By Angela Repke
My twin brother and I grew up as athletes. In high school, the teenage girls and boys intermingled at the lunch tables during the week and around the kegs on the weekends. My brother tried to puff out his chest and protect me, but sexual harassment was normalcy. And as girls, our only response was laughter.
We laughed at ass smacks
We laughed at “small tits.”
We laughed at “ghetto ass.”
We laughed at it all.
It was part of the jock culture—the laughter, too. We never talked about it. Our laughter was our mask— hiding shame for never telling the boys to stop.
This culture was not just in my high school.
It’s everywhere. In every state. In every city. In every high school. But, I assumed that once I became an adult, it would stop.
I got my first teaching job at 25. My first two years I had what most new teachers have, a naïve energy towards changing kids’ lives. But the reality of teaching after one short year changed that optimism quickly. I taught at a rural high school, usually sophomores. Certain groups of boys practiced the same culture that was at my high school—disrespect toward the women.
These boys were in my classroom—troubled boys causing trouble. As a young woman standing at five-feet-two with stilettos and just over 100 pounds, I’d sweat during those classes. I’d wait for the degrading stabs of harassment. My armpits rained because of the boys in their Carhartts and rugged leather boots.
I dreaded walking between the rows to pass out papers in those classes. I wished I could just stand in the front of the class by the white board. It was always worse on Fridays when the staff could wear jeans. I tried to look professional, but my blazers never covered my ass. Placing the papers on the desks, the clown leader would mumble, “Look at Miss Anagnost’s ass” or “I want to smack that.” Smirks always followed.
This time, I didn’t laugh.
But I didn’t say anything, either.
Worse, I pretended I didn’t hear it.
In my twenty-something mind, it wasn’t worth the hassle. Why disrupt the entire class to get a couple idiots in trouble? I’d rather get back to Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” or “Dreams” by Langston Hughes. Instead of calling them out, I let the teenage boys intimidate me. And I didn’t see that I could have taught a much larger lesson. I blew it. I missed an opportunity. Countless opportunities. Not to put those punks in their place—no, they were too immature for that lesson. But I blew it for the girls in class.
Those girls looked up to me. At the end of semesters, they would write me letters thanking me for teaching them more than composition and literature. But I could have taught them so much more. Stand up for yourself and never, ever let a boy disrespect you. Take no harassment. Don’t be quiet. It doesn’t matter if he calls you a “loud bitch.” Go ahead, be a loud bitch.
Today, over a decade older and now a mother, I’m disgusted and ashamed. I’m disgusted that no young men ever stuck up for us when we were in high school. I’m ashamed that we girls never told them to “Shut the fuck up.” I’m ashamed that as a teacher, I failed to teach.
Now as a mother—of both a son and daughter—I’m going to tell my daughter to use that thunderous voice of hers. Stand up for yourself, regardless of what that looks like or what’s at stake. Nobody has your back but you. And no one—absolutely no one—should talk about your body. That belongs to you.
My son, hopefully he’ll mimic how my husband treats women—with respect. And we’ll be vocal with my son, too. Don’t ever discuss a woman’s body. Not in public and not in private with your buddies—their bodies don’t belong to you. More importantly, show courage and stick up for women. Always be the man, never the boy.
The boys from my high school and those I taught have grown into men. Some even have daughters of their own. Since the #Metoo movement, I wonder about these guys. Have they given their harassing past a thought—even for one second? Soon enough their daughters will grow into young women. Maybe the cycle will break then. Or, maybe, just maybe, these men will have the courage to apologize for their adolescent immaturity. They’ll own it and be better fathers for it. I don’t know.
But what I do know is that I don’t want my son or daughter to laugh when they see harassment. I hope they have more courage than their mother. Being quiet isn’t an option. We can’t wait for “society” to change the cultural norms as to how men treat women. We are society. And I hope we’re done laughing.
About the Author
Angela Anagnost Repke lives with her family of four in Michigan. She turns to writing to help in both her daily blunders with her children and rediscovering herself again outside of being a mother. Angela is a contributor at POPSUGAR and has also been published in Scary Mommy, MSN Lifestyle, Parent.co, Mothers Always Write, Sammiches and Psych Meds, and more. She also has a forthcoming essay in a Belt Publishing anthology. Angela is passionate about the camaraderie of motherhood and hopes to unify women through her writing. She is at work on a memoir. Follow Angela on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.