A Word About Bodily Autonomy

It doesn’t start with penetration.

It starts with “where’s your smile?”
It starts with ogling, with catcalling,
With being followed down the street by men demanding attention.
It starts with “fuck you bitch” when I don’t respond.
It starts with unwelcome advances and unwanted touching,
And being met with anger when I ask you to stop
something I never invited you to start.

It starts with being identified by the fit of my clothing.
An inch or two of fabric that has the power to make me a “hoe”.
It starts with being pulled from class to have my skirt measured.
It starts with adolescent hands in places they shouldn’t be,
hands that grab my ass as I make my way through crowded halls,
but boys will be boys.

It starts with unchecked objectifying comments
about burgeoning breasts, hips and thighs.
It starts with “look who’s starting to fill out”.
It starts with being called “fast” for running with the boys.
It starts with “change your clothes. There’s men around”.

It starts with “close your legs” and “pull your dress down”.
It starts with “children should be seen and not heard”,
and “if somebody tells you to do something, you listen”.
It starts with “girl, give your uncle a hug”.

It doesn’t start with penetration.

Because long before there were ever men
creeping into my bedroom while I slept,
I was taught that my body did not belong to me.
It was for others to command and control;
it was for men and boys.

I was taught that, as a young black girl,
my very existence was inherently sexual,
and that sexuality didn’t belong to me;
It was for men and boys.

I was taught that my body was something shameful,
I was taught to stay quiet and remain hidden,
I was taught that my voice doesn’t matter,
and that “no” is a bad word,
tantamount to disrespect in the highest degree.

It didn’t start with penetration.

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