Rape culture is when I was six, and
my brother punched my two front teeth out.
Instead of reprimanding him, my mother
said, “Stefanie, what did you do to provoke him?”
When my only defense was my
mother whispering in my ear, “Honey, ignore him.
Don’t rile him up. He just wants a reaction.”
As if it was my sole purpose, the reason
six-year-old me existed,
was to not rile up my brother.
It’s starts when we’re six, and ends
when we grow up assuming the natural state of a man
is a predator, and I must walk on eggshells, as to
not “rile him up.” Right, mom?
Rape culture is when through casual dinner conversation,
my father says that women who get raped are asking for it.
He says, “I see them on the streets of New York City,
with their short skirts and heavy makeup. Asking for it.”
When I used to be my father’s hero but
will he think I was asking for it?
Will he think I deserved it?
Will he hold me accountable or will he hold me,
even though the touch of a man – especially my father’s –
burns as if I were holding the sun in the palm of my hand.
Rape culture is you were so ashamed, you thought it would
be easier for your parents to find you dead,
than to say, “Hey mom and dad,”
It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t ask for it.
I never asked for this attention, I never asked
to be a target, to be weak because I was born with
two X chromosomes, to walk in fear, to always look behind me,
in front of me, next to me, I never asked to be the prey.
I never wanted to spend my life being something
someone feasts upon, a meal for the eternally starved.
I don’t know how to tell you to spit me out.
I do not want to hear about the way I taste anymore.
I am not food.
I will not let you eat me alive.
Rape culture is I shouldn’t defend my friend when
an overaggressive frat boy has his hand on her ass,
because standing up for her body “makes me a target.”
Women are afraid to speak up because
they fear their own lives – but I’d rather take the hit
than live in a culture of silence.
I am told that I will always be the victim, pre-determined
by the DNA in my weaker, softer body.
I have birthing hips, not a fighter’s stance.
I am genetically pre-dispositioned to lose every time.
Rape culture is he was probably abused as a child.
When he even has some form of a justification
and all I have are the things that provoked him,
and the scars from his touch are woven of the darkest
and toughest strings, underneath the layer of my skin.
Rape culture leaves me finding pieces of him left inside of me.
Shrapnel, a bone of his elbow, the cap of his knee, his shoulder.
There is something so daunting in the way that I know it will take
me years to methodically extract him from my body.
And that twinge I will get sometimes in my leg twenty years later?
Proof of the past.
Like a tattoo I didn’t ask for.
Somehow I am permanently inked.
Rape culture is you can’t wear that outfit anymore
without feeling dirty, without feeling like
you somehow earned it.
You will feel like you are walking on knives,
every time you wear the shoes
you smashed his nose in with.
Imaginary blood on the bottom of your heels,
thinking, maybe this will heal me.
Those shoes are your freedom,
But the remains of a life long fight.
You will always carry your heart,
your passion, your absolute will to live,
but also the shame and the guilt and the pain.
I saved myself but I still feel like I’m walking on knives.
Rape culture is “Stefanie, you weren’t really raped, you were
one of the lucky ones.”
Because my body wasn’t penetrated by a penis,
but fingers instead, that I should feel lucky.
I should get on my hands and knees and say, thank you.
Thank you for being so kind.
Rape culture is “things could have been worse.”
“It’s been a month, Stefanie. Get out of bed.”
“You’ll have to get over this eventually.”
“Don’t let it ruin your life.”
Rape culture is he told you that after he touched you,
no one would ever want you again.
And you believed him.
Rape culture is telling your daughters not to get raped,
instead of teaching your sons how to treat all women.
That sex is not a right. You are not entitled to this.
The worst possible thing you can call a woman is a
slut, a whore, a bitch.
The worst possible thing you can call a man is a
bitch, a pussy, a girl.
The worst thing you can call a girl is a girl.
The worst thing you can call a guy is a girl.
Being a woman is the ultimate rejection,
the ultimate dismissal of strength and power, the
When I have a daughter,
I will tell her that she is not
When I have a daughter, I will teach her
I will look at her like the sun when she comes home
with anger in her fists.
Because we are human beings and we do not
always have to take what we are given.
They all tell her not to fight fire with fire,
but that is only because they are afraid of her flames.
