretch far beyond where we are now in our country. Civic duty is not exclusive to any certain type of person, and civic duty should propel every American to use their free speech to change the culture by which they feel wronged. Because we live in this country, we are allowed to speak out in response to what troubles us, on every level. My “p***y,” just like my voice, is mine, and it is not something that can ever be grabbed and used to denigrate me.
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