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Take a Joke, Sweetheart MAG
He leaned over my desk, his body casting a shadow over my writing. Two fists were suddenly pressed hard next to my book, giving him an air of undeserved authority. “You know they're just joking, right?” His voice was gentle, as if he were speaking to a timid animal.
I nodded slowly, confused, trying to focus on my work as my blood boiled. “I'm aware that they're joking, but jokes can be offensive, and I was feeling uncomfortable,” I said.
He took a deep breath, a small, nearly undetectable smile playing at the corners of his mouth. He shoved his sleeves up his arms. “The more you ask them to stop, the more they'll just keep doing it. That's how they work.” He was telling me what many men had tried to explain before: men don't change, men don't stop, men won't listen to you.
And oh, he was so very smart, his words so very wise. I knew that he thought he was imparting some helpful, kind-hearted wisdom on me. He was trying to save the silly girl who was making a fool of herself by refusing to tolerate something that made her and other girls uncomfortable. He was playing big brother, daddy, the savior on a white horse sent to shut me up.
I looked at him, anger burning the back of my neck and my cheeks. “So, because they won't stop, I should just give up? I should let them make sexist jokes that make me very uneasy?” We were in history class. I thought I deserved to feel safe.
His smirk faltered a bit. “They're just joking. They don't actually mean what they say.”
People were watching us; I could feel their eyes. I was suddenly vulnerable. I wanted them to stop staring, to go away. I wanted this boy to sit down and talk instead of towering over me.
“They may mean those jokes to be harmless, but they're ignorant,” I continued. “Believe me, the jokes don't end at ‘Women should stay in the kitchen.' They continue until they become sexual and inappropriate. I want them to stop now before I have even more reason to be angry.” I'd been down this road before, many times.
“I think you should just give it up before they gang up on you,” he replied, calmly and reasonably, like an adult pacifying a cranky child.
I was so upset I wanted to cry, but the steam gathering behind my eyes made tears impossible. I wondered who he thought he was, standing over a girl he'd never spoken to, telling her that her words were useless, that she could try but she'd always fail. If we had been friends, I would have listened; if he'd spoken to me like a peer, I would have cared. But he was just pushing me down, stuffing me into a box until I suffocated on all of my useless, silly words.
I looked him in the eye and said, “If they're going to be rude, then I will be rude back.”
My comment didn't even make sense. Ten minutes earlier, a group of boys had been trading sexist jokes about women. I had turned around in my seat, looked one of the boys in the eye, and said, “Just please stop, for me. I'm asking you to stop.” That boy looked doubtful but he stopped, and I resumed my work. I didn't yell, lecture, or swear. I simply asked. I used words, the only weapon I knew how to use, and everything was okay.
Now this boy had the nerve to tell me that my words didn't mean anything. This boy hurt me more than he realized. He tried to take away the only weapon I had to defend myself.
But he didn't have the power to do that. I will never stop fighting for what I believe is right. I will never stop standing up for myself, my friends, and my gender, and I will never stop using my (stupid, useless, fruitless, beautiful, powerful, amazing) words.
He backed away, easing off my desk. Frustration was apparent in his face, but he kept his features stony and emotionless. “Fine, whatever. But you'll never get anywhere with them, believe me.”
I didn't believe him. To this day, I don't believe him, because I have continually used my knowledge and my words to make others rethink their actions. Sometimes I fail and they don't stop. Sometimes my words get me into trouble. But sometimes I even make a new ally.
Little did he know, that boy didn't break me down. He made me stronger.