I will teach her the value of the word “no” so that
when she hears it, she will not question it.
Don’t you dare apologize for the fierce love
you have for yourself
and the lengths you go to preserve it.
When the boys try to tell you to soften up,
I hope you make them bleed with your edges.
When the boys come with the intention of hurting you
my advice will always stay the same – you fight.
I am alive because of the fierce love I have
for myself, and because my father taught me
to protect that.
He taught me that sometimes, I have to do
my own bit of saving, pick myself off the
ground and wipe the dirt off my face,
because at the end of the day,
there is only me.
I am alive because my mother taught me
to love myself.
She taught me that I am an enigma – a
mystery, a paradox, an unfinished masterpiece and
I must love myself enough to see how I turn out.
I am alive because even beaten, voiceless, and back
against the wall, I knew there was an ounce of me
worth fighting for.
And for that, I thank my parents.
Instead of teaching my daughter to cover herself up,
I will show her how to be exposed.
Because “no” is not “convince me.”
You call me,
“Little lady, pretty girl, beautiful woman.”
But I am not any of these things for you.
I am exploding light,
she will be exploding light, and you
better cover your eyes.
I was 18 when I finally stopped opening the door for unrequited love.
18, when I first learned that
courage tasted like bitter wine and metal. Like blood and honey.
When I told you I loved you,
I screamed it. I let it rip
it’s way out of my throat, and
it felt so good that I cried.
The other day, you walked by me
and I could feel the pity in your stare.
I wish you wouldn’t do that.
Don’t you look at what I had for you and call it weak.
Not when you were the one afraid of it.
I stood there with my hands open,
my mouth bruised tender with supplication.
Don’t you dare treat me like a victim of my own emotions, like being
moved to my knees by love
was a mistake that I regret.
I will go to my grave with the memory
of the bravery in my bones.
I am not ashamed of any of it.
Not the closed door in my face
or the static silence of my phone
for days, weeks after.
I was not afraid.
I am still not afraid.
I will never be afraid again.
Bring in the beasts with teeth
like tree branches.
Bring in all those who will never love me.
Bring in the monsters with
faces carved out of stone.
I am not afraid.
They can eat me alive.
I am not afraid.
I will cut my way out of their bellies.
I am not afraid.
*change to you* or she
I am trying to be smaller
less boxy, less doughy
I pinch the soft skin on my hips
until I feel bone
scavenging for the fossils of
someone that existed a
long time ago
I mark every ugly place
on my body with an X
so I know to keep digging deeper
bend all the way over on my bed
so that I can feel the stranger of my ribcage
I am trying to remember
when all of this started
maybe in fourth grade
when I first started walking
like an apology
neck trying to disappear into my shoulders, eyes down
hands on my stomach
my teachers told me to carry myself better
I told them I was too
heavy to pick up
maybe at age 14
when I wished I was pregnant
just to have an excuse for
the planet of my body
or freshman year
when I had panic attacks before every assembly
because of how small the auditorium seats were
I am trying to be smaller,
less dense, less heavy
I grab at the skin under my neck
the skin under my arms
the skin on my thighs
I pinch it until it bruises
I pull and push and prod at it
like an animal in a cage
I think about the last time
I touched myself without trying
to take anything away
and I can’t remember.
if it were a different time,
when my body didn’t hate me
and I didn’t hate my body
when there wasn’t a war going on underneath my tongue
maybe I could have loved you, then
when my silence didn’t swallow itself
when my life was more complete
when you weren’t a necessity
but a breath of unexpected ease
I could have loved you the way I wanted to
even at night,
when it is hard to look
When I am so
She once told me that the dead
speak to us in little things: flowers and lost rings
and mismatched socks. That reminders of what you have lost
prove that they are not lost at all,
from the veins of the leaves and the first days of fall
and the calls of children on the playground.
I hope that she is right.
Months later I will bury her in a black dress,
two sizes too big, but now the box fits
with a tattered copy of a book she once read out loud to me,
god, how she loved words.
I remember all the stories she told
and in that moment a mourning bird cries from the window
reminding me that she’s not yet lost
Her planet of a body is gone,
but I refuse to believe she will
ever leave this planet.
There is only so small