Sunday Reflections: In Which The Teen Writes a Poem About Sexual Harassment
TRIGGER WARNING: THIS POST TALKS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
I know it’s been a rough week in a lot of ways for us all between the mix of politics and loss, but it was also a really rough week at the Jensen household because of everyone’s arch nemesis: sexual harassment.
On Friday, I received a text from my daughter explaining how angry she was about the sexual harassment she had received by a “friend” the night before. This friend got into her sports bag and took an item of hers and put it on himself. She asked for it back repeatedly and he refused. Finally, she approached him to take it back and he proceeded to say some sexual things to her that she says made her feel “scared” and “dirty”.
They are 15 years old. And I’m sad to say that this is not the first time she has experienced some type of sexual touching or harassment. But it is the first time that she has come to me so visibly shaken and expressed feeling scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. Scared and dirty. I just keep hearing this over and over again.
This is what sexual harassment does.
As we talked about it and processed it and tried to determine what we were going to do, she shared with me that she was so upset about it that she wrote a poem. She has given me permission to share that poem.
Are you done yet
Undressing me with your eyes?
Are you happy
Now that you’ve made me cry?
You’ve stared at me
It’s felt like hours
You’ve smiled smugly
Enjoying your power
It’s like you can’t see it
My hatred that churns
You can’t see the effect
That makes my skin burn
You make me sick with fear
But I won’t say a thing
I’m far too afraid
Afraid of what it will bring
I’ll keep my hatred inside
Put on a pretty smile
You’ll never see me break
My tears will stay in for a while
During our discussion of how she felt about what happened, she kept saying she didn’t want to do anything about it. At one point I said to her,” I know you don’t want him to get into trouble but he also needs to know that he can’t do this to others going forward.” To which she replied, “I’m not worried about him getting into trouble, I’m scared he’ll be angry and hurt me.” That was the moment the undid me because I am far too aware of how often boys and men do respond with violence and retribution in these instances. She’s not wrong.
As a mom and a woman, I’ve been incredibly angry and upset about these events, as you can imagine. I’ve seen this all play out over and over and over again in this world and my anger is compounded by the fact that this is my baby girl we’re talking about.
I don’t have any fancy resolution to this post. I don’t have a neat and clean way to wrap this post up. The truth is, this will keep happening. It will happen again to her. It will happen to her younger sister. It will happen to her best friends and worst enemies. It will keep happening until we find a way to seriously address the issues in our culture that allow this to keep happening. And we have to stop shrugging this off and protecting the boys and men who do this. We have to talk about the patriarchy and power and privilege and toxic masculinity and sexism and why we choose to protect men instead of their victims. We have to change the dynamics. All of them.
Until then, I’m just going to be over here raging because I had to listen to my daughter talk about how someone who was supposedly her friend made her feel scared and dirty.
I’m pretty mad at you right now world. I seriously am.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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