Content Warning: Sexual Assault and Harassment
An eleven-year-old on my first day of ‘big school’
So excited to be grown up
To be in the older girls’ uniform.
My first assembly, straining my neck to see across all those taller than me.
I was warned for the first time that my education was dependent on my looks.
That too much makeup, too short a skirt, too outspoken a hairstyle
Would make my appearance unsuitable for learning.
We have male staff here. How are they supposed to teach you looking like that?
I learned to adjust my being to accommodate other people.
A fifteen-year-old excited about my first boyfriend,
Giddy on what I thought was love.
My first flash of romance dimmed with the warning
You should watch yourself with marks like that,
Lovebites send a message not suitable for young ladies like you.
This time I learned that my personal choices were for others to judge,
My sexuality a red card for me to bear
In opposition to his gold star.
A seventeen-year-old laughing with a friend
About to go and see a teen rom-com,
Popcorn spilling out of a bucket and down my top,
We shrieked and she grabbed at my hoodie to help flick the kernels away.
I turned to shake myself and was met by leering eyes, a sardonic smile.
I froze, stepped back, pulled my hoodie up.
The popcorn scratched at my chest and shoulders as we hurried away,
No longer laughing.
We discovered then that our bodies are not our own.
A twenty-one-year-old high on single life,
Summer barbecues and cider and shots of honey whiskey,
Amongst friends and friends of friends.
But even with those we mark as safe,
Even after all my lessons on when and how I could exist,
Even after ticking all the boxes, like “smart girls” do,
I learnt that it’s not enough.
A face I had laughed with over a campfire,
A hand that had passed me a bottle opener,
A voice I had grown familiar with just that evening—
A person who shoved me against a wall by the toilet
Taught me that there are never enough precautions.
A twenty-two-year-old burning with anger,
I look back on what I learned.
I look out to the others:
What hashtag will get the message across?
Which story will be shocking enough?
How many is too many?
Tired of learning.
Ready to speak.